MacLAREN’S LANDING – While the June 7 election results were not surprising, they still can sting.
For two-term MPP Jack MacLaren, it put a halt to his political career, but he’s not sure it put an end to it.
“It may or may not be over,” MacLaren told West Carleton Online on Tuesday, July 9. “I’m comfortable with those words as I haven’t made a decision yet. There’s an election in four years, so who knows?”
MacLaren, a fourth-generation farmer who lives in a river side community named after his family, is back working the land after representing Carleton-Mississippi Mills (now known as Kanata-Carleton) from 2011 to 2018.
It was a wild ride for MacLaren who won the riding in 2011 after taking the Progressive-Conservative nomination from long-time MPP Norm Sterling who sat for 34 years. He easily won the 2011 election defeating Liberal candidate Megan Cornell by more than 9,100 votes.
He served as deputy critic for infrastructure and transportation and was promoted to the party’s critic for senate and democratic reform. In 2014, he won his second term by more than 10,000 votes over Liberal candidate Rosalyn Stevens.
During his second term, MacLaren battled against then-party leader Patrick Brown, a man MacLaren previously helped win the Conservative leadership.
It was a tumultuous second-term for MacLaren. In 2016 he apologized after making a rude joke about MP Karen McCrimmon at a Carp Fair fundraiser they were both attending. Brown later demoted MacLaren, replacing him as the party’s Easter Ontario representative in caucus with Jim McDonnell.
On May, 28, 2017, Brown expelled MacLaren from the PC caucus purportedly after a video recording from a 2012 speech where MacLaren criticized French language rights in the province which he referred to as “limiting” resurfaced.
MacLaren, at the time, said he was not expelled but that he had planned to quit the party to join the Trillium Party of Ontario, but Brown found out and expelled him first for political gain.
Following the June 7 election, MacLaren only garnered enough votes to finish fifth, more than 21,000 votes behind winner Progressive Conservative Dr. Merrilee Fullerton.
“I got in to politics to make a difference,” MacLaren said.
Before entering politics, MacLaren was the president of the Ontario Landowners Association, a powerful lobby group dedicated to protecting the rights of property owners.
“We often found the government was sometimes the problem,” MacLaren said. “They can make mistakes. We wanted to encourage government to change the way they do things, or sometimes, to do nothing at all.”
MacLaren says Ontario, with more than 660,000 regulations, is “vastly” overregulated.
“They create red tape for business and people, it chokes small businesses,” he said. “We need the government to let people be entrepreneurs, creators and investors. That’s how we got elected in the first place. We should trust people to be good people until they prove otherwise. The government’s job is to help people. People like you and me are blessed with good health and we can look after ourselves.”
MacLaren says the government should focus on three groups of people: those with developmental disabilities (“it’s very costly to families”); mental health and addiction (“vastly neglected”); and struggling senior citizens.
MacLaren says right now, teenagers with mental health and addiction issues are falling through the cracks.
“There are no beds at all for teenagers with these issues,” MacLaren said. “That’s an unbelievable statistic. They literally have nowhere to go. That’s a terrible, terrible problem. If we can do more for mental health we will lower crime.”
MacLaren says many seniors are also facing challenging times.
“You hear seniors saying ‘I’m afraid I’m going to live too long’ because they are running out of money,” he said. “As a caring society we have a duty to help those who can’t help themselves. We don’t do that by raising taxes, we do it by supporting small businesses. We have the people to do the job. We need the government to get out of the way so those businesses can thrive, pay more taxes and then the government can do their job.”
MacLaren says the way the current party system is lead to his leaving the Conservatives and his dissatisfaction with the political life.
“It’s frustrating trying to address those obvious problems and solutions,” he said. “Elected officials are afraid of making these decisions. MPPs don’t really have much freedom. They tell us what to say, demand absolute loyalty. They expected me to be loyal to the party, not to the people.”
MacLaren said Hudak was “terrible” but Brown was worse.
“Our democracy is flawed,” he said. “The backroom boys are so powerful. It’s non-elected people that are actually making the decisions. A vote is not a very powerful thing in Ontario or Canada.”
From the outside, MacLaren’s move to the Trillium party looked like a huge demotion. MacLaren called it liberating.
“I had the freedom to answer to constituents,” he said. “There are almost no whip votes. It was a pleasure over the last year to vote freely and speak on behalf of my constituents. It was refreshing and empowering.”
MacLaren noted he voted alone on a few issues at provincial legislature while a member of the Trillium party.
He specifically recalls voting alone on last fall’s ‘Bubble Bill’ – the no-go zone for protestors surrounding abortion clinics.
“It wasn’t an abortion question, it was about the constitution,” MacLaren said. “It’s not a pointless, wasted vote. It’s a vote that points out there is hope for change.”
Despite his feelings the system is broken, he does believe there is a fix.
“I’m not going to pretend it’s going to be easy,” MacLaren said. “There are a lot of MPPs who like the status quo. It’s called leadership. The leader needs to stand there and make decisions that are best for the people of Ontario.”
MacLaren recognized different ridings have different needs.
“Having that freedom would make the PPs so much happier and more powerful,” he said. “It would build respect for the part and people would vote for that party.”
MacLaren says he has not spoken to the person who replaced him in the Conservative party and won the June 7 election, Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, but did congratulate her and shook her hand after the election.
MacLaren says he has been active both politically and personally since then.
“It’s surprised me, but I’ve still got people calling me,” he said.
MacLaren said he recently spoke at an event in Montreal in support of the Tamil people.
“So closely after the election I had to get myself pumped up,” he said. “They wanted me there regardless of whether I was the MPP or not.”
On June 8 he spoke at an event for the Canadians for Language Fairness and recently attended a Trillium Party meeting in Toronto.
“We weren’t crying in our beers,” MacLaren said. “We were planning for the next election. We’re going to be bigger and stronger. I’m still involved. People still call me looking for help and I’m going to try and help them.”
He is still a member of the OLA and is watching closely for the results of the OLA’s constitutional challenge against the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals which are expected around December.
“If they can win that, that would be huge,” MacLaren said. “The court will tell the province their law is bad and they need to change it. That would make it more just.”
He’s also still working the land.
“I’ve always been a farmer and will continue to do so,” MacLaren said. “I’ve had more time to do hands on work, although I’m not 21 anymore.”
With three daughters, four grandchildren and two more on the way, he’s got his hands full, literally and figuratively.
“That’s a happy and wonderful time,” he said.
MacLaren is taking some of the grandchildren on a ‘dinosaur bones’ hunt on his property later this week and is looking forward to visiting daughters in Calgary and San Diego.
“Nothing really has changed,” he said.