Who is Joe Byrne?
You could say Joe began his political career earlier than usual when, at the age of ten, he canvassed his Quebec town of Sept-Iles for signatures on a petition to declare the beaver as Canada’s official emblem. At 17, he found himself volunteering for Pierre Trudeau’s Deputy Prime Minister, Allan MacEachen–Joe refers to this teenage Liberal interlude as a “temporary affliction.” Nevertheless, he has remained actively engaged in his communities his whole life, and an active member of the NDP for 22 years, notably as a federal candidate in the 2011 and 2015 federal elections, and now as the leader of the PEI provincial NDP.
Community engagement has always been a family trait for the Byrnes, Joe’s father often involved in community causes and inspiring that same value in Joe in their immigrant-rich community of Sept-Iles. The Byrne home was often filled with lively discussions from richly varied perspectives. These early experiences set Joe on the track of remaining involved in immigrant issues. Prior to being elected as leader he was the Community Connections Supervisor at the PEI Association for Newcomers to Canada, helping refugees and other immigrants integrate into our Canadian life. For this work, Joe was awarded a Canada Citation for Citizenship. His fluency in Spanish as well as French and English has been a real advantage in helping immigrants.
Another germinal influence on young Joe was Father Pat Kelly of the Scarboro Foreign Missions: Joe was drawn to the idea of service in developing-world communities, leading him to become a community development educator in the Dominican Republic for seven years following graduation from UPEI. This formative experience shaped his knowledge of and commitment to community activism, and also led him to his wife, Rosa, who works as a lab technician and a Spanish teacher on PEI. Together, Joe and Rosa have two young-adult children: Daniel is a graduate of the musical theatre program at Sheridan College, and Claire studies political science at UPEI.
Here on PEI, Joe has worked on numerous social programs in rural communities. He has done field work on issues faced by university and college students, has been Director of Youth Ministry, and has also coordinated pastoral planning for the diocese. He remains active in the Latin American Mission Program, and is President of the Cooper Institute, a grass-roots collective for community development. He also counts among his volunteer and community work Charlottetown Abbies soccer, church Youth and Music ministries, Voluntary Resource Council, Peace Vigil Group, Atlantic Council for International Cooperation, Canada World Youth, and Katimavik hosting. He keeps up his interaction with young people as a part-time instructor for the Abegweit Driving School. All of this, he does in addition to his work in the NDP. His vast array of church and community experiences have helped him cultivate his skills in communication, organization, and consensus building, and also brought him the joy of forming hundreds of friendships.
Music and humour are two other significant pleasures in Joe’s life, his guitar often bringing people together. He has a unique sense of humour, but he’s best known for his facility with Monty Python references.
“My job is to make the world a better place,” Joe says. “Not just for my family and friends, but for all.” And that’s what he will continue to fight for as the leader of the NDP on PEI. Guided by his spiritual faith and devotion to social justice, He is committed to achieving a fair and just society.