Rick Loewen doesn’t have to toe the party line because he doesn’t have a party.
The importance of calling a spade a spade is a big reason why the 59-year-old Linden resident has decided to run as an independent candidate in the Sept. 20 federal election.
"I’ve had the idea for years. I guess it was just time," he said Sept. 3 in an interview.
Loewen, a broadcaster by trade, has never sought elected office before, but said he likes talking about—and complaining about—goings-on in Ottawa.
Born in Steinbach, his formative years were spent in Morris, where his family moved when Loewen was eight.
In the 1980s, Loewen won a Winnipeg standup comedy contest and wound up performing at the venerable Comedy Store in Los Angeles, Calif.
Possessed of the gift of gab, Loewen is perhaps best known as one half of 2 Sports Guys, a talk radio duo he formed with his cousin, Carillon sports columnist James Loewen.
From the late 1980s to the mid-1990s, they hosted a series of radio and TV shows from Winnipeg. In 1995, they decamped to Tampa, Fla., to host a morning radio show and the Tampa Bay Lightning’s pre-game show.
In 1999, Loewen became a restauranteur, taking over Edgar’s restaurant in Steinbach and renaming it Not Edgar’s. (He wrote a handful of columns about the experience for this newspaper.)
In 2001, he accepted a two-year radio show stint in Toronto, settling back in Linden in 2003. Over the years, he’s also worked for numerous Winnipeg radio stations, including filling in for Charles Adler on CJOB.
Today, he’s a full-time foster dad to two sons.
Loewen said "the polarity of the country" is one reason he decided to throw his hat into the ring. He announced his intentions in an Aug. 21 YouTube video that has since been viewed over 3,800 times.
On Aug. 30, he announced he had gathered the requisite 100 signatures needed to register as a candidate with Elections Canada.
It’s been 72 years since an independent candidate appeared on the Provencher ballot. The first to do so was none other than Louis Riel, a founder of Manitoba who was elected as an independent in 1873 and 1874.
Unlike party-affiliated candidates, independents must create a platform and brand from scratch.
Loewen described his politics as "generally left," with a blend of social progressivism and fiscal conservatism.
He said he knows many people in Provencher with similar convictions who feel they aren’t represented by any of the regular options on the ballot.
Loewen said the Conservative Party benefits from automatic votes in Provencher, despite incumbent Ted Falk having done little in Parliament since the last election.
"The other parties aren’t really trying that hard," Loewen added.
He wants to give people the option of supporting a candidate who isn’t bound by optics or party dogma. Fealty to a political party hinders candidates, he explained, using a pair of examples.
A Liberal candidate knows it’s "ridiculous" for their leader, Justin Trudeau, to call a federal election in the middle of a pandemic, but can’t say that. Likewise, a Conservative candidate could never admit that the party has been "rudderless" since the days of Stephen Harper, Loewen said.
By contrast, Loewen said he’s free to cherry-pick the best policies from each political party.
"You don’t have to be beholden to one party line."
Loewen is practicing what he preaches: a donor recently offered him money for lawn signs in exchange for a say in his campaign slogan. Loewen rejected the money and came up with his own catchphrase, which he hopes voters will remember when they enter their polling station: "Check please."
What shape will his campaigning take? Loewen said he plans to put up a few signs, post more YouTube videos, and drive around in his orange Volkswagen van holding "pop-up press conferences." He’s also considering "guerrilla advertising" techniques, but he won’t be knocking on doors.
"I’m knocking on hearts," he said.
Asked about his platform, Loewen said he has no specific policies to push. Instead, he outlined general value commitments that underpin the types of ideas he supports.
One is to treat people like they’re family.
"Be less judge-y and more curious," Loewen said, quoting the titular character from the television series Ted Lasso, one of his favourite programs.
Loewen said he golfs regularly with a group of friends whose company he enjoys, even though they don’t agree on politics. He wants to help Provencher practice that same approach to living with differences and diversity.
Indigenous reconciliation is another guiding principle for Loewen. Canadian governments approach First Nations issues as problems to solve with money, he explained, rather than as an opportunity for genuine dialogue and collaborative problem-solving.
Regarding COVID-19, Loewen readily disclosed his status as a fully immunized Manitoban.
He called incumbent Ted Falk’s refusal to disclose his vaccination status "a dereliction of leadership."
Loewen expressed bewilderment about the low rates of vaccine uptake, and prevalence of COVID-19 misinformation, in the Steinbach-Hanover area.
"I know farmers who have their animals vaccinated, but they won’t vaccinate themselves or their children," Loewen said.
He said he and his family have been taking COVID-19 seriously, allowing virtually no guests into their home over the last 18 months.
For Loewen, vaccination mandates, including perks for the fully vaccinated, are "a great way forward," adding current ones may not go far enough. He suggested the willfully unvaccinated should "put their money where their mouth is" and refuse medical treatment if they contract COVID-19.
Is Loewen’s campaign just an elaborate joke intended to shake up politics-as-usual in a stronghold riding?
Loewen said family and friends have told him he should strike a more serious tone, but he explained he can’t just leave behind his sense of humour.
"I can’t not be who I am."
Loewen conceded his approach to politics isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. He said his own son told him he will probably vote for the Liberals, "because they have a better chance."
Loewen might be able to change his son’s mind if he can land a spot in the Sept. 16 candidates forum organized by the Steinbach Chamber of Commerce.
Loewen, who is eager to secure a spot in the forum, joked he’ll bring the pulpit that he found at a secondhand store years ago.
"I couldn’t not buy it," he said.
Even if things don’t go his way on Election Day, Loewen said he’s open to running again in future elections.