Two political titans ready to rumble on campaign trail

First published:
March 23, 2004

Northumberland County, let’s get ready to rumble!

Two political heavy weights are standing in their corners waiting for the bell to ring and the match to begin over who will represent Northumberland-Quinte West on Parliament Hill.

Sometime this spring, but no later than the fall, a federal election will be called.

Like a match out of the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment, formerly the World Wrestling Federation or WWF) there are the makings of a bout that would easily rival any WestleMania event.

Just like the wrestling franchise, this is more than what it appears. Besides the physical battle waged in its choreographed matches in the ring, there is a story to be told outside the ropes. Often this supercedes the match. If nothing else, it hypes WresteMania. For wrestling fans, this tale is as important, if not more important, than the event itself.

Political junkies are no different. So here is some of the story before the bout.

Our two main candidates are sitting Liberal MP Paul Macklin on one side, while former MPP Doug Galt will represent the New Conservative Party of Canada.

Over the weekend, Conservatives gathered to select the new leader Stephen Harper. Early analysis quickly placed him as the new saviour for right-wing thinkers and believers. Gone were the nasty days of neo-conservative values, which alienated most voters east of Manitoba. Here were the centrist platforms to be delivered and the man to do the job.

It was a convincing win, in this regard. With an overall majority of 55.5 per cent across the country, this message is clear. Decisive victories in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick show he has supporters where virtually none existed for the Alliance or Reform parties.

Northumberland was a microcosm of this trend. Harper was way out in front with local Conservatives giving him 294 votes, nearly three times more than Belinda Stronach or Tony Clement.

“We are going to leave here united”, said Rick Norlock, president of the Northumberland-Quinte West riding association.

Galt has the momentum of a new leader and a unified riding behind him.

And now we switch to the opponents. The reigning champion, Liberal Paul Macklin (a garish belt with massive silver buckle overhead).

This is not a good time to be a Liberal. Drowning in the sponsorship scandal, Prime Minister Paul Martin scrambles to re-invent his party. It is so bad; Martin won’t even name his own party during speeches because he wants to get so much distance from this political nightmare. His plan is to transform this tragedy into a victory.

Macklin will carry this baggage with him during a campaign, despite efforts locally to tout his record in the riding.

And so the match is set. A tired, battered party is set to face the new, fresh challenger on the national stage.

But like all good tales, this one has a wonderful ironic twist.

The two foes from Northumberland were not always on opposite sides. No. Once they appeared to be on the same side of good for our county. From 2002 to 2004, 15 joint press releases were sent out about Macklin and Galt. Like a wrestling tag team, this pair shared the spotlight for everything from a youth task force to infrastructure grants. At one point, they even shared a key fundraiser.

But no more. The team broken up.

And fans must now choose sides.

So here we come. Northumberland County’s own WrestleMania. And who will take credit for all the good work done before the tag team broke up? Can the feisty Galt take down the mighty Macklin? These are two veterans of the ring. Both have sophisticated organizations behind them, hungry for victory.

Liberals carried Northumberland in past federal election because the Conservative vote was split. That will no longer be a factor. Galt lost the provincial election because he was faced a public discontent with the Premier and the government. He ran a strong local campaign, but the momentum was with the Liberals. It was a tide few could survive.

Macklin is no slouch either. He has worked hard at the riding level, putting in place task forces on youth, seniors, technology, among others. He is well recognized and has worked hard to serve the riding. This will give him a lot of credibility. But he faces the spectre of an angry public, unhappy with the party and, possibly, the leadership.

So, let the bell ring. This ought to be a great match.

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