Murdoch ends an era 0
Popular and outspoken MPP Bill Murdoch is leaving provincial politics at the next election.
"Bognor" Bill Murdoch, who built his political success with his populist message, has railed against Queen's Park bureaucrats, the Niagara Escarpment Commission and what he views as a meddling and out-of-touch "Toronto mentality," to name three of his regular targets.
He's worn the label of maverick proudly and has said he believes politicians' first job is to represent those who elected them, even when contrary to the party line.
"I think I've done what I could do at Queen's Park," Murdoch said Monday at his constituency office in Owen Sound, among friends and family who gathered for the announcement.
"I've sat as a third party, sat as opposition, sat as government and even as an independent," he said. "Been asked to leave the house and left the house. Been asked to leave and didn't leave."
"So there's not a lot of things left to do. And they know where Owen Sound and Grey and Bruce is now."
Murdoch will have served 21 years as MPP for what is now Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound upon his retirement. He spent 12 years in municipal politics before that.
The 65-year-old beef farmer said he could point out successes such as Owen Sound's courthouse, though he noted unresolved court security costs dog it, and repaving Hwy. 26 halfway to Meaford.
"But when you help somebody that has a hard time getting through the bureaucracy, which is one of the biggest downfalls of democracy is the bureaucracy . . . I think that's the biggest accomplishment, if you can actually go away saying we did help somebody."
He said he's in good health and it was simply time for him to leave political office.
"It comes a time. Everybody knows, they have jobs, and it comes a time I think that it just is."
"I'll still have my farm to run, I'll still belong to the local service clubs, and I'll still be outspoken. I just won't be going to Queen's Park anymore," he said.
He's staying on until the Oct. 6, 2011, election but by announcing now, he hopes to encourage candidates to step forward to replace him, he said.
"We'll see now. The game begins. Who wants the job? Hopefully there's somebody."
Murdoch regrets the longevity of the Niagara Escarpment Commission, which he views as "unnecessary," as he does the province's Greenbelt protections, which made the situation "worse."
He said he favours protecting the escarpment but considers both land-use protection zones "anti-democratic" mainly because local people and governments lost their say about local developments.
"But you know, it goes to my Toronto mentality thing I talk about. You know you would have thought you could get rid of it.
"But you get in a room with 107 other people(at Queen's Park), it's just not going to happen."
"There's not the democracy that we think we have in Canada. We elect dictators. There's no doubt about it."
The premier picks the ministers, their associates and chairs of committees, which he thinks caucus should do.
"I fought that fight and didn't win it. Can't win everything."
He suggested people should elect candidates who vow to do what the voters want, not what the premier tells them to.
He opposed former Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory's support for the widely unpopular funding of private religious schools, then suggested Tory needed to find a new job. He was kicked out of caucus for it in 2008, yet Murdoch says he likes Tory.
PC leader Tim Hudak, who called an hour before Murdoch made his retirement announcement official, has also felt the sting of Murdoch's attacks.
Murdoch vowed in 2003 to embarrass the then-consumer and business services minister by calling for his resignation in the legislature the next day if government went through with a plan to close land registry offices in the morning happened--and they didn't.
But Hudak also never proceeded with creating regulations for Murdoch's private member's bill establishing the position of marriage commissioner, which Murdoch got passed by outmanoeuvring Hudak in the legislature. The subsequent Liberal government later gave municipal clerks power to designatemarriage counsellors.
Hudak issued a news release Monday that called Murdoch's impending retirement a loss to the legislature of "one of its most tenacious members, a true maverick and a long-standing champion of rural and agricultural Ontario."
"From fighting the HST to opposing industrial wind farms to his steadfast promotion of Ontario meats and produce, Bill was a tough and effective legislator who stood up proudly for the families he represented at Queen's Park."
Murdoch said he doesn't oppose wind farms -- only the lack of local say in where they should go.
Gerald Shortt, the long-serving former St. Vincent Township reeve and current Meaford councillor, said he admires most Murdoch's "speaking out." Improvements to the road to Meaford started to be made during his term, "whether he had much to do with it or not, he was in government at the time."
Ovid Jackson was mayor of Owen Sound and Murdoch was reeve of Sydenham when the two sat across from one another to negotiate land annexation in the '80s.
"You could say Bill is a very colourful guy," the former Liberal MP said by phone Monday. "He saw how Eddie Sargent operated and he knew in this population of Bruce-Grey you have to be a populist. And you have to speak up."
Sargent, the legendary local Liberal MPP who also wore the maverick description proudly, was known for climbing through a window into his Queen's Park office and for pranks, like one on the Speaker of the legislature, when he called to say he was making an emergency airplane landing on the lawn at Queen's Park.
"Bill is a very determined person -- that's what I admire," the late David McNichol, Murdoch's political mentor, said of him upon Murdoch's inauguration in 1986 as Grey County's warden. McNichol had just served two terms.
"He sees things through," McNichol said.
In doing so, Murdoch polarized people as well as charmed them. As Murdoch noted himself Monday, 16,000 people didn't vote for him in one of his four Queen's Park terms.
He was controversial before becoming an MPP. By the mid-'80s, concerns had grown about the many rural lot severences granted by Grey County's planning approvals committee, which Murdoch chaired.
It ultimately led to the province assuming temporary planning authority in the county in 1991 and criticizing Grey's planning procedures. At the time, Murdoch blamed a "Toronto mentality" for the takeover and "socialism to the very limit."
Hard feelings in some quarters remain about Murdoch's private involvement as a development partner in Sydenham Mills, a 25-lot luxury subdivision proposed for a hardwood bush lot in the township, which the Ontario Municipal Board ultimately rejected in 1990.
It pitted provincial ministries and environmentalists against Murdoch, who was reeve of Sydenham at the time, and his development partners.
George McLean, well-known wildlife artist who lives and works from a studio in the former township, has been a vocal critic of Murdoch.
Asked for a comment about Murdoch's retirement announcement, McLean said "not a minute too soon."
"For all the millions of dollars that we've paid Bill Murdoch, I can't think of one single thing he ever did in all the time that he was in power that wouldn't have got done without him."
McLean dismissed Murdoch as a "grandstander. Bill isn't a Conservative. He isn't an NDP. He's not anything. Bill represents Bill."
Though he agreed with Murdoch from time to time, his failing was that "he could never make anything happen," because of his outrageous behaviour.
Murdoch made no apologies. "I don't regret any of them (the land severences.) And I don't even regret the Sydenham Mills thing either. I think the government was wrong on that," Murdoch said, though at the time he said his financial involvement in it, which he ultimately withdrew, made things worse.
"I think it was George that coined the phrase the first time I won (provincially), 'He won by a thousand severences,'" Murdoch recalled with a laugh.
"Hey, I'll take it. I won. I didn't create the severences 'cause I thought I was going to run for MPP."
Murdoch lost his first attempt at provincial office when Liberal Ron Lipsett beat him by 1,800 votes in 1987.
When nominated again in 1990, Murdoch said he'd never lost in politics before and "It's not something I plan to make a habit of."
He's won every election since, the last one with 46.6% of the vote --6,117 more than the nearest candidate, Shane Jolley of the Green Party.