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Barrett says locals like Tory message

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(Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of profiles of federal election candidates in Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes.)

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The political career of the late Gord Brown offers a lesson to candidates that has become a part of local political folklore, a lesson that is not lost on his successor.

In an interview late last week, Conservative incumbent Michael Barrett, who is seeking re-election in next Monday’s federal vote, recalled the 2000 federal election, in which Brown, then a Canadian Alliance candidate, lost to Liberal Joe Jordan by only 55 votes.

The political landscape is far different today, and Barrett, who has already contested two elections in his three-year political career, has two commanding victories under his belt. But that 55-vote loss in 2000 remains an electoral whip cracking down on anyone who carries the blue banner in this riding.

“Our election strategy is that we leave it all out on the field,” said Barrett.

“We take absolutely nothing for granted.”

As last week drew to an end, Barrett and his Tory team had already knocked on 8,000 doors across Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes.

Barrett is running this time against Roberta Abbott of the Liberals, New Democrat Michelle Taylor, Lorraine Rekmans of the Green Party and People’s Party hopeful Alex Cassell.

Following Brown’s untimely death in 2018, Barrett won both a byelection and a general election.

Life on the Hill has been a whirlwind for the 37-year-old father of five young children, who commutes from the riding to Ottawa and credits his wife, Amanda, for doing the heavy lifting on the home front.

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“Amanda takes a very heavy load with respect to our family responsibilities,” said Barrett. “That makes what I do possible.”

After the December 2018 byelection, Barrett was sworn in on Jan. 28, 2019. He notes that he was put on the justice committee, and 10 days later the SNC-Lavalin scandal broke.

“That was very much my baptism by fire, if you will,” said Barrett.

After the 2019 general election, Barrett, now the Tories’ shadow minister for ethics, had a front-row seat on the WE Charity scandal.

It was definitely a different world from his time on Edwardsburgh-Cardinal council.

Now, the polls show the federal Conservatives in a dead heat with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals.

“People have responded well to our message,” said Barrett.

“Affordability is the number one concern that they have.”

He believes the Conservatives’ promises, including doubling the Canada Workers Benefit up to a maximum of $2,800 for individuals or $5,000 for families, and a refundable tax credit to cover up to 75 per cent of the cost of child care for lower income families, are resonating with these voters.

He is also stressing the Tories’ plan to connect every home in the area to high-speed internet by 2025.

Meanwhile, Barrett says he is always ready to defend his record in Parliament.

The Arnprior native said he comes by his conservative principles through upbringing and experience, and includes Trudeau’s predecessor as prime minister, Stephen Harper, among his political inspirations.

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Edwardsburgh Cardinal Mayor Pat Sayeau, a fellow local Tory who worked with Barrett on the township council and, more recently, in his capacity of United Counties of Leeds and Grenville warden until this year, says Barrett is “a very quick study” who quickly grasped the workings of government.

“You have to know where the levers of power are and what is the best mechanism to effect a result,” said Sayeau.

He noted that, after more than a decade on Parliament Hill, Brown built up the network of contacts that is necessary for any MP to succeed.

That sort of thing is not inherited, noted Sayeau.

“You’ve got to build your own and it takes time,” he added.

Sayeau said Barrett is not only doing that hard work, but doing it “with one hand tied behind his back” because the COVID-19 pandemic has eliminated many of those workplace and social occasions where such contacts can be established.

Rzajac@postmedia.com

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