It was a night of firsts at the Emo Legion on Friday night as members of the new Conservative Party of Canada welcomed their inaugural candidate in the new riding of Thunder Bay-Rainy River.
David Leskowski, a Thunder Bay insurance broker, was acclaimed after Christine Hogarth withdrew her name just days before the scheduled nomination meetings, citing personal reasons.
Both Hogarth and Leskowski, as well as representatives from the riding association, attended the meeting with local party members in Emo on Friday to talk to supporters and discuss the major issues facing the new riding in the next federal election.
Riding association president Richard Neumann said the party was committed to representing Rainy River District.
“It’s a challenge, it’s an expanded riding,” he noted. “But it’s the hand we’ve been dealt and we’re determined to make the best of it.
“The decision to hold this meeting here—whether or not the nomination was contested—was never in question,” Neumann added. “It’s important we demonstrate our commitment to this region right now, and not wait until after the election.”
The recent “Unite the Right” campaign, which resulted in the merger of the former Progressive Conservative and Canadian Alliance parties, has only been beneficial, Neumann said.
“We are extremely united as an association, as a board, and as an executive,” he stressed.
Leskowski spoke to the crowd of 50 people about how he intended to run his campaign.
“We’re going to run a very positive campaign regardless of what happens,” he said, adding the Liberals would not likely do the same.
“They will get dirty,” he charged. “They’ll be slandering the party, and they’ll be slandering me.
“I am dedicated to win this. And if we don’t win it this time, we will win it next time,” Leskowski vowed. “There is a list of winnable ridings in Ontario and we’re one of them.”
Despite the recent sponsorship scandal, Leskowski said he didn’t expect the Liberals would suffer a great loss in popularity in Northwestern Ontario.
“The Liberals will get as many votes as they did last time, they’ll just be different votes,” he noted.
The results from the last federal election suggest the Conservatives still could take the riding.
Liberal Stan Dromisky took the old Thunder Bay-Atikokan riding in 2000 with 37 percent of the vote. Leskowski, running for the Canadian Alliance, came in second with 29 percent while PC candidate Ian Sinclair came fourth with nearly 12 percent.
Had the Alliance and PC parties been unified in the last election, they would have won the riding with about 41 percent, Leskowski noted.
“We need to implement some very serious changes in this country,” he said, citing government corruption and mismanagement.
Leskowski then fielded questions from the audience on various issues.
When asked about the gun registry, Leskowski was firm. “It has to go immediately. Can you imagine spending another billion dollars simply on a software program?” he asked.
He also spoke about the role government can play in diversifying the local economy.
“We’re going to help people to do the things they can’t do for themselves,” he pledged, rather than duplicating what is being done in the private sector.
Leskowski was optimistic about the party’s chances against the Liberals in the next election, still widely expected to be called later this spring.
“We don’t have a very high standard to set ourselves against. They’ve set the bar very low to the ground,” he argued.
He also said he didn’t approve of the changes made to riding boundaries in Northwestern Ontario—and blamed the Liberals for not listening to the concerns of local people.
“I don’t think you’re better served in terms of representation. I think it’s too wide,” he remarked.
Leskowski will face off against Liberal Ken Boshcoff in the next federal election.
The NDP will announce their candidate April 15 following nomination meetings in Fort Frances, Atikokan, and Thunder Bay. Larry Richardson and John Rafferty are the two current candidates.
The Green Party also will field a candidate in the new riding of Thunder Bay-Rainy River. Miscampbell resident Mike Kemper is one of three candidates expected to seek the nomination, which will be decided April 7.