New Democrat whose wife was killed wants justice reform
Published Saturday, September 20, 2008 4:17PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, May 18, 2012 9:05PM EDT
EDMONTON - With his young wife slain and his brother charged with murder, NDP candidate Mike Butler knows the issue of violent crime more intimately than many Canadians.
On April 7, 2007, Butler's life began to crumble when his father-in-law telephoned to let him know that Butler's wife, Stephanie, had been bludgeoned to death in their home.
Then the news got worse. His brother, Ken, who Butler said was once addicted to methamphetamine, was arrested and charged with the crime.
Rather than deal privately with his grief, Butler sucked up the pain and started lobbying politicians for better treatment facilities for drug addicts and for more police officers on the streets.
Less than a year after his wife's death he jumped into politics, running unsuccessfully for the Alberta New Democrats in the provincial election last march.
Now he is the federal candidate in his home riding of Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont. He's knocking on doors and speaking out on crime and the need for safer communities.
"Criminals are being thrown back on the street right now and our communities are being treated as jails," said Butler, 28, who owns his own business installing hardwood floors.
"There are a lot of people who need treatment and proper counselling who are not getting it."
Running for the federal NDP in Alberta, where the Conservatives hold every seat, has pretty much always been considered a long shot.
In the last federal election, Conservative Mike Lake, a former sales manager with the National Hockey League's Edmonton Oilers, won the riding easily when he captured 59 per cent of the vote. Lake, 39, a friendly MP with strong ties to the community, will be tough to beat.
But the long odds don't seem to bother Butler, who has transformed the drudgery of door-knocking, shaking hands with voters and other campaign chores into a kind of therapy. His election volunteers include relatives, as well as members of his dead wife's family.
"The night that my wife passed away I didn't know what to do. I was at a loss for everything. I thought about who was responsible. Who could help out. How I could take a negative and turn it into a positive," he said.
"Getting out and talking to people. Working toward positive things, a safer community, a better community. It just makes me feel good, to be honest. It is kind of like going to church."
Butler isn't the only candidate in the riding who is talking about crime.
Along with the economy and leadership, law and order is a key part of the Conservative party platform.
Lake remembers speaking with Butler about criminal justice issues after his wife was killed, but before he became a federal NDP candidate.
"There are a lot of young families in my riding and there are a lot of people who want to get tough on crime and keep our streets safe," Lake said.
"He has his own motivation. It is good to see someone -- after what he has gone through -- get involved."
The Liberals under David Kilgour won Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont twice before Lake was elected. Indira Saroya, the current Liberal candidate, could not be immediately reached for comment.
Butler is not the first person to be driven into politics by crime.
British Columbia MP Chuck Cadman, who died in 2005 while still holding a seat in the House of Commons, decided to take a run at Parliament Hill after his 16-year-old son was stabbed to death by youths in 1992.
Win or lose, Butler said he will not give up on his quest for safer communities.
His brother is to go on trial next year. It was only recently that Butler managed to get authorities to stop his brother from calling him at home.
"It has been a really hard time for me. He has been calling me from the institution where he is at, leaving messages on my answering machine, and saying detrimental things that have been hard for me to deal with.
"I want to keep on going. I don't want to give up. I know I'm being positive and I know this is helping me be positive."