PC candidate Rob Dekker, 51, held his head high and fearlessly approached men and women of all ages, getting some last-minute canvassing in the day before the election.
“You have my vote,” said one man sitting in the food court. “We need some change.”
Despite running in Ottawa Centre, a riding that has never gone to the Tories since the boundaries were drawn in 1966, Dekker was confident that this time it would be different.
While chatting with residents at Westgate Shopping Centre, young and old spoke about their unhappiness with the McGuinty government and ensured Dekker they would be voting PC.
Dekker said it was the same going door-to-door.
“I only got the door shut in my face once,” he said. “And it’s because the woman thought I was a Liberal.” The woman came out and apologized, he said, and spoke to Dekker about his PC platform and plan for the area, ensuring that she was voting for him.
“I like our chances of winning,” he said two weeks before the election. “You don’t go into politics to come in second.”
As Dekker found out, appealing to the masses of Ottawa Centre as a Conservative is a challenge. It takes a very moderate PC candidate in Ottawa Centre to charm a riding of mostly young professionals, students, and those living on social assistance.
And that’s what sets Dekker apart.
Although he said he stands true to “True Conservative values,” he has been called (and refers to himself as) a Red Tory, meaning his ideology about social programs generally falls into non-Conservative territory.
He explained that a left-leaning PC candidate was what is needed to represent Ottawa Centre so the party has the best chance at success.
“I think they lucked out,” he laughed.
And then Thursday night, exactly two months after being chosen as the PC candidate, a crushing third-place finish to the Ottawa Centre race became a reality.
With 18 per cent of the popular vote but over 14,000 votes behind Liberal incumbent Yasir Naqvi, the results weren’t what Dekker had expected.
It seems not everyone was able to see through past his blue lawn signs. Throughout his campaign, Dekker was criticized for missing debates, particularly those about social assistance and education. Many people made assumptions about his reasons, most critically looking at the PC platform, one even saying he “didn’t care about people.”
In fact, he said it’s just the opposite. Dekker was the union president at Bell Canada until this past December, a job that entails looking after employees. He’s volunteered at Kid’s Help Phone, too. Today, Dekker is the president of board of trustees of Daybreak, a non-profit organization that helps people on social assistance and Ontario Disability and Support Program (ODSP) find affordable housing.
Before election day, Dekker approached one woman outside of a Second Cup, who was living off ODSP benefits and was unsure who she should vote for. By the end of their conversation, she was smiling, chatting with Dekker, and told him she would be voting PC.
“Being Conservative doesn’t mean I don’t care about people,” he said. “If you didn’t care about people you would be in the public world not caring, not in politics.”
And nearly 10,000 residents of the riding were convinced that Dekker was the best for the riding, a real success for a man that started campaigning months after the other candidates because of a late bid.
“I respect people who don’t like where we are coming from,” he said. “But [I] don’t understand how people can give McGuinty a third chance.”
Dekker, the father of Nick, 17, and Emma, 19, will be looking for work after the election. His caring, helpful, and outgoing manner should be an asset for him.
He hopes that his political experience running in both a municipal and provincial election will help him get a job in the field, possibly in communications. He is also looking at the non-profit sector.
Despite his loss, Dekker will continue to live a politically active life as he has for the last six years, he said. Rob Sampson, a cabinet minister from Harris’ government, is his common-law wife’s brother, so politics is part of regular life for his family.
Wherever he ends up, it will most likely challenge the stereotypes he faced having his name on a blue lawn sign.
“Compassion about people should be everyone’s concern, no matter what party you come from,” he said.