I was there when Pierre Elliott Trudeau visited Renfrew in the late 1960s when he was running for the leadership of the federal Liberals. Trudeau came by helicopter and landed at O’Brien Park by the swinging bridge. I recall there was a good crowd on hand to see him. He was a dashing figure and unlike the old irritable leaders of his time: John Diefenbaker and Lester Pearson.
I was there when Progressive Conservative Leader Robert Stanfield came to Renfrew in 1974. The public was invited to have breakfast with him at Butson’s Valley Motel. I recall the dining hall was filled but no huge crowds. Everyone had a seat. In the federal election of 1974, Stanfield ran on a policy of wage and price control. That was the topic of his after-breakfast speech. Trudeau was against wage and price control but implemented it when the Liberals won. That taught me never to believe what politicians say. Stanfield was opposition leader from 1967-1976.
Stanfield fumbled a football thrown to him at a stopover in North Bay during the campaign of 1974. The photo ran on the front page of the daily newspapers and that pretty well ended Stanfield’s political career.
I was there when Ontario Liberal Leader David Peterson visited Renfrew at O’Brien Park, before becoming premier in 1985. I remember waiting a long time at the park before Peterson’s bus showed up. And there wasn’t a huge crowd to greet him that afternoon, mostly staunch Liberal supporters.
I was there when Preston Manning came to Renfrew and met the curious and like-minded folks. Maybe 50 people came out.
I was there when Stephen Harper came to town around 2004. About 300 folks turned out to meet him at Renfrew’s Best Western.
I was there when Justin Trudeau came to Renfrew in May of 2013. He had just been elected leader of the federal Liberals. He wore jeans and spoke to about 300 people at the Renfrew Legion. Many young fans his age had their photo taken with Justin. His speaking style has improved immensely since those early days.
I was there when Kathleen Wynne came to Renfrew County in 2013. She appointed herself the Minister of Agriculture and Food for Ontario and wanted rural support. And she was eager to learn about farming and agriculture. Dave Campbell of the Lanark OFA organized a bus tour of Renfrew County, Ottawa-Carleton and Lanark County farms. Twelve area local federation members rode the bus with Ms. Wynne that day. I was on that bus and at times sat across from her. We didn’t laugh and joke around. It was a serious day.
I was there when Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford arrived at the Renfrew Armouries on May 9 in the big blue bus. I sat at the front of the hall below the podium and watched a very relaxed and joyful politician speak to about 1,000 people. He had no notes in hand and spoke for about 20 minutes. There were lots of cheers, applause and standing ovations. No cat calls or boos. His message was clear. He talked about hydro rates and high salaries paid to hydro executives that he said will change when he becomes premier. He said people want jobs; we need shorter waiting times at hospitals and better education for kids in elementary schools, not a carbon tax. He also committed to providing 30,000 more long-term care beds over 10 years. It was the biggest political rally I have witnessed in Renfrew.
What impressed me most was something you don’t see these days. After his speech, organizers told the audience if they wanted to meet Doug Ford and have their photo taken with him to line up at the left side of the stage. Hundreds waited in line and it moved ever so slowly. But Ford stayed there shaking hands with every person in the lineup, which took more than an hour. There was no rush to speed things up. I hung around and watched the proceedings. The bus was parked at the door and at one point the bus driver came inside to see what was taking so long.
I congratulated Ford on a great start of the campaign and getting so many supporters out to this rally. It was quite a show!
Maynard van der Galien is a Renfrew area crop farmer and agriculture columnist.