Dr. Alika LaFontaine has aspired to many things in his life – a chemistry degree, a career in medicine, social activism – but not once did he hope to get into an argument about Quebec independence with former Prime Minister Paul Martin.
But that’s exactly what happened in the run-up to LaFontaine’s win March 23 in CBC’s Canada’s Next Great Prime Minister competition. One of hundreds of young people who applied for a spot on the show, the second-year medical resident in the Department of Anesthesia was among the final four competitors to face a panel of experts – former Prime Ministers Martin, John Turner and Kim Campbell as well as Danny Williams, premier of Newfoundland and Labrador – who challenged their political views on a variety of issues. And, according to LaFontaine, “you never really win in an argument against a former prime minister.”
Amid a flood of media calls the day after his victory was announced (the show was actually taped in February), LaFontaine told On Campus News he had never considered formal involvement in politics until he became involved with the CBC competition. Now, he’s intrigued but contrary to the rumours, he has no plans to pack in his medical career for a trip to Ottawa.
LaFontaine, who is of Métis ancestry, grew up in Regina, graduated from high school at age 15 and earned a B.Sc. in Chemistry from the University of Regina at age 19. He was awarded a medical degree from the U of S when he was 24.
The affable young man said his work as, for example, president of the First Nations University students’ union and a mentor for young aboriginal people helped shape his platform for the competition, which focused on the need to establish a new relationship with Canada’s First Nations people.
The highlight of the competition for LaFontaine was not only hearing the ideas of other competitors on a range of issues, but also “seeing the excitement generated by the ideas that I had.”
The $50,000 prize that came with the title of next great prime minister will help LaFontaine and his wife Dr. Thu Uyen, a graduate of the U of S College of Dentistry, during an upcoming maternity leave – they are expecting their first child this summer. He has also been able to buy the four-slice toaster he’s been wanting for some time.
The win also includes a six-month internship in Toronto with the three competition sponsors – the Canada-U.S. Fulbright Program, Magna and The Dominion Institute. LaFontaine said he has three years left in his Anesthesia residency and he is considering petitioning the program for a leave in order to take advantage of the opportunity.