CORNWALL — Eric Duncan vowed to wage an effective but respectful election campaign as hundreds of local Conservative supporters celebrated his candidacy last night for the upcoming federal election in Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry.
The 31-year-old former North Dundas mayor clinched the Tory nomination this past winter when no other contenders challenged his declared intention to succeed Guy Lauzon, who will retire as MP at the end of the term. Denied the drama of a contested nomination meeting, the Duncan team instead marked the accomplishment by mustering party faithful May 1 at the Ramada Inn, where the Winchester was properly introduced to the gathering and delivered his maiden speech as the chosen candidate. The happy crowd was suitably warmed up with ice-cream bars handed out at the door and the live music of the Brigadoons band playing on stage. Applause was enthusiastic for every speaker — most especially for Duncan, who voiced his distaste for the often acrimonious tenor of politics today.
“My commitment to each and every one of you, and to every constituent in S-D-SG, that I will bring the same style of leadership and tone in this new job as I did in my previous one,” declared the Winchester resident. “I am not a flame-throwing divisive person, I hate personal attacks in politics and shots below the belt.”
He quipped with a laugh as the audience joined in, “I hate confrontation and fighting — and sometimes I wonder why I’m in the job that I’m going for.”
“So tonight I have a message for my challengers, whoever they may be and from whichever party: Our big blue machine is fired up, it’s stronger than ever, and we are eager to deliver a majority Conservative government under Prime Minister Andrew Scheer,” he said, eliciting cheers. “But I also want to convey this message to them: I know that, just like me, you care about our country, and you have the same desire to work hard and deliver a plan that you feel will make our country an even better place to live. I will respect you. I will admire your commitment to standing up for what you believe in and putting your name on a ballot.
“We pledge to run a campaign that’s based on policies and ideas and how we can do what’s best for Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry and our country,” he said, adding of the democratic process: “We’re going to disagree a lot during this campaign, and that’s OK….
“Attitude is a small thing that makes a big difference,” said Duncan, reiterating one of his self-professed favourite lines, “You attract a lot more with honey than you do vinegar. We can be civil, have smart debates and discussions and treat each other respect. I promise to do that during this campaign, and should I have the honour of getting there this fall, I will do that with each and every colleague in the House of Commons.”
He cast himself as following the “exceptional leadership” examples of both Lauzon and MPP Jim McDonell, “and the legacy of great men like Noble Villeneuve. I know I have big shoes to fill, and I promise to work hard each and every day to meet those expectations.” In keeping with that, he pledged to offer the same service level in his constituency offices as Lauzon, known for his passport clinics and income-tax form assistance.
Highlighting Canada as “the best place in the world to live,” Duncan asserted that Canadians rely on their federal government to keep it that way — “to make that sure life is affordable, to make sure that we offer great health care, education, transportation, and the things that the people rely on their government to offer and offer it well.”
“Erratic, unplanned budgeting and spending leads to that quality of life being jeopardized,” he added, in a critique of the Trudeau Liberals, castigating the governing party for imposing the hardship of a carbon tax on commuting Canadians — especially those in S-D-SG. And while the Liberals added an additional $100-billion in national debt over the last four years, none of that money made its way to S-D-SG in the form of real infrastructure spending, he asserted.
Former North Dundas District High School teacher Mike Deighton helped introduce the candidate, remembering Duncan’s first successful shot at elected office when his peers voted him in as “prime minister” of the students’ council in 2004.
“Eric was campaigning on fiscal responsibility, accountability, along with a zero means zero student fee. The landslide victory was predictable by both staff and students. It didn’t hurt that he had a provincial cabinet minister, Jim Flaherty, mentoring him at the time. Eric was doing co-op placement down in Toronto,” recalled Deighton, now a principal at a Cornwall school. He went on to highlight the subject’s rise as a teenaged North Dundas Township councillor who parlayed that experience into the mayor’s office as well as the United Counties wardenship.
“Tonight, Eric’s incredible journey of service continues, and I am so proud to see him accept the Conservative Party nomination for this riding. And I can’t wait to shake his hand later this year, as he will become our next member of parliament.”
Bev Runions of Williamstown also vouched for Duncan, saying she had first met him in his then-capacity as executive assistant to Lauzon and lauding his eagerness to help with the Williamstown Fair. “How much can be said about someone who’s only 31?” asked Runions. “Half of his life he has spent in some political venue or another,” she marvelled.
Lauzon himself reiterated an all-encompassing endorsement for his would-be successor. The MP remembered how his former assistant would run the caucus meetings of the then-governing Conservatives on the Hill; Lauzon was caucus chair and appointed his young protégé as “national caucus coordinator” on his behalf.
“[Prime Minister] Stephen Harper … couldn’t believe I had this kid coming to meetings to decide what was going to go on at the caucus meeting on Wednesday morning,” Lauzon told the spellbound audience. “We would have an hour meeting [with Harper] on Monday afternoon, and Eric was there, and he was advising me on how I should approach things at 19 years old. And I’m here to tell you, I just put so much credibility in Eric Duncan’s advice. When I first met him, I told someone, ‘I just met a 17-year-old that’s going on 30.’
“It’s incredible how mature he was even at that time. Within months, I put all my confidence in Eric Duncan … he was dealing with the prime minister on an ongoing basis, weekly, dealing with various ministers — the finance minister, the minister of foreign affairs, whoever wanted to appear at national caucus, Eric Duncan decided how long they would have and whether they were going to appear or not. He used to maneuver all that. This was while he was the mayor of North Dundas.”
Lauzon recalled how Duncan once left the Hill at 6 p.m. for a council meeting in Winchester, then returned to Ottawa at 11 p.m. to continue set up for the caucus meeting the following morning. “That’s the kind of dedication you people are going to be voting for on October the 21st,” he said.