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Educator acclaimed as Nickel Belt’s provincial Liberal candidate

Gilles Proulx is a gym teacher at École Jean-Paul II in Val Caron and lives in nearby Val Therese with his family
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Nickel Belt Liberal candidate Gilles Proulx.

After being acclaimed during a meeting earlier this week, Gilles Proulx is officially the Ontario Liberal Party’s candidate for Nickel Belt in this year’s provincial election. 

The longtime educator is currently employed as a gym teacher at École Jean-Paul II in Val Caron and said his almost 29 years of experience as an educator will prove useful if elected.

“In today’s world I think it’s very important to be able to talk to each other and be able to have some discussions, whether you’re a Liberal, Green or Conservative. I think Nickel Belt deserves to have somebody that’s prepared to talk with anybody that wants to make the province and this riding a better place,” he told Sudbury.com. “As a teacher, that’s your job – you have a common goal … to have the students do well.”

This is Proulx’s first attempt at seeking public office, though he had considered it several years ago. At the time, his two boys, now 12 and 15, were at an age that he said would have made it too difficult for his family. 

Although his children being of a more independent age factored into his decision to seek public office this time around, he said the financial challenges Laurentian University has faced in recent months lit a fire under his drive to enter politics. 

Originally from Hearst, his wife is from the Greater Sudbury area and they have decided to remain as a result of both proximity to family and the life they’ve built in Valley East. Their intention is to stay and their hope has always been for their children to remain, too. 

“Once you have kids you start thinking about college and university, and we have them right here,” he said. “That’s why the Laurentian University issue is at heart.”

His eldest son was planning on attending a French post-secondary program at Laurentian University that has since been cut – a move he said the Ontario Progressive Conservatives failed to help prevent.

“As a parent, I’m frustrated because now I have to send my son out of town, and we all know what happens when students go out of town,” he said. “They don’t come back.”

Although the Ontario Liberal Party has yet to release an election platform, he said that Laurentian University will be a priority in his campaign and will recognize the importance of French, Indigenous and English language post-secondary education. 

While he said Laurentian University can’t go back to what it was, it can be built “bigger and better.”

First Nations communities will be another focus of his campaign, as he believes there should be greater Indigenous involvement in the natural resources sector and that they deserve better infrastructure such as road access.

In addition to his job as a gym teacher, Proulx works with the school board as a special education consultant, volunteers with his boys’ hockey teams and with the Knights of Columbus when he has a chance. He has also served as a resource and classroom teacher and taught at Laurentian University’s teachers’ college.

As a political newcomer, he said that his focus will be on meeting as many people as possible in person through efforts such as door knocking and reaching out to get youths involved in politics.

An ability and willingness to listen to people is a strength in politics, he said, pointing to this week’s provincial announcement of a $5,000 job retention incentive for nurses as evidence the Ontario government isn’t doing so.

“What does that do for them, really?” he asked. “They deserve way better, not only respect but job-wise; they need to have job security and they need to be respected, especially during the pandemic. … It’s listening to people who are actually doing the job … they’re the experts.”

Proulx said that his campaign will be a clean one that centres on political ideas and avoids “American-style” politics that rely on attacks.

“One of my messages is I’m willing to work with anybody … to stop this us versus them,” he said. “I know there will be some differences between Conservatives, Greens, NDP or whatever, but I think by working together we can make this place better.”

Proulx has two political opponents thus far in the leadup to the June 2 provincial election. 

Incumbent NDP MPP France Gélinas was acclaimed as the Nickel Belt NDP candidate in January and has held the position since she was first elected in 2007. 

Progressive Conservative candidate Randy Hazlett was acclaimed in March 2021 and targeted “outrageous” gas prices in his first media release the following month.

“As an elementary school teacher, Gilles understands what it means to serve his community and help those that call Nickel Belt home,” Ontario Liberal Party Leader Steven Del Duca said in a media release issued this week. “Gilles will be a fantastic MPP and I am very happy to have him on our team as we prepare for the upcoming provincial election.”

Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.