Sunnybrae resident Gary Johnston shares his thoughts with North Okanagan-Shuswap NDP candidate Jacqui Gingras during the opening of her Salmon Arm campaign office.

NDP candidate politically inspired by life of Jack Layton

You can take the girl off the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the girl.

You can take the girl off the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the girl.

Jacqui Gingras, NDP candidate in the North Okanagan-Shuswap riding, learned plenty about hard work, discipline and food sources growing up on a hobby farm in Oyama.

“The farm provided what we needed for our family,” said Gingras, a 1987 graduate of Lake Country’s George Elliot Secondary School, whose family included her parents and a younger sister and brother.

“We didn’t sell anything at the farm gate. We had horses, chickens, pigs, goats, cows, a massive garden, fruit trees and hay fields. It taught me a lot about local food and agriculture.”

Gingras and her siblings would pick fruit from the trees, fruit that would be canned and preserved. They would milk the cows with which their mom would make ice cream. Mom baked bread.

“It was where I learned how to cook and take care of myself,” said Gingras. It was significant in moving me into nutrition.”

Upon graduation from GESS, Gingras enrolled at Okanagan College, then transferred to UBC in Vancouver, finishing a bachelor of science in dietetics in 1994. After an internship at New Westminster’s Royal Columbian Hospital to become a dietitian, Gingras decided she hadn’t quite had enough of school and completed her masters of science degree in nutrition in 1994 at the University of Alberta.

Gingras moved back to the West Coast to start her own consulting company – a company she still has – in 1998, hosting workshops and counselling women and men on eating disorders and body issues.

In 2002, Gingras went back to school and earned a PhD in education from UBC, finishing in 2006.

“I came into an interdisciplinary program,” she said. “I wanted to ask questions about how health professionals were educated.”

As she achieved her doctorate, Gingras and her partner, Kelly, welcomed their first child, a girl, Evyn, now 11. The couple moved to Kelowna – the same street Gingras’ grandmother lived on – and she began applying for university professor jobs.

The first offer she received was from Ryerson University. Gingras accepted, moved east and has since become a tenured nutrition professor at the downtown Toronto school.

Still, the desire to return to the Okanagan was strong.

Gingras recalled time spent at one of her favourite spots on Earth, the family cabin on Shuswap Lake in Canoe.

“I used to work in Cinnemousun Narrows on the floating log store,” said Gingras. “It was hard work. The Shuswap will always have a place in my heart.”

Gingras and her family did move back to the Okanagan in 2012.

Gingras, Kelly, Evyn and their son, Lewis, seven, live on a 44-acre property outside of Falkland, where they have a raised-bed garden, two rescue horses, a dog and a cat.

Asked when the political bug struck her, Gingras said it wasn’t really a bug but more of a political immersion that began at a young age.

“My grandma was a Grade 1 teacher who was very involved in politics and we talked about politics all of the time,” she said.

When the NDP formed the official opposition in 2011 shortly before the death of leader Jack Layton, Gingras became inspired.

“It was more Jack’s life than death that was the moment I felt called to serve,” she said. “I have a wonderful career, am a successful academic but I was moved by Jack’s life. I said, ‘If I’m not going to run, then who am I waiting for? Why can’t I do this?’ The simple response is I can do this and want to do this.”

Eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Oct. 19 election, Gingras has been busy on the hustings. The No. 1 thing she keeps hearing from people is they want their rights restored.

“People are struggling, tired of working so hard and not being able to make ends meet,” she said.

As for new NDP leader Tom Mulcair, Gingras called him “extraordinary,” and a “principled man.”

“He wants to make sure everyone in Canada is taken care of,” said Gingras.