Bill Walker has been elected to a third term in Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound, but this time it is different.
For the first time, Walker will be sitting on the government's side of the Ontario legislature after the Progressive Conservative Party won a majority under leader Doug Ford on Thursday.
“Sometimes it is frustrating being in opposition because you don't feel you are getting enough done, and that you can do and have the same influence, but on the other side I think it is a benefit to be able to learn through that six years,” Walker said from his campaign office on 9th Ave. E. just before 10 p.m. “Now I am really looking forward to it, knowing we have the ability to form government and actually make some changes.”
Walker beat out seven other candidates in the riding in Thursday's election, including Karen Gventer of the NDP who as of press time was sitting in second. Walker had 18,544 votes compared to Gventer's 8,233 with 75 of 100 polls reporting. At press time, across the province the PCs had 71 seats compared to 14 for the NDP, eight for the Liberals and one for the Green Party.
Walker said the results show that the people were ready for change, something they have been talking about since before the campaign began.
“What people really said in this election is that it was time for change. We are tired of the way the Liberals were going,” said Walker. “That gives me and our party an opportunity to totally take a look and see how we can do things differently to truly serve the people.”
Walker, 52, was acclaimed as the Progressive Conservative candidate for the riding in the 2018 election way back in January 2017.
He was first elected in 2011 when he finished with more than 47 per cent of the vote, well ahead of Liberal runner-up Kevin Eccles, who had just over 26 per cent.
When Walker was re-elected in 2014, he again finished with more than 47 per cent of the vote, with his closest challenger being Liberal Ellen Anderson with slightly more than 27 per cent.
On Thursday, Walker was well above 50 per cent with 25 polls still to report, and he attributed his continued success to his track record.
“I think the people here value a person who is out in the community a lot, who truly is passionate and cares,” said Walker. “I have my record in the House of standing up and being one of the top speakers, I am one of the top in terms of percentage of votes attended, so I think people value that and I think people reward that.”
Walker, who was born and raised in Hepworth and along with his wife Michaela has two sons, Zach and Ben, said this is his home and always will be and he got into politics to make a difference for the area.
“I want to have a better community for my kids, my grandkids and my friends' families so they can stay in an area like Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound their whole lives if that is what they want to do and have a good life,” Walker said.
As for Ford, Walker said he is standing behind his leader and with a majority it shows that the people are supportive of him as well.
“I think it is not all about the leader,” said Walker. “I think that leader's real skill is taking a confident, great team like what we are going to have at Queen's Park and figuring out how we are going to harness all of that energy and talent.”
Walker said this spring's campaign has gone very well and he feels fortunate to have a great team of volunteers, and together they have knocked on over 10,000 doors.
“When you are knocking on doors you get a pretty good sense quickly of whether people like you and whether they are onboard with what you are saying,” said Walker. “I have to say that all this hyperbole about not having a costed platform, very few people at the door actually mentioned that.
“They want to know what you are really about and mostly for me it was talking about me and what my representation over the last six years has been.”
In Opposition, Walker has kept quite busy, and has become known for his energy level. He has earned nicknames like like “the Energizer Bill” and more recently “Responsi-Bill” for his focus on accountability and responsibility.
He has served as a PC critic in a number of areas, including for Seniors, Long-Term Care and Accessibility, Community and Social Services, Long-Term Care and Wellness, Children and Youth Services, as well as Deputy Health Critic for Rural and Northern Ontario.
Walker said he asked to be the critic for seniors, long-term care and accessibility and has fulfilled that role for about two-and-a-half years.
“I just didn't feel the Liberals were paying any attention to the long-term care, particularly long-term care and seniors,” said Walker. “I felt our party needed to have some kind of a basis and understanding in it.”
Prior to becoming an MPP, Walker was an operations manager at Bruce Power, served as executive director of the Bruce Peninsula Health Services Foundation and as recreation director with the Town of Wiarton. He has served on the Wiarton Willie Festival, the Heart and Stroke Foundation and Bluewater Education Foundation.
This election Walker was up against seven other candidates, more than in his other two elections when he faced six challengers in 2011 and five other candidates in 2014.
This time around, Walker was up against Gventer of the NDP, Francesca Dobbyn of the Liberals, Don Marshall of the Green Party, Enos Martin of the Ontario Alliance, Liz Marshall of the Trillium Party, Libertarian Jay Miller, and Janice Kaikkonen of Consensus Ontario.
Walker said that with so many candidates it has brought a different flavour to the campaign and made it a little more interesting.
“They, in my mind, are kind of on the extreme edges and that appeals to some people, but certainly I don't think it has had a huge impact,” Walker said of the candidates from lesser-known parties. “I certainly didn't run my campaign any differently and I feel what I have been able to do over the last six-and-a-half years is why people have voted for me in the last two elections and I came to the door with the same approach.”