Amy McQuaid-England finds the right angle

Amy McQuaid-England embraces her new "role" as a filmmaking student Photo credit: Cecelia Feor

Sometimes all it takes is the right pair of shoes.

Amy McQuaid-England has hung up her heels for the year, in favour of “filmmaking” boots – footwear she hopes will help her transition back into being a student.

While McQuaid-England started off this year, and the past seven years, as a regional and city councillor for Oshawa, she will finish it as a filmmaking student at Durham College (DC).

But this isn’t McQuaid-England’s first time at DC.

She was a student in the Journalism – Web and Print program from 2006 to 2008. During her time with The Chronicle, she covered the housing beat.

McQuaid-England then ran for student government out of frustration around student housing issues. She became president of the then Student Association (SA) when it was still joint between DC and UOIT.

Greg Murphy, the Dean of the School of Media, Art & Design, has known McQuaid-England since 2009. He describes her as audacious, not afraid to speak her mind, and an advocate.

“When you hear her speaking, you’re really aware she’s looking out for the folks who need her assistance,” Murphy says, adding she can articulate issues.

Coming to the end of her term as SA president, McQuaid-England knew someone had to run for council to get any real changes for housing. She says she and a few others drew straws to see who would have to run – and she drew the short straw.

McQuaid-England served as a councillor for two terms, from 2010 to 2018. In the recent fall election, she abstained from running again. “I felt like I wasn’t in the headspace to be in government anymore,” she says.

Why? McQuaid-England says there are a few reasons.

First, she made a promise before she became a councillor eight years ago; she would only do two terms in one council position.

The second reason is her daughter. McQuaid-England gave birth just before the last election in 2014, and says she took two weeks off before she was back in the chamber.

The final reason. She is sick of politics.

“I’m sick of arguing with people all the time to try and get scraps for those in our community that need it the most,” McQuaid-England says.

She was known as an advocate for the constituents in the south end of Oshawa, as well as having strong opinions on both transit and rent-related issues.

Advocating lead to a lot of frustration, and she says she didn’t always deal with it in the moment. It is just affecting her now.

“Politics is a very in your face career choice,” she says.

McQuaid-England says it takes a certain personality, almost a mask for politics, something she decided she doesn’t have.

On regional council, McQuaid-England says she struggled to get support for her ideas. She tried to “break tradition” by implementing electronic voting on regional council in 2016. She received the support of one other councillor.

The system was already in place but it was not in use. Rather than tallying votes in a roll call, where councillors would stand or raise a hand, McQuaid-England suggested council votes be recorded electronically.

The motion was passed in June of this year – nearly two years after McQuaid-England pushed for it.

At a city level, McQuaid-England was vocal on many issues, such as Oshawa’s rat problem.

McQuaid-England brought forward the notice of motion in Sept. 2017. She wanted to have a communication plan developed through Service Oshawa so inquiries and complaints tracked. A third item was to explore potential solutions to the problem.

The first two items of the motion were passed a month later with full council support.

One of those supporting votes came from city councillor, Rick Kerr.

Kerr was on council with McQuaid-England from 2014 to 2018. He describes his time with her on council as interesting, adding they didn’t always agree on issues.

However, Kerr says they always disagreed respectfully, and worked together to get work done for Oshawa.

“She’s an outside the box thinker,” he says.

In Nov. 2017, McQuaid-England stepped down from her position as chair from the corporate services committee on Oshawa council. She appointed Kerr in her place.

“Without me stepping down, he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to be chair,” McQuaid-England says, adding she is glad he got that opportunity.

These weren’t the only challenges and changes McQuaid-England faced on council.

In 2014, she gave birth to her daughter and took two weeks off. She then returned to council with her, and breastfed her daughter while in council chambers.

McQuaid-England says she received “the most hateful emails” as well as death threats.

“I knew if I didn’t stand there and do something the woman that came next was going to have a worse time,” she says, adding she pushed boundaries that needed to be pushed.

McQuaid-England says she is in recovery mode, and leaving Oshawa politics is “like a break-up.”

She now finds her time spent as one of the oldest in her program, compared to her time on council as one of the youngest.

McQuaid-England is currently working towards an graduate certificate in advanced filmmaking. She says it’s a nice change.

“I think I have a perspective that allows me to tell stories,” McQuaid-England says.

Murphy says as a filmmaking student, McQuaid-England came into the program focused, and not many students come in that way.

Photo credit: Cecelia Feor

To that point, McQuaid-England already has a script written for a movie about a woman on a first date who has misophonia – a overwhelming sensitivity to sounds.

As for her own sound, McQuaid-England says to deal with frustration she likes to sing karaoke.

“Everyone accepts you, you can sing the songs you want, and you can just have fun,” she says.

“Sing it out,” she adds with a laugh.