Prince George Citizen – Neil Godbout – Oct 28, 2014
Dick Harris has heard it all. “Perennial backbencher.” “He doesn’t even live here anymore.” “He doesn’t care about (take your pick – the environment, veterans, his riding, etc.)” “He’s only in it for the pension.” Yet area voters have adored him and they have showed that adoration at the ballot box. The Cariboo-Prince George MP won a whooping seven consecutive elections, starting in 1993 when the riding was still Prince George – Bulkley Valley and Harris was proudly carrying the Reform Party banner.
He took the riding in 1993 from an NDP incumbent and over the past 21 years he has turned it into a Conservative stronghold. In the 2011 election, he won more than 56 percent of the vote. Was he a backbencer for his entire career in federal politics? He sure was and he’s not ashamed one bit. He ran for and won federal office on a pledge to serve his constituents and that’s what he did. The extent of Harris’ ambitions were to serve the people of his riding, rather than get immersed in cabinet and the priorities of Ottawa.
In his retirement speech to supporters Saturday (he’ll bid farewell after the next electrion in the fall of 2015), his chest puffed with pride as he recalled the more than 30,000 files he and his staff have worked on for area residents. Has he made the Okanagan his home away from Ottawa for the last number of years? He has but he still has family here, he still works in his office here, he still hosts his annual charity golf fundraiser for Special Olympics here and he has still fought for what he believes is best for his riding.
He proudly championed Northern Gateway during the 2011 election, when most of his colleagues deferred to the Joint Review Panel’s findings. More recently, he expressed his fury and displeasure when Stephen Harper and the Conservative cabinet refuced for the second time to support the New Prosperity mine near Williams Lake. As for not caring, some of the criticism he brought onto himself. When called by a reporter for reaction after a protest was help outside of his Prince George office, he said he could have easily organized a counter rally but his supporters “are all busy working and earning a living and raising their families and trying to make their lives as good they can.” An abrasive comment made by a man far better known, both at home and in Ottawa, for his warmth and sincerity.
If he had been in it just for the pension, Harris could have sailed off into the sunset before the 2004 election, when Prince George-Bulkley Valley’s boundaries were redrawn into Cariboo-Prince George. Instead of taking his pension and an early retirement, he stayed on for a nasty nomination fight with Elmer Thiessen that he won by only a handful of votes after Elections Canada and the RCMP got involved. The protesters, the nomination battle and his days as party whip for the Canadian Alliance under Stockwell Day showed there was plenty of grit to Harris as well. He was fiercely partisan and intensely loyal. He stuck by Day, even after his regional Conservative compatriot Jay Hill joined the revolt that eventually led to the ascendance of Harper.
Harper could have settled the score in 2004 and refused, as is the right of party leader, to sign Harris’ nomination papers, particularly in light of the ugly nomination victory, but Harris earned Harper’s trust and respect.
From a journalistic standpoint, Harris didn’t avoid reporters and seemed to love jousting with them from time to time, unlike Harper and the newer Conservatives who hold all media in distain, except for the Sun media group and the National Post. Harris will have been an MP for 22 years by the time he retires next hall.
Nobody stays in politics – especially in federal politics – for that long unless they sincerely believe in their mission to help their constituents and make their riding and their country better. For his devotion, his passion and his results for area residents, Harris has earned our thanks and our best wishes during his retirement years. For now, however, until this session of Parliament is dissolved, it’s only fair for us to expect from him the same level of hard work and service that this region has come to enjoy over the past two decades.