When Yasir Naqvi was 10 years old, growing up in Pakistan, his father was arrested for leading a pro-democracy protest. Naqvi says this was the seminal event in his life. Every weekend he made trips with his family to visit his father in prison.
Next fall, Naqvi will be up for reelection, and the 37-year old MPP for Ottawa Centre says he is excited to run again. “I’ve been on the job now for three years and I have not had a single morning where I got up and, you know, didn’t want to do it.”
On paper, the two most remarkable things about Naqvi are his age and his origin. Upon meeting him, however, what’s most remarkable is the man’s energy.
Slender, with round cheeks and a pointy chin, he is physically unassuming. But he has clear, steady eyes and he talks with intense purpose.
Naqvi didn’t necessarily always know that he was going to be a politician, but politics were always front and centre in his life. “I was in a very civic minded family.”
“I grew up in a country that was a military dictatorship. So the politics there were more about how do you restore democracy, how do you get the right to vote, and that’s what my parents were really engaged in.”
His family left Pakistan in 1988 for Niagara Falls, Ontario when he was 15 years old. He finished high school there and then pursued two undergraduate degrees at McMaster University. He earned a law degree at the University of Ottawa and got a job at an Ottawa law firm.
His former boss at the Lang Michener firm was impressed by Naqvi’s “huge work ethic.” Michael Flavell says the young lawyer would work “bulldog hard.”
“He doesn’t let it go.”
Surrounded by politics in the nation’s capital, Naqvi says he knew he had found his home. “When I started practising law I got very involved in the community,” he says. “I knew I wanted to run.”
Naqvi saw how much it cost his father to march in a public protest in Pakistan and how Canada was different. “It’s so easy in our country here to be involved in public service.”
For years, Naqvi volunteered with the Liberal party. When Richard Patten stepped down as MPP for Ottawa Centre in 2007, Naqvi had the opening he needed.
He succeeded despite the fact that Patten endorsed local councillor Diane Deans as his replacement.
According to the Ottawa Citizen, Naqvi has since won Patten over and earned his support. The two have become friends.
“He is embarked on a steep political ascent,” the newspaper said about Naqvi in a January article headlined “He’s a firecracker.”
Located in a small building in Westboro, Naqvi’s multiple-room office appears at first glance like any other, with cream walls and minimal decoration. Newspapers are strewn across his coffee table.
Jackie Choquette, his executive assistant, laughs easily talking about her job. “Honestly, it’s fun. It’s faced paced. It’s exciting. Every day is a different adventure. We’re all over the place.”
Naqvi founded and continues to help run a food drive “blitz” campaign with the Ottawa Food Bank. Staff at the charity speak highly of him. “Yasir was always the first to be out front leading the troops in the door-to-door campaign,” Peter Tilley, the executive director, said in an e-mail.
Chris Cline, a communications and education officer at the food bank, remembered this year’s St. Patrick’s Day parade. “Yasir Naqvi approached the Ottawa Food Bank float right before it began along the parade route. He introduced himself and asked for a cash collection bin, so that he could walk alongside our float collecting donations from parade-goers.”
“It was completely unexpected on such a chilly day!”
Naqvi uses Twitter a lot – just what you would expect from the second youngest member of provincial Parliament.
He says his goal is to build a vibrant community. He is trying to make more community health centres and he supports light rail. He has tried to improve the state of community housing buildings which he says were in bad shape at the beginning of his term three years ago.
Naqvi’s biography on his website has a happy ending, after describing his father’s arrest in Pakistan and his family’s emigration: “Canada welcomed his family and allowed them to prosper.”
As cheesy as it sounds and as much as it might seem like a smart political statement, Naqvi does not shy away from his gratitude to Canada. In contrast, he brings it up several times during our interview.
“My parents made an incredible decision to immigrate and I thank them every single morning when I wake up because of the great quality of life I have.”