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Army of one: Naomi Sayers hits campaign trail as independent

With years of advocacy for unheard voices under her belt, Anishinaabe lawyer runs as independent candidate in Sault Ste. Marie
Independent candidate Naomi Sayers is seen in this 2020 file photo.

Anishinaabe lawyer Naomi Sayers is busy running a one-person election campaign in the days leading up to the 2022 Ontario election. 

Running as an independent candidate in the Sault Ste. Marie riding, the Garden River First Nation native will readily admit that she’s working without the resources afforded to other candidates backed by major political parties. 

Sayers has opted to be as visible as possible — she’ll be out walking with her dog, Charlie, in Bellevue Park during the weekends leading up to the election — in an effort to engage as many voters in the riding as she possibly can on her own.  

“The tool that I do have is my years of advocacy for marginalized and vulnerable people, and just ensuring people have their voices heard,” Sayers said.

Shunned by the Ontario Liberals in her bid to fly the party’s banner in the election, the Sault Ste. Marie lawyer now sees her run as an independent as an opportunity to engage voters without a party line to toe, talking points to regurgitate, or platform to sell. 

“I think the benefit of being an independent candidate is parties, big political parties, intimidate some people and are not welcoming, as we can see,” she said, referencing her own fallout with the Liberals. “I guess that’s the benefit of being an independent. 

I don’t prejudge, I don’t have any ideas or notions about people — and if people have ideas, just reach out.”

Sayers prides herself on being a voice for the underdog, having advocated for marginalized and vulnerable people over the course of a decade. 

The Indigenous lawyer is licenced to practise law in two provinces: Sayers was called to the Ontario bar in 2018, and the Alberta bar in 2020. Sayers officially opened her own legal practice in Sault Ste. Marie just a little more than two years ago.  

Prior to that, Sayers was awarded a Leonard S. (Tony) Mandamin scholarship from Hydro One, which supports First Nations, Métis and Inuit students enrolled at a recognized college or university. 

That scholarship led to a summer position, which in turn led to an internship with the energy supplier that saw her working on some “major transactions” surrounding the potential acquisition of a U.S.-based company.   

“That experience, in and of itself, is so invaluable. To see how a big company like that operates — how it works with government, how it works with different stakeholders, First Nations communities, municipalities — all over Ontario,” said Sayers. “I think people don’t know that about me.”

Sayers has had no shortage of media attention following her rejected application to fly the Liberal banner in the provincial election, and the party’s subsequent move to go with Aidan Kallioinen, an 18-year-old high school student from Espanola, Ont. to run as a candidate in the riding instead. 

The would-be candidate was quickly turfed by the Liberals after a Postmedia column called out his alleged participation in some questionable online gaming forums the day after his acclamation as Liberal candidate. 

Although Sayers says she submitted all of her information to the Liberals April 6, she received a letter from the party April 28 advising her they were not proceeding with her application. 

“Given the additional information you have provided in recent days, the enormous volume of material (including over 200,000 social media posts) that still requires review and research, and the ongoing legal proceedings you are party to, we will not be able to complete the vetting process in time for you to stand as a nomination contestant/candidate,” said Charrissa Klander, nomination commissioner for the Ontario Liberal Party, in an email to Sayers. “Given the fact that we are days away from the election being called, and we will be unable to complete full vetting, I am writing to advise you that I have instructed staff to stop further review of your nomination application.”

SooToday asked Sayers if she thinks the growing backlash against the Liberals will help her campaign at all. Sayers has been receiving increased support via social media lately, including a message of support from former Justice Minister and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould via Twitter.   

“I’m not entirely sure,” responded Sayers. “I’m just trying to move forward. I’m not trying to let it get me down, I’m not trying to let it influence me in any way.”

For now, Sayers is working on campaigning in the days leading up to the June 2 provincial election. 

She recently launched her own campaign telephone line, 1-888-KWE-VOTE, and is encouraging supporters to use the hashtag #NS4SSM across social media platforms. 

“I entered politics because I thought the time was right, and living and working in Sault Ste. Marie I see a lot of individuals who are feeling unheard, and there was nothing stopping me as an independent,” Sayers said.

More information on Sayers can be found on her campaign website.