MOOSE CREEK — Former local MPP and Ontario agriculture minister Noble Villeneuve died yesterday at the age of 79.
First elected in the waning years of the “big blue machine” Tory dynasty, Villeneuve’s 1983 debut at the Legislature followed the death of his distant cousin, MPP Osie Villeneuve, and a resulting by-election that landed him on the benches of Premier Frank Miller’s government. But to get there, the farmer from Moose Creek overcame two local reeves standing in his way — first defeating Mountain Township’s Ewart Simms for the Progressive Conservative nomination and then beating his principal by-election opponent, Williamsburg Township’s Johnny Whitteker of the Liberals, to win the riding of Stormont-Dundas-Glengarry.
He went on to hold the seat for two terms in Official Opposition, until 1995 when his party returned to power under Premier Mike Harris, who appointed Villeneuve to the Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs portfolio with a responsibility for Francophone Affairs.
As minister, Villeneuve “was a big player” in assisting the region during January 1998 Ice Storm, recalled David Guy of North Dundas. “He was huge in helping out. He had Mike Harris come to the area and ensured a lot of the funding that rolled out,” added Guy, a long-time Tory activist who worked on every Villeneuve campaign.
Guy remembered Villeneuve as “a wonderful man, proud of where he was from … and proud of the work he was able to do.
“He was well grounded. He thought more other people than he thought of himself.”
The late John Cleary, a Liberal, defeated Villeneuve in the 1999 election — an unusual contest of incumbents resulting from the merger of Cleary’s Cornwall riding into a new district then known as Stormont-Dundas-Charlottenburgh. Villeneuve briefly served as a justice of the peace after the loss, then suffered a debilitating stroke that kept him out of the public light for many years.
He had resided at Maxville Manor before passing away yesterday (Feb. 28), a loss announced by his daughter on Facebook. “Dad, you leave behind an amazing legacy — I’m so proud to be your daughter…. Enjoy those card games, cigars, red wines, and so much more….,” wrote Roxane Villeneuve, who followed her father into politics and ran for the PC’s in the last provincial election.
On Facebook, North Dundas Mayor Eric Duncan said of the deceased: “Our community and province have lost a wonderful public servant with the passing of former MPP Noble Villeneuve. Noble was a smart, hardworking, and down to earth leader, and an excellent orator. He will be remembered for his work to make rural Ontario a better place to live, work, and raise family. My thoughts are with the Villeneuve family as we remember a life well lived. Rest in Peace Noble.”
“I’m sure anyone who knew him or worked with him are incredibly sad to hear of his death,” observed Glenda Eden of Ingleside, Villeneuve’s former constituency assistant. “Most people loved Noble. Those that didn’t, liked and/or respected him. I’m feeling blue today, no pun intended, though certainly fitting.
“But it’s hard to think or talk about him with out smiling. He was a charming, decent, hardworking politician who expected the best from everyone he encountered. And most of the time, he got it.”
Update: In a statement released last night, local MPP Jim McDonell said it was “with great sadness” that he learned of “the passing of a great community advocate.”
Villeneuve “provided a strong voice for agricultural and rural issues,” McDonell noted, adding, “We will sorely miss his insight, wisdom, and integrity as he was a role model for how elected officials should serve their communities and the Province they are called upon to steward. Noble was a dedicated family man and our heartfelt condolences go out to his wife Elaine and family.”
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