NORTH DUNDAS — He’s in.
In a move anticipated for years, Eric Duncan has confirmed his intent to succeed Guy Lauzon as federal Conservative candidate and MP for S-D-SG.
The 30-year-old former mayor of North Dundas officially launched his bid for the Tory nomination today, the first out of the gate. Lauzon, 74, announced Saturday he won’t seek re-election this October — throwing the Conservative role open for only the second time in almost 16 years.
A former longtime executive assistant and protégé to Lauzon — and perceived by many as the outgoing MP’s heir apparent — Duncan must win the support of local party members if he’s to carry their banner into the next election.
But he brings a potentially formidable combination of policy experience, broad electoral success and deep roots within the district’s ‘big blue machine’ — all to a degree belying his still youthful age.
Duncan admits to receiving “a bit of head’s up” from Lauzon about his mentor’s impending departure, which he used as an opportunity to “speak with family and friends” about re-entering the political ring.
And when his former boss went public with his retirement plans last week, Duncan says he was swamped with hundreds of “positive” phone calls this week.
“I’m excited to announce that I plan to seek the Conservative nomination here in Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry,” the smiling Winchester resident conclusively declares in an interview with Nation Valley News today.
It was a bit of a foregone conclusion at that point, as Duncan had teased followers on social media to “stay tuned” for an announcement this week.
He’s piled up more than a dozen years of uninterrupted politicking, starting when he was still “prime minister” of the students’ council at North Dundas District High School — where he notched 1,100 volunteer hours and simultaneously worked a student co-op job in the office of then-MPP and Ontario finance minister Jim Flaherty.
As an 18-year-old first-year Carleton University student — then helping out in the office of another Tory stalwart at Queen’s Park, MPP Norm Sterling — Duncan won a seat as councillor at the North Dundas Council table. Deftly employing social media, “war rooms” and calling parties, he went on to defeat the incumbent mayor and served two terms in that capacity. It was a position that allowed the self-confessed “political junkie” to earn greater regional recognition, including stints as warden of the United Counties and head of the Eastern Ontario Warden’s Caucus.
It was also early in his career at North Dundas headquarters that he landed the key position in Lauzon’s office, which saw Duncan juggling responsibilities as local mayor and coordinator of the Harper government’s caucus meetings on The Hill.
He intends to put all of that experience “to good use” if chosen the district’s Tory candidate in the October federal election and ultimately elected to Parliament, he says.
“I believe I have the experience and the energy, right on day one, to be an effective member of parliament. I’ve had a great role model in Guy [Lauzon],” he says, noting the public services offered by the MP, including satellite offices at multiple locations, tax-preparation help and passport clinics.
Lauzon has “set the benchmark” for being a good constituency MP, Duncan says, vowing the “same good customer service” if he succeeds him. “It’s not easy to try and meet that, but that’s my plan and my message.”
Like his old boss, Duncan has posted a considerable track record as a political winner, never losing an election [in Duncan’s case]. That includes the multiple provincial and federal campaigns he respectively quarterbacked for MPP Jim McDonell and Lauzon as campaign manager for both men.
From community breakfasts to volunteering at the South Mountain Fair and a slew of other causes, Duncan has followed Lauzon’s example of staying highly visible — in person — in the community he serves.
Making it to the House of Commons one day has been a dream of Duncan’s since childhood, though he admits spending a recent couple of years reassessing his pursuit of that path.
“Did I want to continue in public life or look at other opportunities?”
He went to work at his father’s trucking business, JED Express (between mayoral duties) and got some further experience in the private sector.
He clearly loves politics, but also candidly says he “hates” politics, too, or at least a type of “politics.”
“I hate petty nastiness, I hate backstabbing, I hate conflict, all those types of things,” says Duncan.
“What I do love is, OK, we’ve got a problem here; we can do better here. How can we do it?”
People may have disagreements, “but it doesn’t have to be nasty, it doesn’t have to be rude, it can be done in a civil way, and in a constructive way,” he asserts.
“I don’t care for those negative things, but I think by being in the arena, and giving this a chance, I can hopefully contribute to a proper dialogue. There may be people that disagree with me, and I understand that. That’s politics, and that’s a good thing. But the way we treat each other, and the way we converse and debate, that’s what I want to make sure we set a good tone about in our campaign and if we get to the election in the fall.”
Duncan says he’s already begun fundraising by selling memberships and hopes to have 1,000 in place by the time of the nomination meeting, whose date is not yet set. “The party will want to have it sooner rather than later,” he says.
He doesn’t know if anyone else will challenge for the nomination, he says.
Asked if he is popular enough in the eyes of Cornwall Tories, Duncan notes that he is well known in the city but emphasizes that he doesn’t take a parochial view of politics. “It doesn’t matter what corner of the riding you’re in, you work just as hard for your neighbours and people that live an hour away in the riding.”
The same philosophy informed him as mayor of North Dundas, he says, not playing favourites with one community over another.
Asked for his thoughts on the last four years of the Trudeau government — which he will tackle if selected the Tory candidate — he highlights the carbon tax as a major weakness in the governing party. The Wynne government proved it wasn’t a winning strategy to penalize residents’ energy consumption in the last provincial election, he suggests.
“If Justin Trudeau and the Liberals want to fight an election on a carbon tax again, challenge accepted.”
Ever since I was a child, I’ve had a dream of serving my community and my country in the House of Commons. Today, I am excited to launch my campaign to be your next Conservative Member of Parliament in Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry. 1/ pic.twitter.com/3c1ZltBnWP
— Eric Duncan (@EricDuncan87) February 1, 2019