Sarah Walji: NDP candidate by day and ER nurse by night
While some candidates hope their policies and ideas will positively impact their riding, New Democratic Party candidate Sarah Walji has already worked tirelessly to help those in her community who need it most.
Throughout the entirety of the pandemic Walji has been on the frontlines working as an emergency psychiatric nurse also providing other public health support. Along with her colleagues, Walji has been pushed to the limit, battling chronic burnout symptoms, long hours and no vacation from the unrelenting pandemic.
On top of her job, she is the NDP candidate for the Mississauga—Lakeshore riding, trying to make a further difference for her community.
“I think I have one day off a week,” she told The Pointer. “So, to go about and run a full campaign, especially right now in the midst of the fourth wave, it's been quite tough.”
Over the past few months Walji has been working 60 to 70-hour weeks; when the election was called she found time between her shifts to promote the NDP platform and put together her own local campaign.
Her voice is tired, her body is exhausted and mentally she is drained, but she keeps fighting.
“It's been tough. But I think that adds an aspect of realism to it for me, because it shows you that realistically I'm doing it because I genuinely want change.”
As an emergency nurse she does acute crisis work, often assessing a patient's needs and providing treatment while also making sure they will not injure themselves or others while in care. The pandemic has shown the disparities between mental health support and the funding hospitals and healthcare facilities get. In Peel, adults and children alike wait months before accessing critical support that others in better funded jurisdictions receive much quicker. Without proper counselling supports across Peel, many suffering a range of mental health issues turn themselves into emergency rooms where nurses like Walji assess their situation and provide care.
Speaking with The Pointer on the phone, she was candid about how burnt out she has felt recently. A study released by Critical Care Services Ontario (CCSO) describes burnout as, “an occupational condition characterized by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a low sense of personal accomplishment”.
Fall brings a change of weather which directly impacts people’s immune systems, and with COVID-19 and the highly transmissible Delta variant, nurses and doctors are busier than ever.
She noted how the increased demand on nurses leads to a decline in personalized care, impacting the mental wellbeing of patients and staff alike. It’s a constant battle between the nurses wanting to provide the best care possible while also dealing with the reality of their own situation almost two years into the overwhelming pandemic.
“The aspect of self-care kind of falls through the cracks at times. Because we're all working together as a team and none of us want to kind of let each other down,” Walji said.
Her experience has only emboldened the candidate, after seeing how badly her community has struggled, and how much needs to be done for families she sees every day.
The campaign differences between Liberals, Conservatives and NDP candidates are starkly different in many local ridings. The Liberal incumbent for Mississauga—Lakeshore, Sven Spengemann, and his primary rival, Michael Ras of the Conservatives, are running well funded traditional campaigns in a riding believed to be a close race.
Walji relies on loyal volunteers and a bit of funding to get her message across. She’s been running a mostly virtual campaign, interacting with voters through various social media platforms. For her, stepping into full campaign mode and abandoning her career is just not possible.
“On the flip side, this may not have been the most effective time to call an election because look at the limited resources we have on the ground,” Walji said. “Look at what we're doing. And in terms of responses at the health care level, people aren't doing well right now.”
While Walji said her main concern is healthcare, she also highlighted the need for affordable housing for the younger constituents in Mississauga—Lakeshore. Prices for homes in the region have spiked beyond reach for most families, especially for young adults who are sometimes coming out of post-secondary education with large amounts of debt. Simultaneously paying off debt and saving for a home is a near impossible task.
“I keep hearing about it [affordable housing] amongst my friends, my colleagues and even patients that walk through the door,” the NDP candidate said.
Another important issue Walji is committed to is education. As a provincially run system having an advocate at the federal level can be extremely beneficial for provinces and municipalities. Resources transferred for infrastructure, hiring teachers and maintenance of schools can make a huge difference in communities, and even though it’s a provincial jurisdiction, she says strong advocates in Ottawa can work with their Ontario counterparts to ensure priorities across both levels of government are being met, in partnership.
Walji also wants to combat climate change and address the question of how Ontario has been contributing to Canada’s goal of reducing our carbon footprint.
It’s not the first time Walji has campaigned under the NDP banner. In 2019 she ran as the party’s Mississauga—Centre candidate, and she previously ran in the Peel District School Board trustee election for Ward 5.
Sarah Walji is trying to run a mostly online campaign to lower costs and carbon emissions.
She has ties to many neighbourhoods in Mississauga. Currently she lives in Malton, went to school in Mississauga Centre and Lakeshore and grew up in Streetsville.
“I don’t think I know any place quite as well as I know this one,” Walji said of her city.
She obtained a Bachelors of Nursing and a Masters in Global Health from McMaster University, and went to work for Nursing Now, a global organization. That’s where she found her drive and passion to make a difference in people’s lives, deciding to bring that attitude back to the city she loves.
“It's really advocating for change and increased leadership and just having more support within the healthcare system, and really placing value on the profession, globally,” Walji said. “I noticed that that trickled into our national system. And that trickles into our local system as well.”
Mississauga is a rapidly growing city, with a population expected to reach almost a million residents over the next couple decades. Walji has witnessed much of the change and remembers how different it was while growing up as a practicing Muslim woman who wears a hijab, compared to how broadly multicultral the city is now.
“The apprehensiveness surrounding people wearing headscarves… and hesitancy to even engage,” were things Walji said were an issue, but “fast forward to now and I'm like, ‘Oh, everybody's wearing something and everybody's a different colour’.”
Walji sees today’s diversity across Mississauga as “refreshing” and wants to take the city’s tolerant, cosmopolitan and rounded perspective with her to Ottawa.
She is running against Spengemann, Ras and the Green’s Elizabeth Robertson.
Email: [email protected]
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