Northern [Ontario Kenora] riding in transition – 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.

Kenora- Rainy River up for grabs since Howard Hampton unexpectedly ended his 24-year political career

KENORA — Husky the Muskie presides over the waterfront in this gloriously beautiful northwestern city on the Lake of the Woods.

The giant fish statue is the place where newlyweds go to get their pictures taken. You have to think Husky was shocked to the gills, like everyone else here, when veteran New Democrat MPP Howard Hampton recently pulled the plug on his 24-year political career.

You even wonder if New Democrats in the former NDP leader’s own Kenora-Rainy River riding were ready for him to hand over the baton. Local Liberals were clearly caught off-guard.

Anthony Leek, the young Emo councillor who’s carrying their banner is certainly sincere, but at 27, hardly brings much by way of a track record to the race.

Over in the NDP camp, at 29, candidate Sarah Campbell has a couple of years on him, but in a riding that’s been represented for years by a savvy heavy-hitter like Hampton, the comparison could hardly be more stark.

Campbell worked as Hampton’s constituency assistant.

“I do have big shoes to fill but I’m confident that I’m up for the job,” Campbell said in an interview in Fort Frances.

“I’ve been doing the work for about six years now,” she said.

Hampton backed her for the nomination.

While she may lack street cred, her youth is an asset in this vast riding, she said.

“As a younger person, I have the energy and this is a riding that really requires a lot of energy.” Her toughest opponent is PC Rod McKay, a forest industry veteran and manager at Kenora Forest Products.

Like many sawmills, his has been idle for the past three years, because of the housing slow-down in the U.S.

As well, the government has made changes in wood allocations. With wood supply in doubt, his company has been reluctant to make long-term commitments — though they’re paying $1 million a year to keep a light on at the mill as they wait for the economy to recover.

High energy costs have caused many mills to move to neighbouring Manitoba, he said.

“One of the reasons I decided to run is that it just feels like you get ignored up here,” he said.

What works in the south doesn’t work in northwest Ontario, he added.

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