Bye bye Howie [Hampton] – by Christina Blizzard (Toronto Sun – September 4, 2011)

Christina Blizzard is the Queen’s Park columnist for the Toronto Sun, the city’s daily tabloid newspaper.

Around here’s he’s just known as Howie. When Howard Hampton quietly announced last month that he wouldn’t be running in the Oct. 6 election, it caused surprisingly few ripples in the Queen’s Park political pond.

When he stepped down as leader after the 2007 election, many pundits were surprised he stayed on as MPP for Kenora-Rainy River.

In his northern riding, his departure signals a seismic shift in the political tectonics. Hampton is a powerful political force in northwestern Ontario.

As NDP leader, he often fought a long, lonely battle to put northern issues on the government’s agenda. He is the quintessential small-town northern son.

Raised in Fort Frances, a gritty mill town across the border from Minnesota, his father worked in the local pulp mill. His brother still works there.

A talented hockey player, Hampton put himself through prestigious Dartmouth College, playing the game.

Last week, he quipped, he wants to help coach his daughter’s hockey team.

His daughter, Sarah, plays midget hockey for the Etobicoke Dolphins.

In the spring, Hampton had every intention of running in October’s election.

“The nagging question that I kept trying to avoid answering was, ‘Are you sure you want to continue doing this for four more years?’”

When he realized the answer was no, he told NDP leader Andrea Horwath and his constituency association

“The reason is very simple. Sarah is 16. She is going into Grade 12. A year from now, she may be gone.

“Jonathan’s 13, and he may be gone in a couple of years playing hockey somewhere.”

Hampton’s biggest regret as leader is that the party didn’t elect more MPPs in 2007. Going into that election, the party seemed to be gaining in popularity.

An ironic twist to the three-party system is that the collapse of the Tory vote hurt the NDP is several key ridings.

When Hampton became leader of the party in 1996, the toughest question he had to answer is why he’d want the job.

Why would anyone want to take the helm of a party that, under the leadership of Bob Rae, went from government to 17 seats?

Hampton was the Humpty Dumpty who was left putting the party back together after Rae knocked it off the wall.

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