I have a lot of respect for David Zirnhelt.
He was the province’s forests minister through much of the 1990s. Before I get accused of putting orange tinges in my hair, I should point out that I’m not the only one who respects the Cariboo rancher/logger.
During Zirnhelt’s time in office, the Liberals constantly tried to woo him to run for them. The respect for him crossed political lines, most of the time (the Liberals also tried to embroil him a trumped-up scandal, but that’s another story).
There are many reasons why Zirnhelt garnered so much respect. Here’s an example of one:
Sometime in the 1990s, right-of-centre voters knew that to regain power they would have to unite the right. A movement was born.
In Williams Lake the movement was led by handful of logging contractors who were upset with how things were going. They organized a Unite the Right rally. It was an opportunity to bash the NDP government and coalesce right-of-centre voters.
They booked the Gibraltar Room, which seats 414 people. On the day of the rally, 412 seats were occupied with angry, chanting constituents carrying placards with phrases such as “the NDP are killing jobs,” etc.
The other two seats were occupied by Zirnhelt and Terry Tate, who now toils with the Steelworkers here in Prince George.
Zirnhelt knew, going in, that it wasn’t going to be a pleasant meeting, that he was going to be a lightning rod for all the anger in the room, and that he was going to get his head handed to him on a plate.
But he went anyway. Why? Because he was their MLA, their elected representative. He had constituents who were angry with what the government was doing so it was incumbent on him to meet with them to hear, firsthand, what their concerns were … even if that meant getting an earful.
With the all candidates forums now beginning for this fall’s federal election, the big question is whether Conservative candidates will attend. Bob Zimmer and Todd Doherty both passed on last week’s forum hosted by the Stand up for the North Committee, which is definitely not a right-wing group. Zimmer was in Stewart (an NDP-held riding) attending the opening of the terminal there and Doherty was fixing signs and attending a meeting with supporters in Likely.
Zimmer and Doherty aren’t the only Conservatives ducking all candidates forums, it’s a Conservative strategy nation-wide. It’s a cowardly one, but a strategy, nonetheless.
The idea is to only attend so-called “friendly” events which, for Conservatives, means chamber of commerce forums.
Which brings me back to Zirnhelt and the Unite the Right rally. It took courage for Zirnhelt to attend that rally.
For me, courage is a trait I admire, especially in my elected representative. Whoever we elect as our MP on October 19 will represent all of the people of Cariboo-Prince George and Prince George-Peace River-Northern Rockies, not just those who support them.
Anyone seeking that office who is unwilling to meet those who have differing viewpoints doesn’t deserve to be elected.