By MPP Toby Barrett
This week’s column — dedicated to the difficult task of trying to highlight my first 20 years as your MPP — is my 1,025th report on the comings and goings at Queen’s Park and in the riding.
To say the past 7,300 days have been interesting would be an understatement. On a daily basis we all roll with the punches, but when you reminisce on two decades some dramatic changes come to mind.
First, the riding I started my political life representing was Norfolk – including Tillsonburg. It then became Haldimand-Norfolk-Brant, including New Credit and Six Nations. Today, it’s Haldimand-Norfolk. Over the years, I see my job as an elected representative is simply to represent the people who elected me, as well as many others.
I have always tried to explain everything that’s going on. Since 1995, my office has issued over 2,200 news releases and penned 550 words a week for the column.
The first column I wrote was based on my first Private Member’s Bill to restore property rights – a fight that continues. I’ve also presented and debated Private Members Bills on preserving shipwrecks, eliminating regional government, treating those on disability with more dignity, public sector compensation, farm implements, and just last week my bill regarding vector-borne diseases, including Lyme, was unanimously passed and received Royal Assent.
Beyond typed letters and faxes, we see dramatic change in the social media world. I am on Facebook and am a Twitter junkie – allowing me to communicate quickly.
Fighting for farmers and rural residents has always been important. Over two decades, I have taken part in just about every tractor rally and farm protest across Ontario. I fight for tobacco farmers, even though unpopular among many politicians – I’m known as ‘Tobacco Toby’ in Toronto.
A book could be written on the changes to our tobacco industry. Turmoil began with the need to switch kilns to low nitrosamine. Issues snow-balled from there and growers had to eventually choose between a buyout, or continue growing under contract. Once powerful and influential, the Tobacco Board functions with appointed directors. An industry once well over 2,000 farmers is now just over 200.
The nine-year occupation in Caledonia at Douglas Creek Estates has brought into question the rule of law and infuriated many, the upheaval has had an impact on home building, traffic, and building bridges across the Grand.
I’ve always been proud of the fact Haldimand-Norfolk was until recently home to the largest coal-fired generating station in North America – I’m also known as ‘Dirty Coal’ by Queen’s Park Liberals. Locally, we’ve seen the demise of what was a 630-strong workforce at OPG Nanticoke due to the McGuinty/Wynne green dream. The result has been an annual loss of up to $3 million in local purchasing and municipal revenue of $4 million.
When I entered politics in 1995, I was elected under Mike Harris’ Common Sense Revolution and since then I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside leaders Ernie Eves, Tim Hudak, interim leaders Bob Runciman and Jim Wilson, and now leader Patrick Brown.
We are a very rich part of Ontario and Canada in so many ways – economically, socially, culturally – and I maintain a burning desire to do anything I can to help us continue to be a great place to live, work and raise a family.