By John Swartz
Last Thursday an email arrived from the office of Simcoe North MP Bruce Stanton. These things happen. Anything marked For Immediate Release usually isn’t immediate when it comes from a politician’s office and it can wait until the work at hand is done. But, for some reason it was opened and the first line – Bruce Stanton will not be running in the next federal election was certainly an attention grabber.
The announcement was a bit of a shock because journalists usually have heard something and the speculation wheels start turning. Not this time. SUNonline/Orillia spoke with Stanton to find out more about his decision and what he has in store post weekly drives to Ottawa.
“This was our decision. We both have had very busy lives,” he said. Like all good husbands, decisions of this kind of weight had better be discussed at home first. Heather Stanton doesn’t strike one as the kind of wife who could hold a grudge, but it’s better to be safe when pulling the plug on a 15 year and running career.
“It certainly doesn’t seem like 15 years,” he said. “It’s flown by without a doubt.”
At 62, Stanton is young enough there could be another round, but one has to appreciate the 10 hours used driving there and back each week, the numerous events he attends on his days off, and enduring the constant exposure to the often less than mature goings on in the House of Commons. Fifteen years with all that is like at least 30 for most people.
Of course for the last 4 months his schedule has been somewhat lighter. He has had to be available to be in the House when it is sitting because he is the deputy speaker (he presided over the historic emergency financial aid package), but the new abundance of contemplation time allowed examining the future.
“It was bound to happen at some point. We started to look ahead at what that scenario looks like. Normally that would be something that is beyond your mind if you were a majority government, at least you wouldn’t until you got closer to the end of it, but at this point we don’t know when the end of this will come. So, I thought we better start thinking about letting people know what my intentions are,’
“As member of parliament, it’s the kind of an occupation you’re ‘on’ all the time, much the same as it was when I was at the resort; when you are in a family business of that nature you are out in front of your customers all the time. When you get to your mid-60s and you are starting to look ahead, we’ve seen so many of our friends who got near retirement and had some kind of a health thing happen and all their plans they left until retirement get kind of dashed. All of these things taken in, there’s still some things we want to do in our lives, travel and just do some fix ups around our house, things like that we want to enjoy at a little more leisurely pace than this. “
Even though his election didn’t happen until January 23, 2006, he effectively started working in May 2005 when he won the nomination to represent the Progressive Conservative Party.
“It was all around the time of the sponsorship scandal and there was great anticipation about when, or if, the Paul Martin government would survive. They lost on a confidence motion in November and bang, we were into an election.”
The Path Taken
And it’s been go, go, go since. He credits his success to his upbringing and his time in high school at Park Street Collegiate.
‘I graduated in 1975. I started there in ‘71, only about ten years after Park opened. I didn’t realize that at the time.” To him the school seemed like it had always been there, when it reality it was relatively new. He was involved after school activities.
“Those were great years. I was involved in the theater side, and band. I was never in the athletic side of extra-curricular activities at that time. A lot of my work in the musicals and in band, those were highlights of my years at Park Street. The staff there was fantastic.”
“I principally played tuba in class and in the band. I was in the senior band, I think, in Grade 10,” Stanton said, “a bit of trombone, baritone and a bit of trumpet as well.” The tubas usually sit with the percussion section, so it’s possible there was some quality of a take-charge, confidence which rubbed off.
“Darn right. Between the drummers and the tuba the band wouldn’t be able to stay on beat without us, right?”
He recalled a long list of teachers who made a life-long impression.
“All of whom had an influence in my interest, not only in my public life, but also in reading, getting the craft around reading and writing and communicating in an effective way. I was on student council too. I was student council treasurer.”
Stanton didn’t stick around for Grade13, as was the practice then for students moving on to higher education. He enrolled at Ryerson Polytechnical and studied hotel, restaurant and institutional administration.
“Looking back I probably would have done that a little differently. I was eager to get into the family business, which I did right after Ryerson and went right to work with my father and the family business at Bayview.”
He grew up in the resort business. Bayview Wildwood is now part of the Sunray Group, which also owns the Champlain downtown and the Mariposa Inn. Stanton’s son, Jason, is still at Bayview, but he doesn’t think getting back in the business is on the horizon.
‘I kind of grew up with the nature of work, you need to be present and you need to be active and on top of things, and this is not the kind of job that allows you to get away for an extended period of time,” he said. “It’s not an interest I’ve got any designs on right at the moment, that’s for sure.”
“I wouldn’t say I wouldn’t do that because my son’s there and if I can be help to him in some way that would be something I would look at doing. We’re certainly not going to jump in with both feet to anything immediate. We’re staying in the community, we’ll still be involved. We’ll obviously initially be helping the new candidate in their work to secure an election win, whenever that election does come.”
He wants to do some travelling, mentioning the Alaska Highway, and the north shore drive of the St. Lawrence from Quebec into Newfoundland as things he’d like to do.
“It doesn’t look like we’ll be going too far outside of Canada any time soon,’ he said with a chuckle.
Who Knew What When
Naturally, the people he works with had a heads up.
“I let the EDA, the Electoral District Association, I let them know on Wednesday night. I’ve also sent a letter to the president of the national party to let him know because things like your status as a candidate, like I’m an MP, a member of the caucus, I’m part of the parliamentary caucus, that of course continues until the next MP is elected, but in terms of your status as a candidate that will be contesting elections, that really is more of a party matter.”
“I did speak with my leader, Andrew Scheer and I’ll have a chance to speak to some of my caucus colleagues in the time ahead, but it’s really to let the party know they have to think about Simcoe North as a riding that will now have to go through a candidate selection process.”
Did Scheer have anything conversational to say on the subject of Stanton’s decision?
“We talked a little bit about those years in caucus, each of us doing our own thing in many ways. The reality is in a large caucus, when we were first elected in ’06 we were caucus of 121 MPs, yes we do have national caucus meeting to keep everybody together, but the real, practical elements of caucus for me was how we work in Ontario, so you’re working with Ontario conservative MPs.”
Coincidentally, the caucus today resembles his first in one aspect.
“We’re a caucus of 121, ironically, but there’s only 8 of us there that are still members of the class of 2006.”
Nobody here at home was yearning for Stanton to move aside, thinking he’s been in the job long enough.
“I have found the topic of my continuing has come up the longer I serve. Even during the last election, once we won there would kind of like be comments like, “well, it’s a minority, I’ll guess we’ll have to keep the signs at bay and get ready for the next one.”
“I think some of them weren’t really surprised given I’ve got 15 years in and not getting any younger. At the same time we put all our energies into that 2019 election.”
On one hand it’s like telling the boss, “one day, I’m walking out and never coming back,” just to keep them on their toes. Stanton weighed the probability of how long he will remain before the next election and the window is wide open for the moment.
“For all we know we may still be going three years. The prime minster can keep governing four years as long as he has the confidence of the House of Commons. (There is) no indication at all, at least two of the opposition parties favour the policy agenda the government has put forward in general terms. When push comes to shove, the trajectory this current government has set is one that generally finds favour within the Bloc Quebecois and the New Democratic Party and prime minster Trudeau only needs one of those parties to give them enough votes to continue to hold the confidence o the House of Commons and therefore he can govern. He can govern until 2023 if he wishes.”
The PM, New Leader, Next Candidate
On the subject of Trudeau, How does Stanton rate the performance of the government in this time of emergency?
“I’d say mixed. I think initially they have shown ability, they’ve been nimble enough in programs they rolled out, broad sweeping programs, and they did get them out quickly. They’ve also shown an ability to adjust the programs on the fly fairly quickly as they rolled them out and got some feedback.”
‘I think on that measure I would give them a passing grade, certainly. As we’ve moved into this, though, I think in terms of their communication and their dismissing the importance of parliamentary scrutiny has been a misstep on their part. Initially they came out and essentially wanted to sequester, potentially suspend any kind of parliamentary operation until the end of 2021. That was their first plan.”
“I think at this stage its important parliament come back and I do think the government has been a little naïve in thinking that they can somehow can control all the things to their advantage without having the full means of parliament to hold their programs to account. I think that’s an important check in our democratic system that members of parliament, elected by their people at home to represent them, that they have a chance to pose questions and use the tools of parliament to make sure our system of government works effectively.”
This weekend was to be the convention for the PCs to pick a new leader. That won’t happen until August 21. Stanton does have a horse he’s backing, Durham MP Erin O’Toole. Regardless of the outcome, Stanton is ready to work with a new leader.
“I look forward to that certainly and the new leader will be in a good position to get the party together, get it ready for the next election, whenever that may come, and I look forward to working with the new leader.”
And he’s ready to help whoever the new candidate is take over his seat.
“I felt it was proper to say no to the EDA indeed I wouldn’t be reoffering the next time, so this will give them sufficient time to get the pieces in place to find a good candidate and be prepared to run a different candidate in Simcoe North.”
“Some have said they are interested in this, nobody formally yet, but I think that process has already started. Some people who may not have even thought about it will now realize it’s an open nomination and you may see people come forward you maybe didn’t even realize had political aspirations. The advantage is, there is at least a little amount of time for people to think about that and if they do wish to pursue it they do have at least a modicum of time to be able to get their own affairs and commitments in order to do that.”
Don’t expect a quick process to name a new candidate.
“The national party will usually dictate those things. The local riding association will typically do a candidate search process. They have to satisfy the party they’ve gone out to reach out to people who are potential runners to get the very best candidate they can.”
“Once they checked some of those boxes the national party will give them the go ahead to set a date for a nomination. That doesn’t prevent any nomination candidate who is interested to even start today and start to sell memberships with the view of getting people to vote for the next candidate.”
Not only will he remain the Simcoe North MP, he’ll stay in his other role too.
“When you are appointed Deputy Speaker, you stay in that post until the end of the parliament. I’ll continue my duties.”
(Stanton/ Lewis Photo by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia, Others Supplied)