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FEATURE Dan Carter: Turning struggle into success

(Twitter photo)

Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

On the road to becoming Mayor of Oshawa, Dan Carter has faced a road equally full of triumphs and tragedies.

Walking into Carter’s office, visitors are greeted by a smiling man who can often be seen listening to music while doing his work.

Since assuming office in October 2018, Carter has spent the last few months dealing with several major issues, such as the impending closure of the General Motors plant, the federal government’s intention to amalgamate the Oshawa Port Authority with that of Hamilton, and homelessness within the city – an issue he himself has faced.

Carter’s life experiences give him a unique perspective as a municipal politician, as he has suffered from alcoholism and drug addiction in his life.

The struggles Carter faced began early, as at only six months old, his mother died. With no other choice, Carter’s biological father had to put his seventh child in the foster care system.

On Feb. 14, 1962 Carter was adopted when he was two-years-old to a family with three children already.

“I was very lucky that I was able to come from a good home,” says Carter. “I went off to school like everybody else.”

Carter says he struggled in school as he had difficulty reading.

“I did elementary classes several times,” he explains. “I really struggled at school tremendously, and didn’t learn how to read or write until my 30s. It was just the way schooling was, if you couldn’t do the work you weren’t entitled to be in the classroom and therefore you would be removed from the classroom and your desk would be put out in the hall, and that really kind of played into some stuff.”

At age eight, Carter was doing his paper route when a stranger raped him.

“I never spoke about that until I was in my 30s,” he said, adding it wasn’t until he went to rehab he was able to speak about it.

At age 13, his 28-year-old brother Michael, who was an undercover police officer, was killed in a motorcycle accident.

He then delved into his life as an addict, noting he has an addictive personality.

“It started off as just trying to deal with life,” he says. “I have an addictive personality, and when I started drinking and taking drugs, I became the person that I’d always wanted to be. I wasn’t a person who was dumb and crappy things happened to… I became somebody that I… it was like being an actor. So, I just buried my life in drugs and alcohol.”

He says by the time he was in his late 20’s, he found himself living on the streets.

“[I was] broken mentally, emotionally, physically, financially and spiritually,” he says.

Carter says he was then lucky enough to enter treatment with the help of his sister, Maureen.

“I had to deal with all of the issues in my life, and I was fortunate enough that my sister, Maureen, was the one that got me in one of the best rehabilitation programs in the United States,” says Carter.

While he was there, Carter was diagnosed with dyslexia, which explained why reading and writing had been such a struggle for him growing up.

When he was 31, Carter finished his time in rehab in Los Angeles, and then returned to Canada to begin putting his life back together.

“I always say to people, I’ve been a very lucky person. I had a wonderful mother and father, my biological family, I got the chance to meet them later in life, and I’ve been very, very fortunate,” he says.

In 2000, Carter lost Maureen to suicide when she was 50-years-old.

“She was a very successful businesswoman, and she turned 50 in January and she just became depressed,” he says with a sigh. “By May 16, she was dead, and it was devastating for me.”

Carter says he had stopped drinking on June 16, 1991, and he didn’t pick up drugs or a drink despite losing both his parents and his sister, and has been sober almost 29 years now.

“One of the things I still struggle with is the death of my sister,” he says. “I still struggle with that tremendously because she really was somebody that always believed in me and always knew that there was somebody better in there, and when she got so sick, I wish in my heart of hearts I could have seen what she was going through.”

After his sister’s death, Carter says he became depressed and angry, even going so far as to walk away from his second marriage.

He says while today he has found hope in religion, that wasn’t always the case as he often felt deflated when he attended church as a child.

After the death of his sister, Carter says he felt lost, and he went to see a pastor at the Embassy Church on Taunton Road, where he met the church’s pastor, Doug Schneider.

He told Schneider he was angry with God, and Schneider looked at him and he said, “You should know that God’s not angry with you.”

After further speaking with Schneider, Carter was instructed to read one page of a book called “The Message,” an abbreviated interpretation of the Bible.

After going to the Embassy Church, it was a different, more positive experience for him.

He doesn’t want to be someone who bashes people over the head with the Bible because he doesn’t believe that’s the right thing to do, preferring instead to attract people to faith through his actions and his words.

His interpretation of the teachings in the Bible is to love one another for who they are. He believes people find their own pathways to their own belief systems.

He says his faith is a big foundational piece in helping him remain disciplined with his addiction.

“I’m a man of faith, and I believe in my heart of hearts that the person that created me, created me the way that I am so that I could use those events to truly be able to help people,” he says.

Before entering the world of politics, Carter was a broadcast journalist for more than two decades.

“I always say that about 23 years ago I was a really bad broadcaster, and then over a period of 23 years I got a lot better at it,” he says.

Carter believes journalism gave him a great opportunity to understand the history and the heritage of political leaders of the past, and also allowed him to fully understand the community.

“I got so many different opportunities to be able to serve on different boards and different things like that,” he explains. “I got the chance to interview different people from all over the world and from different walks of life, and I thought it was exciting and it was a wonderful experience for me because I don’t have a formal education, and so through the opportunity of interviewing people I got the chance to be able to be educated.”

He said while being in journalism is a lot different than what he does today, it did help him get to where he is in his life.

Dan Carter hugs a supporter on the night he became Oshawa’s mayor.

Before becoming a city councillor, Carter had a brief flirtation with provincial politics.

He says it goes back to when Jim Flaherty, former MPP for Whitby-Ajax and MP for Whitby-Oshawa, stepped down from his provincial seat to move up to federal politics.

“I was approached by John Tory, who was the leader of the Progressive Conservative party at the time, and he had asked me if I would be interested in running to obtain the nomination for the Progressive-Conservative party in Whitby-Oshawa and take Jim’s position,” explains Carter.

He then went on to work with the party’s leadership and local riding association to ready himself to run.

But about 48 hours before he was about to announce he was going to take the position, Christine Elliot, Flaherty’s wife, made her intentions known she wanted the seat.

“The party asked me to step aside so that Christine could get the seat,” Carter explains. “That was kind of disappointing for me, but I understood later. I understood that probably Christine was the right person at the right time to be able to take on that role.”

He then went back to television unsure if he was going to run in politics, but then in early 2014, while at his home in Florida, he received a call from the PC party requesting he come back and run as the candidate in the Durham riding.

After talking it over with his wife Paula, he called back and said it wasn’t the right fit for him.

“When I was down there, my wife said ‘You’re going to have to make a decision one way or another. You’re either going to have to make a decision that you’re going to take on the role of trying to run for local politics or you’re going to have to just put it away and walk away,’” he explains.

He points out many people who enter into politics are afraid of losing, and he was no different.

“I think that was the same thing with me. I was afraid of losing, I was afraid that maybe I thought a lot more of myself than I really should have, but my wife said, ‘If you do this, I’ll stand with you,’” Carter says with a smile.

So, in June 2014, Carter registered to run as a regional and city councillor in Oshawa.

“To be absolutely honest you go into it at the early stages not worrying. ‘Oh, if it went great, if it doesn’t, don’t worry about it,’” he explains with a shrug.

However, Carter says as you get into it, you want it “more and more.”

“I think you start to understand as you meet people and you’re knocking on doors and you’re doing that door-to-door salesman kind of thing, you understand a lot better exactly what the expectations are,” he says.

As it got closer and closer to election night, Carter says he began to want the opportunity to serve.

“On election night, I wouldn’t go into our campaign office until all the polls were closed,” says Carter. “I stood outside, and I wouldn’t go inside and my pastor was there, and my family was there, and they said ‘Oh, you can come in,” and I asked if all polls were closed and they said ‘No they’re not,’ so I said ‘I’m not coming in.’”

Carter notes he wouldn’t let them tell him what the results were until he had come in, and he found out he got the third highest votes in the election.

“I broke down,” he says. “It’s a very humbling experience when someone puts a check mark, a circle or an x beside your name… I’ve never forgotten about what the expectations of the public have been.”

Carter says he had to face his fears and he’s been lucky the public has allowed him to serve.

Carter says despite all of his struggles, he hopes what he has gone through in his life has prepared him to be a good husband, a good father, a good grandfather, and a good Mayor, because those are things that are important to him.