OPINION: Living in the shadows

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By Nick Seebruch
OPINION: Living in the shadows
Eric Duncan enters his campaign party on Monday, October 21, 2019 (Nick Seebruch/ Seaway News).

Toronto Sun columnist Mark Bonokoski railed against Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s picks for his Shadow Cabinet, namely because he did not choose Stormont, Dundas, and South Glengarry (SD&SG) MP Eric Duncan as one of his 50 shadow ministers.

During the recent federal election, Scheer was pressed on his social conservative stances and was branded as not being friendly or supportive of the LGBTQ+ community. Since failing to form a government in this last election, pundits within the Conservative Party have pointed to this lack of support and acceptance to the LGBTQ+ community as a factor for the party’s lack of success.

Eric Duncan is the first openly gay Conservative MP. Bonokoski argues that by not making Duncan a shadow minister, that Scheer missed out on the perfect opportunity to dispel these arguments of prejudice.

“The fact that Duncan is also openly-gay, a rare bird among Conservatives, gave Scheer the perfect opportunity to look less puritan and immovable,” Bonokoski wrote in his column.

I feel that had Duncan been chosen as a shadow minister in the way that Bonokoski suggests that it would have been a nakedly political move and that it would in fact ignore Duncan’s own skills and qualifications as an MP. Duncan does not deserve to be branded as the token “Gay Conservative” and we as his constituents do not deserve that either.

I went to nearly every debate this past election campaign and Duncan’s sexual orientation did not come up once, not a single time. It did not matter to the voters here in our riding, as it shouldn’t, and it shouldn’t matter in Ottawa either.

Duncan is one of 121 Conservative MPs in the 43rd Parliament, 50 of whom were selected for the Shadow Cabinet.

Scheer, like any leader, had a lot of political considerations to take into account when he was choosing his team and unfortunately, qualifications such as pure merit are not the only things taken into account.

In terms of pure merit, Duncan has plenty, something that Bonkoski agrees with in his article.

“Now, if Duncan was as dumb as a post and an underachiever Scheer might have a decent argument for not tapping his shoulder,” Bonkoski wrote. “But Duncan is neither.”

In the current political storm that Sheer is facing, Duncan’s professional qualities would be ignored, and he would be boiled down to a single issue, his sexual orientation. Being in the shadow cabinet under these terms would be of no benefit the constituents of SD&SG.

Eric is a rookie MP, despite his many years of experience in municipal politics and his behind the scenes work at the federal level. Being a rookie MP, I was not surprised he wasn’t selected for the shadow cabinet. Apprenticing under former MP Guy Lauzon is no doubt a great education, but it does not match the real thing.

Will Duncan be in cabinet one day? There is no doubt in my mind that he will be. Right now, however, he has other things he should focus on and that is doing all he can to best represent the constituents of SD&SG, something that Duncan himself acknowledges.

I reached out to Eric Duncan’s office to ask him for his thoughts on The Sun’s column, something that Bonokoski did not do when writing his piece.

“I am very happy and fully supportive of our Party’s Shadow Cabinet. Andrew has done a great job highlighting the many talented Members from a diverse range of backgrounds we have on the team. I have had a number of very productive conversations with the Leader since the campaign and have passed along that I am excited to assist the team in any capacity possible,” Duncan’s Chief of Staff Adrian Bugelli conveyed to me on his behalf. “My first responsibility is to the residents of Stormont-Dundas and South Glengarry who placed their trust in me. Our first goal was to get our constituency offices open and to continue offering first rate customer service, which I’m proud to say we accomplished very quickly. I’m looking forward for the House reconvening this Thursday and working with my colleagues to hold the Liberal government to account.”

Duncan has already tackled at least one important issue on behalf of his constituents, the CN Rail strike. The rail strike froze transportation nationally, which created hurt across the country, but especially for farmers. Farmers in SD&SG reached out to Duncan and pleaded for help to get the gas flowing again so they could dry their corn for the winter harvest, and Duncan got to work. I’m not sure how much influence Duncan was able to bring to bear on this issue, but the strike is over, and the propane is being delivered again.

What I will be watching closely is what Duncan does in SD&SG, and not having the distractions or extra pressure of being in cabinet might be a blessing in disguise for the rookie MP and for his constituents. While I always appreciate seeing him at every local event and pancake breakfast in the riding, I want to see what he will do for us when it comes to supporting growth in our region, in helping secure federal funding for infrastructure work, and in helping local non-profits achieve grants to support their operations as well.

After this column appeared in the Dec. 11 edition of Seaway News Andrew Scheer resigned as Conservative Party Leader. Duncan offered the following reaction.

“These decisions are always very difficult.  For now I just want to thank Andrew for his years of dedication and efforts to work for a better Canada.  He, Jill and his children have sacrificed a lot as a family these past few years.  I wish him nothing but the best and the chance to spend more well-deserved time with his family.  There will be plenty of time in the coming months to have the conversations about the way forward as a Party,” he wrote in an email to Seaway News.

What are your important priorities that you want to see MP Eric Duncan tackle? Email me a Letter to the Editor at nseebruch@seawaynews.media

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