Although he has been a self-described “politics nerd” for most of his life, Cody Bondarchuk was not yet planning to run for Edmonton City Council when he was working at McDonald’s just over a decade ago. He was there to earn some extra money while in high school, and on the job, he and his coworkers took it upon themselves to do what he felt was simply a “feel-good thing.”
“It was just that the concept of giving people a surprise was like a nice little treat,” he says. “That was more front of mind than any financial implications.”
The surprise was an extra Chicken McNugget in almost every 10-piece pack of McNuggets he made for the two and half years he worked there, and the financial implications were about $1,600 worth of chicken, by his own calculations. Reminiscing on Nov. 15, 2019, he tweeted out this little thing he and his coworkers used to do, which rapidly earned him over 800,000 likes, international fame, a shoutout from Tom Hanks, and the approving moniker “The Robin Hood of Nuggets.”
Now, the 27-year-old is gearing up for a council run in this year’s municipal election on Oct. 18. He’s running in the newly designated Ward tastawiyiniwak, in the north of Edmonton where he’s lived his whole life. Though the details of his platform are somewhat scarce this early in the race, it is certainly shaping up to be progressive. The campaign’s website mentions a number of hot-button left-wing positions like affordable housing, sustainable environmental practices, and public transportation systems that are “quick, safe, and accessible to all,” all funded with municipal tax revenues. Essentially, the platform’s central pillar is to provide for people who are not the most well-off in present circumstances by redistributing some of Edmonton’s wealth.
“I absolutely identify with the idea that everyone should be taken care of,” Bondarchuk says. “In a country as rich as Canada, it is shameful that people don’t have enough to live on.”
Housing is an issue that Edmonton has been grappling with quite a bit during Mayor Don Iveson’s first two (and only two) terms. While most of the discussion has been around sheltering the city’s houseless population, Bondarchuk says he wants to take the issue of fair housing a step further by securing and expanding protections for renters, especially those with low incomes.
“The idea is that everything is on the table — rent control, frameworks for housing co-ops to get established, and any different policies that would protect renters in a more meaningful way,” he says. “Housing is essential, and landlords need a business license, so there are requirements the City can slap on to ensure that people are being treated properly and everyone has access to housing.”
Relatedly, Bondarchuk’s plans for public transportation are to think of it “similarly to how we think about health care or housing: as essentials,” he says. This would mean funding it to a degree that there would be no need for bus fares, similarly to how many health-care services do not require payment at the point of service. Instead of relying on fares, paid largely by lower-income people who are disproportionately reliant on public transit over personal vehicles, the costs of the transit system would be entirely incorporated into the City’s operating budget.
He is not shy about the fact that ideas like these would require more taxes. The “priorities” page of his website mentions a “progressive taxation plan,” which primarily involves what he colloquially calls a “mansion tax.” While he doesn’t have exact numbers to attach to the idea yet, he says it will definitely involve “higher property taxes on homes over a certain amount,” in terms of the assessed value of the property.
“There are plenty of people with really big homes in Edmonton,” he says. “I just want to look into making sure they are paying their fair share.”
Looking at these areas of Bondarchuk’s platform, one could easily develop a feeling that the Robin Hood comparison runs a little deeper than just McNuggets. The legendary outlaw of medieval England who stole from the rich to feed the poor was basically a personified welfare program in most tellings, and would almost certainly agree with funding of essential services to make them available to low-income people by increasing our higher-end tax rates.
Even Bondarchuk’s views on police budgets — which is that they should be reduced, broadly speaking, with the saved funds being redirected towards other social services and types of first responders — is like a more grounded, less radical version of Robin Hood’s antagonism of the Sheriff of Nottingham.
But while Bondarchuk admits there is “probably a connection” between his juvenile corporate theft and his redistributive politics of today, he insists that, at least at the time, he wasn’t thinking about nuggets in this way.
“It wasn’t a deliberate political act,” Bondarchuk says. “I wasn’t exactly thinking academically about Marx when I was shovelling nuggets into boxes.”
And though his later tweet on the subject did thrust him in front of the public eye, he insists it wasn’t a move related to the campaign.
“I’ve gotten comments when I first announced (my campaign) saying ‘oh, now he wants to capitalize,’” he says. “But, I’ve been planning to run for council since way before that tweet.”
Bondarchuk says his plans to run first materialized after the last municipal election in 2017. He announced his candidacy in November 2020, and says he has received a huge response since then.
Though he does know a bit about fame, this spotlight has been a completely different experience.
“It’s been bizarre just having people talk about me,” he says. “I got flashes of that with the nugget thing, but to have people discussing and debating everything I say has definitely been strange.”
But there were a few moments back in 2019 that his behaviour was debated, as the response to his tweet was not universally positive. When Bondarchuk appeared on a Toronto radio show, a caller and professed McDonald’s franchisee owner suggested he should be arrested. However, just as he does not have plans to leverage his internet fame to positively impact the campaign, he doesn’t think attacks like these will have any impact on the campaign either.
“I don’t consider it a serious criticism,” he says, adding that even though he doesn’t regret his actions, he wouldn’t do it today.
But regardless of how his opinions on the matter have changed, or his lack of political intentions at the time, the thematic connection between his nugget redistribution scheme of 10 years ago and his campaign platform of today is definitely there.
“I did understand back then that McDonalds wasn’t exactly hurting for money,” he says. “Now, in a time where wealth inequality is getting worse, it baffles me that people could look at this and be mad about it.”