The Progressive Conservative candidate for Kenora-Rainy River in the upcoming provincial election already has thrown his support behind Caroline Mulroney to be the party’s next leader.
“I’m endorsing Caroline Mulroney outright and I spoke with her yesterday [Sunday] confirming she had my full support,” Greg Rickford said Monday evening in an e-mailed response to the Times.
“I am . . . convinced that the [party] should select a dynamic family woman who has had success in the private sector and who knows a thing or two about politics,” he noted.
Mulroney, a 43-year-old mother of four and daughter of former prime minister Brian Mulroney, officially tossed her hat into the ring Sunday afternoon, joining former MPP Christine Elliott and Toronto politician Doug Ford, brother of the city’s late former mayor, Rob Ford, as the only declared candidates so far.
Rickford indicated he was approached to enter the leadership race but declined.
“I am humbled that many folks, I can say hundreds honestly, not just party members or supporters, who reached out to me from across the province, but mostly from Thunder Bay and Kenora Districts, by phone, e-mail, social media, etc. asking me to run,” he noted.
“More than a good few offered to help fund my campaign.
“But I believe this is the right choice for my family right now,” he added. “I have two daughters aged four and two who love spending time with me–mostly.”
Rickford also said the decision to hold a formal leadership race to determine who would helm the party heading into the June 7 election was the right one.
“Party members’ opinions on policy and their leadership is paramount to party politics and democratic governance,” he reasoned.
“The current Progressive Conservative caucus of 26 members, in my respectful view, has a mandate to choose an interim leader but not a leader we go into an election behind.”
The new party leader is to be crowned March 10–less than three months before Ontarians go to the polls.
But Rickford doesn’t see a problem with the tight window.
“With modern-day technology as it is, there is no reason we can’t do this in the timelines we have now,” he said.
“Actually, conventions can be boring, expensive, and difficult for folks out here to travel to.
“The rules and technology we have set in motion for this leadership selection process are fair and workable,” he added.
“This is the right thing to do,” he reiterated. “Members matter.”
The leadership race was sparked by the abrupt resignation of former party leader Patrick Brown last month over allegations of sexual misconduct while he was a federal MP.
“Patrick did the right thing by resigning–these were serious allegations of sexual harassment,” Rickford said.
“He is entitled to due process and I hope he gets a fair chance to have these allegations addressed,” he noted.
“But as a father of two young girls, it is equally important that we move towards creating a safe and supportive environment for women to come forward.
“This is something that has affected all political parties, and we must continue to condemn sexual harassment and assault in the strongest of terms and work together at all levels of government to eliminate workplace and related forms of sexual harassment,” he stressed.
Rickford was in Fort Frances last Tuesday evening, when he addressed party supporters during a meet-and-greet held at Flint House.
“It was fun and exciting,” he said of the event. “People were really kind to me and in good spirits, looking forward to getting on with a leadership selection process.
“Folks were engaged,” he added.
“I got the sense it had been a long time since they spoke to any politician in a serious meeting who knew what they were talking about, I met with local lawyers to discuss local judicial resources, and socially, who they felt comfortable talking about a broad range of issues and opportunities for Fort Frances and the surrounding area.”
Rickford, who served as a Conservative MP for Kenora from 2008-15, said he made the jump from federal to provincial politics because he loves public service.
“My time as an MP came to an abrupt end in a close election that was about the need voters felt to get rid of Harper–not me,” he remarked.
“Thousands told me so.
“Many still voted for me and the passion to serve this district never left me,” he added. “Jean Charest, my friend and former premier of Quebec, told me that he felt your were never truly a politician until you had won and lost.
“I took him at his word–and felt I could be an even more effective politician than ever,” Rickford said.
“Although my law and advisory practice is doing very well, political advocacy is my home base, where I walk with the most confidence in what I am doing,” he noted.
“I am very pleased to be back at it.”
It’s been a lonely race so far, though, as neither the Liberals or NDP have nominated candidates in Kenora-Rainy River for the June 7 election.
“Being a candidate is a huge commitment and when you can feel the momentum for change, some parties have more difficulty than others,” said Rickford.
“That said, I don’t spend too much time worrying or thinking about who candidates are for the other parties,” he admitted.
“I engage voters, I knock on doors, like Leo Bernier before me and, in fairness, like Howard Hampton did.
“I am tireless in that regard and I take my prospects from what voters say,” Rickford added.
“Right now, they want the provincial Liberals gone so that inspires me–it’s like fuel for my truck to keep me on the road.”
Former Liberal candidate Anthony Leek, who ran in both the 2011 and 2014 elections and now is president of the local riding association, said a date for a nomination meeting has not been set–and no potential candidates have stepped forward yet.
“Since Kenora-Rainy River has a tendency to need a lot more time for people to warm up to local candidates, the extent of the impact for such a delay is dependent on who the candidate for the Liberals (and NDP) will be,” Leek said Monday afternoon in an e-mailed response to the Times.
“Considering that Rickford has been a previous MP and cabinet minister, both the NDP and Liberals need strong candidates, as well,” he conceded.
As for Brown’s sudden resignation, Leek said it’s difficult to gauge how it will affect both the local and provincial campaign.
“It comes down to who will be the new leader of the PCs [in] March,” he remarked.
The local NDP also have yet to choose a candidate after incumbent MPP Sarah Campbell announced in November that she would not seek re-election, citing family reasons.
“The period for potential candidates to declare their intention to run to represent the NDP in Kenora-Rainy River is currently open,” Ontario NDP Provincial Secretary Karla Webber-Gallagher said yesterday in an e-mailed response to the Times.
“We are excited about the potential candidates who have expressed interest so far and look forward to welcoming the nominee to our team,” she added.
Webber-Gallagher said a date for the nomination meeting will be announced once the period for potential candidates to step forward has closed, although she did not indicate when that might be.