by Mark Burgess
The LowDown Online
Published: Thursday, June 18, 2009
Liberal insider Greg Fergus launched his campaign to represent the Liberal party in the riding of Pontiac, Quebec.
June 17, 2009 - No call to the polls has been issued – yet – but the local Liberal riding association is gearing up for its own election.
Seemingly out of nowhere, a new face appeared in Wakefield June 14 to announce he’s taking on incumbent Cindy Duncan-McMillan to represent the Liberal party in the riding of Pontiac.
A few lines in the email mail-out of the Wakefield News were all that announced Craig Fergus’ campaign launch at Kaffe 1870 last Sunday. But the tall, confident career Liberal with the thousand watt smile managed to pack the place.
”I’m running because I believe,” Fergus announced from the small stage of the local bar. Out of hard economic times, comes the will to work hard for positive change, he said. “There’s a real hunger among Liberals to move Mr. Harper’s representatives out.”
Greg Fergus – born in Montreal, current resident of Aylmer, fluent in French – was the Liberal party’s national director from October 2007 until this past February.
He’s worked for John Manley and Pierre Pettigrew and was senior policy advisor to International Trade Minister Jim Peterson, where he worked on the softwood lumber file. He was president of the Young Liberals of Canada from 1994 to 1996.
But Fergus is quick to dismiss the “star candidate” label, along with any myths about being parachuted into a strategic riding. (With the exception of Liberal Tom Lefebvre surviving Joe Clark’s minority victory in 1979, Pontiac’s member of parliament has also been a member of the government since 1968).
“That would have been nice,” he says.
But Fergus said the Pontiac riding interested him because of its diversity and embodiment of many Canadian challenges. He spoke of the riding’s vastly different communities and the economic interests they represent, from Chelsea’s commuters to Wakefield’s village feel to Shawville’s self-sustaining community.
He thinks what works here can be applied to similar communities across the country.
Cindy Duncan-McMillan, who led the Liberals to a second place finish in 2008 and who will vie for the nomination again, doesn’t think Fergus is suited for the riding.
“We need to ensure that our representative shares our values and understands our situation,” she said. “And as much as Greg is charming, he doesn’t begin to know that.”
Duncan McMillan said that while it’s flattering “that outsiders are Pontiacker wannabes,” it’s “insulting for someone to think we can’t find one of ourselves to represent us.”
Still, Duncan McMillan, a beef farmer from Farrellton with a poor command of French, will have a tough battle against a nominee who comes with so many friends, and probably funds, from the party. With leader Micheal Ignatieff already prioritizing Quebec seats for the next election, a politically-savvy candidate would be needed to take on current Conservative MP Lawrence Cannon.
Riding Association president Philip Ozga expects a tough fight for the nomination, which he thinks – barring an early return to the polls – will be decided by the fall.
“The two candidates present different approaches and very different personalities,” he said, adding that Duncan McMillan ran a strong campaign last year.
“Either one would be a great candidate for Pontiac.”
Both Fergus and Duncan McMillan mentioned three-time Pontiac MP Robert Bertrand as another candidate for the nomination but Ozga could only confirm the two.
Fergus thinks his advantage lies in his fluency in English and French, as well as his ability to speak to the riding’s economic and social issues.
He said he’s ready to take on Cannon, a former neighbour whom he knows well.
His decision to leave the back room and enter the political fray required some consultation with his wife and three kids – Alexandra, 16, Ben, 14, and Sarah, 11.
“They’re comfortable and ready to help dad,” he said, adding that he was pleased they even brought some of their friends to Kaffe 1870.
More on Fergus at his website: www.gregfergus.ca.
Hear the latest from Greg’s campaign at www.twitter.com/gregfergus