By MPP Toby Barrett
The Ontario Legislature recently paid tribute to former Brant-Haldimand MPP Peter Preston.
I first came to know Peter back in 1995, after we were both nominated candidates for neighbouring ridings. Together we worked on tactics to see if we could get ourselves elected, despite the odds against us.
My riding hadn’t seen a Conservative member, provincially or federally, for 20 years. What is truly astounding was that Peter was aspiring to overthrow a 76-year Liberal dynasty in a doglegged riding that followed the mighty Grand from the outskirts of Cambridge, all the way down to Lake Erie. It was a gerrymandered riding for those 76 years in an attempt to break that Harry Nixon-Bob Nixon domination.
So here’s a fellow named Peter Preston — a name that has quite a ring to it politically—who has the gall and the cockeyed optimism to think he can overturn this Liberal dynasty dating back to 1919; as well, to beat the party that was in opposition — expected to form the next government.
Peter and his campaign manager, son Dan, were confident they could beat the amicable, popular Liberal MPP Ron Eddy, a good friend to so many in local political circles. On top of that, we were both under the gun to live up to the mantle of the Honourable Jimmy Allan, who had held the southern part of the riding from 1951 to 1974, and was defeated over regional government.
The technology at that time was taking videocassettes around to mailboxes to explain who we were. I filmed myself running a combine and Peter featured himself forking horse manure.
Peter and his wife Joanne had horses — not ordinary horses, as they were renowned breeders of the Peruvian Paso Horse, a breed that had been isolated in northern Peru for 400 years. I attended a number of their horse shows where busloads of Peruvian Canadians turned out, as did the Consul General of Peru.
Prior to Ontario politics, Peter served as a councillor in the Town of Grimsby. His choice to run in the 1995 election paid off, as he was victorious as a Common Sense Revolutionary. Peter was also a true Progressive Conservative with a social conscience, realizing government could not be all things to all people. He believed in a hand up rather than a handout.
Peter grew up in Grimsby with one brother and two sisters. He was a police cadet, fisherman, firefighter, and enlisted as a non-commissioned officer with the Royal Canadian Engineers. He served for six years in Petawawa and Chilliwack.
He and Joanne had three daughters, Sandy, Suzie and Stephanie, and two sons, Sam, and Dan. After a number of years with State Farm, he set up his own private company, the Preston Group.
Eventually the couple moved to Cayuga, where they established Rocking JP Ranch and set up Preston House for young fellows to work with horses.
Peter Preston was a man’s man. He was brusque and very action-oriented. He was a connoisseur of wine, with a heart of gold.
After Queen’s Park, he served with distinction on the Victim Rights Tribunal, and retired in Puerto Vallarta.
He passed away at his home in Hamilton on October 16, 2016. I attended Peter’s funeral at the beautiful St. John the Divine, Cayuga, with his friends, family and his loyal staff.
Toby Barrett is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk