OTTAWA – John Duncan, one of the country’s longest-serving MPs, says Jim Flaherty’s death solidified his decision to run again in 2015.
The chief government whip, who represents Vancouver Island North in British Columbia, said in an interview with Global News he will seek the Conservative nomination in the new riding of Courtenay-Alberni.
“A lot of us, I think, thought about what we’re doing here with the passing of Jim Flaherty,” Duncan said Thursday in his office on Parliament Hill.
“Jim was a great believer that public service is good. …I know there’s other things I could do, but this mission doesn’t feel complete yet.”
Flaherty’s death from an apparent heart attack three weeks ago made Duncan “solidify” his decision to run in the next election.
“I thought I’d live with it for three weeks or so, and every day that I woke up make sure I was still feeling the same way. And I am,” he said.
Duncan, 65, has been in politics on – and very briefly off – for 21 years.
Duncan and Prime Minister Stephen Harper are the only original Reform MPs from 1993 in cabinet.
Of the six other Reformers still in Ottawa, two have announced they won’t seek re-election and two have said nothing publicly.
The party forms the foundation of today’s modern Conservative Party of Canada, after it became the Canadian Alliance in 2000 and merged with the Progressive Conservatives in 2003.
“I’m actually quite proud of the fact that I’ve been here since the 52 Reform MPs came to Ottawa,” Duncan said.
“I’m obviously still very engaged here and I have an institutional memory that not many people have.”
Duncan’s career has taken him through the contentious Idle No More movement, a cabinet resignation and even heart problems.
But he insists his health is good and he wants to stay in politics.
“I got my health back, and that means everything. If I was concerned about my health I would not do this.”
Duncan was first elected from 1993 until 2006, when he lost his seat to the NDP. He was then re-elected in 2008.
In 2010, Duncan was appointed aboriginal affairs minister. He served in the post for two-and-a-half years until February 2013, after it was revealed he wrote a 2011 letter to the federal tax court on behalf of a constituent. After admitting it was inappropriate, Duncan resigned.
But the even-tempered politician was redeemed somewhat last summer when he was shuffled back into a junior position in cabinet as chief government whip, in charge of keeping the Conservative caucus in line.
Duncan’s senior adviser Laura Smith says she will seek the Conservative nomination in Duncan’s redistributed riding of Vancouver Island North—Comox—Powell River.
Like Duncan, 45-year-old Smith has an extensive background in the forestry industry.
Before politics, Duncan lived and worked in the waterfront communities of Ucluelet and Port Alberni as an operational forester in west coast logging and operations for 20 years.
“I’ve lived in some pretty remote areas of the riding, and I’ve lived in some of the major communities as well,” Smith said. “And I think I have a good depth of understanding of the area, but also being here (in Ottawa) you get a different view of the issues.”
Duncan is now the only incumbent of any party seeking the nomination in four seats north of the Malahat – a community found on the island’s major highway running north and south. (There will be seven island seats in total in 2015).
He sees all the ridings as “winnable,” but says they will also be a fight. The region has traditionally been a tug-of-war between Conservative and NDP voters, although Green party leader Elizabeth May also holds her seat in Saanich-Gulf Islands.
“I like what I’m doing. I’ve been here a long time. I want to see us continue to govern as a majority, and I think I can help,” Duncan said.
“I just think I’ll be a stabilizing influence.”
When asked whether he may want to break from politics, Duncan replied, “Some people would say that, I just don’t happen to be one of them. I had a break from 2006 till 2008, and I didn’t enjoy it particularly.”
Of the other Reformers, Saskatchewan MP Garry Breitkreuz recently said he won’t seek re-election in 2015, and Diane Ablonczy announced last July she would not be running again in her Calgary riding.
Albertan Leon Benoit and Dick Harris from B.C. have not made any public announcements about the next election.
Here is a full list of Conservatives who have said they won’t seek re-election in 2015:
Greg Kerr – West Nova (NS)
Mike Allen – Tobique-Mactaquac (NB)
Barry Devolin – Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock (ON)
Ray Boughen – Palliser (SK)
Maurice Vellacott – Saskatoon-Wanuskewin (SK)
Garry Breitkreuz – Yorkton-Melville (SK)
Ed Komarnicki – Souris-Moose Mountain (SK)
Laurie Hawn – Edmonton Centre (AB)
Diane Ablonczy – Calgary-Nose Hill (AB)
James Lunney – Nanaimo-Alberni (BC)
Russ Hiebert – South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale (BC)
Colin Mayes – Okanagan-Shuswap (BC)
(List courtesy of Cory Hann, Conservative Party of Canada)