Thunder Bay Conservatives are faced with a choice

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Thunder BayTHUNDER BAY – In the Lakehead, the political fortunes for the federal Conservatives have not been good. It was not always that way. Up until the 1930’s it was Progressive Conservatives who were elected to represent the region. In Fort William from 1925 until 1935 the MP was the Hon. Robert Manion. On the Port Arthur side, from 1925 to 1935 the Progressive Conservatives held the seat.

Since the 1935 federal election, for the Conservatives, the region has remained a political backwater. No candidate from the Conservatives has been elected.

That is not to suggest that there have not been some strong MPs elected from our community. C. D. Howe, the MP for Port Arthur from 1935 until 1958 was known as the “Minister of Everything” and is widely regarded the politician who developed Canada’s industrial strategy.

Other representatives, Bob Andras and Joe Comuzzi have been strong MPs with serious responsibilities. Douglas Fisher for the CCF and then the NDP was a strong voice for the region.  However those MPs were not elected Conservatives.

For the Conservatives finding a path to victory has been really hard.

The trend for electing Liberals or New Democrats in Northwestern Ontario was broken in Kenora, when Greg Rickford won the riding in the last election. Rickford won, in what too many was a surprise, garnering 40.6% of the vote.

Rickford has been placed in the position of being the Conservative government’s representative for both Thunder Bay ridings. It is interesting therefore to note that Rickford has also come out with positive statements on the nomination runs by Richard Harvey in Thunder Bay Superior North, and for Maureen Comuzzi-Stehmann in Thunder Bay Rainy-River.

Those moves from Rickford, who has learned how to win in Northwestern Ontario as a Conservative, are likely causing some in the local Conservative riding associations some grief. The endorsement of nominees by a sitting Conservative MP might be seen as stepping over the local Conservatives.

On Comuzzi-Stehmann, Rickford stated, “Maureen certainly brings tremendous profile to the candidacy and has a strong reputation as an individual and as part of a family that has contributed so much to the Thunder Bay community. I’m delighted to see so much enthusiasm around seeking the Conservative candidacy in both Thunder Bay ridings. It is clear that folks in Thunder Bay are tired of the fourth party martyrdom politics the NDP are offering them.”

On Richard Harvey, the Kenora MP stated, “Richard is exactly the type of candidate we are looking for in Thunder Bay- Superior North. Over the past number of years I have had the opportunity to work closely with Richard in his role as Mayor of Nipigon. Richard brings tremendous experience to the table, he has strong ties to the city of Thunder Bay and the surrounding region and is very well versed on matters regional and national in scope”.

In Thunder Bay Rainy River, for the Conservatives it has been a long search for a candidate, and right now many in the party are sounding pleased with the announcement that they finally have a candidate.

In Thunder Bay Superior North, Harvey is being challenged by the youthful Richard Longtin.

In a way, with all due respect to Longtin, and his political experience at Lakehead University in student politics, and working for MPs and MPPs, his candidacy, which is supported by former Conservative candidates,  to me, is just a little like what the NDP do in most Alberta ridings.

In Alberta, the NDP find a sacrificial lamb to run for the party. While in Alberta for 25 of the province’s 26 seats, the Conservative vote is weighed as much as it is counted, the NDP often do not even recover their deposits. In some cases either do the Liberals for that matter.

For the Conservatives, choosing their candidates for the next federal election, is likely a matter of deciding if keeping their seventy-five year tradition of losing is what they wish to do, or if they are willing to shake off the old guard, and old traditions, and head in new directions.

For a healthy democracy there needs to be healthy riding associations, and dynamic campaigns. While the Conservative vote has climbed in recent elections, it is likely some of that has been due to growing support for the federal party, not as a result of any major local efforts.

Winning elections is not easy. It is a lesson that the NDP learned after several years of trying. After years of not knowing how to run a modern campaign, the NDP in our city took action. The NDP brought in campaign experts and taught the local volunteers how to win.

The results can be seen in the election to Parliament of two MPs.

For the Conservatives, often it has seemed over the past, there is more contentment in losing. That likely is a sign that the old lions in the Conservative Party in Thunder Bay are enjoying basking in the sun more than fighting to win. Some of those names still prominent in the local riding association date back to the days of Joe Clark. That is not to say bad things about the past, but maybe the past has been sitting in the path of the future for so long it is a problem.

It will be up to Conservative Party members to decide if it is time for a change, or if the status quo is good enough. The deadline to purchase memberships is August 9th, and the nomination meeting can be called anytime within 21 days of that date.

If the Conservatives do manage to move forward, the result will be a healthier democratic environment in Thunder Bay. That will be good for the region.

Sometimes to bring about change, the past needs to be put in the past, and the future put at the forefront. The moves by Greg Rickford might offend some in the local Conservative circles, but if you look at their track record in electing MPs, maybe they deserve a little offending?

That of course is just my opinion, as always, your mileage may vary.

James Murray

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