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Not taking it for granted

Avalon incumbent Ken McDonald determined to outwork the competition on the campaign trail

By Chris Lewis | Vol. 32 No. 29 (Oct. 2, 2019)

Avalon Riding incumbent Ken McDonald sys he’s happy to be throwing his name into the race again this election.

Voters will decide October 21 whether to give the Liberal MP, and his party, another shot at office.

McDonald is about as far from being a parachute candidate as politics allows. He has been living on the same street in Kelligrews for around 58 years. It’s the one he grew up on, and the one that many of his family members have grown up on as well, including his own children.

McDonald’s first go at politics took place in Conception Bay South as well, where he served seven years as a councillor and two years as mayor. He’s had his hands in a number of community groups and organizations, including the CBS Lion’s Club and various sports groups.

Those experiences, he said, provided the experience he needed to properly understand the needs of people in the region.

It was McDonald’s stint in municipal government that led to him taking on a federal role, though he admitted that, at first, he was satisfied to remain as Mayor of CBS, and was hesitant about taking his political career any further.

However, when Premier Dwight Ball approached him at a function at the Manuels River Hibernia Interpretation Centre back in 2015 about running for the Liberal Party, McDonald began to think about moving up the political ladder.

“At first, I said no,” he said. “Fast forward a year, when I was out as mayor at various community events, people would always ask me if I was going to run in the fall. I’d just shrug it off, but people kept asking, and it put it in my head. In April of that year, I received a call to consider being the federal Liberal candidate in the Avalon riding.”

So, McDonald and his wife met with Dr. Andrew Furey about the role, and, before the two had even arrived home from the meeting, McDonald was on the phone again with Furey to accept the offer.

He’s never regretted a second of it. He said the decision to put his name on the ballot again was pretty much a given.

“I think we’ve done a lot over the last four years as a government, but I think there’s still more to be done,” said McDonald. “If you look at the Liberal platform that just came out, there’s a big, ambitious agenda, and I want to see that finished,” he said. “I really do love this job. I enjoy every day of it. I know there’s no way to solve all the problems, but I love it when someone calls the office and we’re able to help them out and straighten things out for them. Whether that’s a problem with their GIS, OAS, their Canada pension, or even their EI. Like I said, there are still problems you can’t solve, and those are the hard ones because you know people leave, or hang up, disappointed.”

McDonald said he is particularly proud of the Liberal government’s increase to the Canada Child Benefit. It’s putting money into the hands of those who need it, he said, and for not those who are not so hard pressed, it allows them to save.

“It’s the people who are paying for hockey registration, or buying school supplies, and spending it where it should be spent (who benefit),” he said.

“That’s not money going to millionaires, and it’s not taxed. It’s indexed now to inflation, so if inflation goes up one per cent or two per cent, your pay goes up too by the same amount. You’re not losing the buying power on it, and I’m very proud of that, to know that parents can now have that money to spend on things that they need.”

While McDonald is quick to tout the successes of the previous government, things have not been perfect. The Liberals saw a number of controversies, not the least of which involved Prime Minister Justin Trudeau getting caught pressuring his then Justice Minister and Solicitor General to cut a deal to allow SNC Lavalin to escape a trial on corruption charges. The Justice Minister refused to bend and Trudeau eventually booted her and a fellow cabinet minister who supported her, from the Liberal caucus. The latest “scandal” has been the emergence of pictures of Trudeau years ago masquerading at parties in blackface.

McDonald said the latest controversy has not hurt the Liberals. The day after it became public, he said, he went out knocking on doors, despite being warned it may not be the best idea.

This led to many conversations with residents, he said, and he soon found most people he met thought it to be nothing short of ‘foolishness.’

McDonald said while it is possible to take things like a costume too far, he feels as though the people of his riding have accepted Trudeau’s apology.

As for the SNC-Lavalin scandal, McDonald admitted the matter could have been handled differently.

“I think the Prime Minister took his knocks for it, and at the end of the day, he dealt with it the way he thought was the best way to deal with it,” McDonald said. “It’s unfortunate when you have to tell two members of your party that they’re no longer a part of your caucus … It’s unfortunate, because I think the two of them had a lot to offer to the caucus, and to the country as ministers of the Crown. I wish both of them well. I don’t know if they’ll be elected as independents, but if they are, I’ll certainly be one of the first to congratulate them.”

McDonald, meanwhile, raised an issue of his own that he said needs to be addressed. Some of his opponents, he maintained, have claimed the population in Avalon Riding has decreased on account of things the Liberal government has been doing. He said such claims are unfounded and that two of the fastest growing communities in the province are located here in this riding – Conception Bay South and Paradise.

“We’ve got nine schools in Conception Bay South, and four in Paradise. That’s not an indication of a population decrease, that’s an indication of a population increase,” he argued, conceding that some, small rural communities are losing residents. “Wherever that information came from, it’s false. It’s simply not true. We’re getting more and more people moving into CBS, Holyrood, Paradise, and even the Bay Roberts area. So, that’s a false accusation. I challenge anyone to show the statistics that people are leaving the Avalon in droves.”

McDonald said as he makes his rounds in the many communities in his riding, he’s receiving tremendous support. On a few occasions, he added, people have suggested his position is hardly in danger and that he has nothing to worry about. McDonald said while he appreciates those sentiments, he does not let them go to his head. McDonald said he is campaigning with the same vigor as ever.

“I don’t take it for granted … If somebody wants to take my seat, they’re going to have to work damn hard to do it,” he said.

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