The big fish at Queen’s Park made an appearance at the Owen Sound Salmon Spectacular late Saturday afternoon.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford made an unannounced visit to the derby headquarters under the big tent at the Georgian Shores Marina where he met with derby officials, posed for photographs and even served up some fish during the event’s first big fish fry.
Ford said after his approximately 45-minute walk through the tent that the visit to Owen Sound came after he was invited up by Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound MPP and Associate Minister of Energy Bill Walker.
“It is just the gathering of everyone here. What fantastic people, salt of the earth, I absolutely love them,” Ford said. “It is so refreshing getting out of downtown Toronto and coming up to Owen Sound. I would say it is the real people up here.”
Before being whisked away in a black SUV, Ford had some supportive words for the event he was visiting.
“I think it is amazing, absolutely amazing, great food. I absolutely love it,” he said, adding he had no big announcements on the day.
“We support Grey County and right across the area up here.”
Walker said it is important to have the premier visit the riding and he was glad to have him see such an important event in the community.
“The premier really is a person who wants to hear the people, it is not just a slogan,” Walker said. “If you watched him in that crowd, he is so comfortable, so at ease and he wants to hear what the average person is saying.”
Walker said the premier told him three or four times how impressed he was with how polite the people were at the event.
“It is very important for him to see this, a big event like this where he can understand the magnitude, the impact it has and something like the fishery, how important that is to our area,” said Walker. “It is great anytime to get the premier here and I think the people loved him.”
Walker said the premier specifically said before his visit that he didn’t want a big show, that he just wanted to be able to arrive and meet with people and have a chat with them.
“Ninety per cent of the people out there were coming up to him and saying, ‘Premier, great job,’” Walker said. “This is small rural Ontario at is finest and he likes to get out and see that.”
Derby co-chair Fred Geberdt said derby organizers knew there was a possibility Ford could show up at the derby, but found out minutes before he arrived that he was going to be at the event.
Geberdt said the Sydenham Sportsmen’s Association is careful about not getting involved in politics, but said that anytime a provincial or federal leader visits it is special. Geberdt said they once had Stephen Harper visit the event when he was prime minister.
“There were a couple of people that argued with him over the politics and trying to reduce the deficit and stuff like that, but generally I think he had a pretty good response here,” Geberdt said of Ford. “There was a lot of pictures being taken.”
The derby co-chairs had their picture taken with the premier, along with one of the fish that had been weighed in earlier in the day.
“I offered a fresh hand mitt to put on, but he refused and just grabbed the fish,” Geberdt said with a laugh. “He had a nice white shirt on, so I told him not to let it slime him or he would be looking for a washing machine.”