Student runs in provincial election

STU student Olivier Hébert is running for the NDP MLA position in Fredericton West-Hanwell. (Lauren Hoyt/AQ)

In Grade 12, Olivier Hébert was voted “Most Likely to Be Prime Minister” by their classmates. Four years later, Hébert is making their mark on the public by running as the Fredericton West–Hanwell New Democratic Party candidate.

“I’ve been pretty politically involved for a long time, and I’ve known that running for politics is something I wanted to do, like, in my future. I did not expect to be doing it right now,” said Hébert, who is the first openly transgender man to run in the province.

Hébert was asked to run by former STU student Nicholas Decarie, who, at the time, worked as the co-chair of the Young New Democrats of New Brunswick and the Fredericton Young New Democrats.

“I knew Olivier held our ideals and supports what we are fighting for, and because of our time on the STUSU I thought that Olivier would be a perfect candidate and bring forth a valued voice to the party and would be a great MLA in their own right,” said Decarie in a Facebook message.

A lifetime of experience

Hébert has been involved in politics since age 13. They served on the Fédération des jeunes francophone du Nouveau-Brunswick (FJFNB), which represents all 22 francophone high schools in New Brunswick and promotes youth involvement and community engagement. In Grade 12, they were student council president at École Samuel-de-Champlain.

At STU, Hébert has worked as a residence advisor and co-ordinator and co-founded the Queer and Allied People’s Society. They were STUSU’s Sexual and Gender Diversity Representative for the 2017-18 school year. Hébert is one class away from their Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology.

Hébert said their experience in student politics has prepared them to run by helping them build the critical skills politicians need.

“My time with political stuff and activism has definitely helped me sort of hone-in what my values are and what is important to me and also how to articulate those things.”

Hébert also works part-time at a crisis helpline. They said this experience has improved their speaking skills, something vital to politicians.

“You have to learn how to empathize with people and connect with them meaningfully, super fast. So, in politics, that’s a really good thing, and it helps me be actually genuine with people because I’m not trying to fake it,” said Hébert.

As a young person in politics, Hébert faces pressure from people but they feel their life experiences as a young activist and an openly transgender man have prepared them for the position.

“My youth does not take away from my great depth of experience with aspects of life,” they said.

“Being a trans person and being queer, I’m already willing to be in the spotlight, that’s something I do willingly, but this is a different [kind of spotlight].”

According to CBC News, Fredericton North NDP MLA candidate Scarlett Tays is the first openly transgender woman to run in the province.

“We are literally making history for our community,” said Hébert.

Olivier Hébert holds the ballot for the Fredericton West-Hanwell riding. (Submitted by Olivier Hébert)


Political commitments

As the NDP candidate for Fredericton West–Hanwell, one of Hébert’s focuses is getting a school in the community.

Students in the area are being bussed to Fredericton schools, a 45-minute to one-hour ride.

“I totally understand, because I went to a French school in Saint John so I bussed 45-minutes each direction every day. I definitely understand it affects your ability to participate in extracurriculars and [participate] in your community either at the school or at home.”

In their riding and beyond, LGBTQ rights are a focus for Hébert. Specifically, healthcare coverage for gender-confirming surgeries.

“A personal concern for me, and provincial [concern], is having comprehensive healthcare coverage for trans people. Right now, it’s severely skewed in favour of trans guys like myself.”

According to the Government of New Brunswick, for female to male gender-confirming surgeries, healthcare covers vaginectomy, salpingo-oophorectomy (removal of an ovary and its fallopian tube), mastectomy (chest masculinization), metoidioplasty, phalloplasty and erectile and testicular implants.

Pectoral implants, silicone implants under the chest to give a more muscular appearance, are not covered.

“If you’re a trans woman, the only thing that’s covered right now pretty much is getting a vagina made. Anything else, virtually, has been deemed cosmetic.”

For male to female gender-confirming surgeries, healthcare covers vaginoplasties. The vaginoplasty includes a penectomy, orchidectomy (surgical removal of one or both testicles) and the construction of a vaginal cavity and the vulva.

Breast augmentation, facial feminization, tracheal shaving and hair removal are not covered.

Travel and accommodations, and voice and communication training are not covered for either surgery. In-hospital medications are covered, but medications prescribed outside of the hospital are not. Some prescription coverage is available through the New Brunswick Drug Plan.

“We’re known as a have-not province as a stereotype and we were the last province to do anything for trans healthcare and the fact that they basically just allowed men to access proper transition is not fair. So, just as a trans person and as a person, I think it is very important that we amend that legislation.”

Increasing the province’s minimum wage to $15 is another focus area of Hébert’s and the NDP party.

“It is relevant to virtually everyone. If it’s not you, then someone in your life.

Hébert believes changes should benefit the people, not just politicians.

“This will benefit me because $15 an hour will make my life better, but it will also make my neighbour’s life better and that’s what I’m about.”

Though Hébert is just beginning in provincial politics, this is only the beginning. As for them fulfilling their Grade 12 superlative, they say they’re on their way.