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Kent ready to race in Thornhill

Broadcaster-turned-star federal Conservative candidate challenges Liberal MP Kadis north of Steeles

CAMPAIGN READY: Though a federal election is yet to be called, Conservative candidate Peter Kent is hitting the campaign trail in Thornhill. Photo by Philip Alves/Vaughan Today

Ask former broadcast journalist Peter Kent what brought him to Thornhill and he’ll say, “Serendipity.”

The truth, though, isn’t that simple.

Neither are his reasons for setting himself up as the voters’ alternative to sitting Thornhill Liberal MP Susan Kadis whenever the federal election is called.

“She’s a nice person,” Kent said over a cup of coffee at Yonge and John Sts. recently. “(But) I’ve been told regularly that people think it’s time for a change.”

Born in Sussex, England on a Canadian military base during the Second World War, Kent spent his childhood moving from city to city before following his father into a career in journalism.

After more than 40 years covering everything from the Vietnam War to the Ethiopian famine, it was a 2005 Canadian political convention that would set Kent on the path from star reporter to star Conservative candidate for the riding of Thornhill.

“In covering the policy conference in Montreal, I was just blown away that Ontarians and Albertans, two very different sorts of conservatives in a lot of ways, were back to where we’d been 20 years ago in the Mulroney era, or 20 years before that in the Diefenbaker era,” Kent said. “And Quebecers were engaged.

“The policy document that they created, I thought, ‘Whoa, I could run on that’.”

And run he did, finishing second to Liberal Carolyn Bennett in the Toronto riding of St. Paul’s in the 2006 federal election.

“A few months later I began getting calls from different ridings around town,” he said. “In the middle of 2006, I decided I would stand for eventual nomination in Thornhill.

“When it was opened for nomination, I put my name in and was acclaimed, and here we are.”

Though not from Thornhill, Kent says he has many long-standing connections to the riding. He recently bought a centuries-old heritage property on John St. that he’s currently renovating.

Kent is also a member of the Thornhill Garden and Horticultural Society, a group that he says doesn’t allow political ideologies to interfere with environmental concerns.

“It goes to show that Conservatives and Liberals and Greens and NDPers and anarchists can all share concerns for the environment,” he said.

Kent has long been a voice for environmental issues, sounding the alarm about the greenhouse gas effect and global climate change in a 1984 story that ran on the CBC’s The Journal.

That environmental awareness has landed Kent in the interesting position of facing political attacks from rivals to his left, but also from fellow conservatives to his right, including bloggers and commentators at the right-wing magazine, the Western Standard.

“A couple of … columnists said, ‘Peter Kent isn’t conservative enough,’ ” he said. “Conservatives aren’t cookie-cutter individuals.

“There are extreme ends of the spectrum: either be an absolute purist and shoot yourself in the foot, destroy your economy to be an absolute environmental zealot; and at the other end there’s people saying that they still don’t believe that there is such a thing as the greenhouse effect. I think both of those groups are absolutely wacky and politically irresponsible.”

His environmental sensibilities permeate his positions on local Thornhill issues, too. Kent is a supporter of the Yonge St. subway extension north into Richmond Hill, and he says he’s concerned that his riding may not get any subway stations built.

“In a perfect world, federal, provincial and municipal funding would lay out the whole length of the proposed new track with stations where they logically should be,” he said. “I think you’ve got to have a minimum of three. There’s got to be a middle station somewhere.”

Should he emerge victorious from the next federal election, Kent said Vaughan’s residents and municipal politicians can expect his help dealing with two uncooperative Crown corporations.

Vaughan has had long-standing disputes with CN rail and Canada Post about railway overpass upkeep and super mailbox litter issues respectively.

“CN has been very arrogant, (and) I think every homeowner in Canada has a right to expect home delivery,” he said.

But before he can help with Thornhill’s federal issues, he says, he needs to get himself elected.

“It’s been a long haul as a candidate; almost three years now since that policy convention in Montreal,” he said. “As frustrating as it’s been on sort of a personal level — the perpetual campaign — it’s been a lot of fun meeting folks in quasi-campaign situations.

“I’ve made a lot of new friends. I’ve met a lot of interesting people.”

Vaughan Today
Online: February 18, 2008 [link]