After months of deliberation, Wellington-Halton Hills MP Michael Chong has decided to run for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada.
Chong made the announcement in a press conference in Ottawa on May 16.
“We live in the greatest country in the world,” he told the Advertiser in advance of the official announcement.
“To be able to participate in a democratic process like a leadership race is pretty incredible.”
Since the resignation of former Conservative leader Stephen Harper, following a devastating loss to Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in last fall’s federal election, Chong said he has been encouraged by “hundreds” of people to seek the leadership of the party.
Conservative insiders and everyday Canadians alike, including many from Wellington County, have expressed their support, Chong said.
Perhaps most importantly, he has the full support of his wife Carrie and their three sons, William, Alistair and Cameron.
“Carrie is excited to be involved in the process,” Chong said, adding his sons are looking forward to following his journey online.
With his announcement on Monday, Chong becomes the third person hoping to represent the Conservative Party in the 2019 federal election.
Maxime Bernier from Beauce, Quebec and Simcoe-Grey’s Kellie Leitch have already announced their candidacy.
To date there has been no declaration from any of the high-profile Conservatives who have expressed interest, including Tony Clement, Jason Kenney, Peter MacKay and Lisa Raitt.
Yet Chong expects several more candidates to come forward before long.
“I think the more people that enter the race, the better it is,” he said, stressing the importance of choice and the need for vigorous policy debate leading up to the leadership decision on May 27, 2017.
‘Telling our stories’
Chong, 44, said he is excited about the opportunity to “renew” the Conservative Party which, in addition to choosing a new leader, entails attracting new people to the party.
“I think that starts by better telling our stories,” he added, also stressing the importance of social media.
Part of Chong’s work over the next year will be telling his own story.
He’s obviously well known throughout Wellington County and in southern Ontario, and he has gained considerable recognition through past political moves and endorsements from independent organizations.
First elected to Parliament in 2004, Chong was praised by many for taking a stand two years later by resigning from cabinet in opposition to a Harper motion recognizing the Québécois as “a nation within a united Canada.”
More recently, Chong introduced, and was ultimately successful in passing, The Reform Act, intended to shift power from party leaders to caucus members.
In 2011, Chong was named the best representative of his riding by his fellow MPs in the annual “Parliamentarians of the Year” feature in Macleans magazine.
Prior to the 2015 election, Chong was one of 18 candidates across the nation endorsed by GreenPAC, a non-partisan organization.
Yet despite what many would call an impressive political resume, Chong may be relatively unknown for voters in, say, Saskatchewan or Newfoundland. That’s not the case for some of the high-profile candidates expected to run.
‘Hard work’ and ‘sacrifice’
That reality is obviously not lost on Chong, who repeatedly stressed the need to tell his story to Canadians.
“I’m proud of my roots,” said Chong, whose family lives on a rural property not far from Fergus in Centre Wellington Township.
He was raised in the area and attended Centre Wellington District High School before obtaining a degree in philosophy at the University of Toronto’s Trinity College.
“Mine is a story of hard work and perseverance,” he said.
Much of that began with his late parents, Paul Chong, who came to Canada in 1952, and Cornelia de Haan, who came to Canada in the mid-1960s, eventually settling near Fergus.
Chong’s voice seems charged with pride and emotion as he explains that his parents, at the time living worlds apart, were both “defended and liberated” by Canadian soldiers during the Second World War.
“I literally would not be here were it not for their sacrifices … I owe everything to Canada. My family owes everything to Canada,” said Chong, adding the leadership bid is one way he can give back.
In December 1941, Canadian soldiers, in their first WWII action, battled Japanese forces – against overwhelming odds – to defend Hong Kong. Of the 1,975 Canadians who went to Hong Kong, more than 1,050 were either killed or wounded.
“It was a slaughter,” Chong said, adding, “My father never forgot that sacrifice.”
Three and a half years later, in May 1945, Chong’s mother was among those liberated by Canadian forces in The Netherlands. About 7,500 Canadians died in the nine-month campaign.
“The Dutch have never forgotten,” Chong said.
Inspired by that sense of patriotism and gratitude, Chong’s campaign should appeal to everyday, hardworking Canadians.
He mentioned familiar conservative touchstones, such as balanced budgets, lower taxes and “fiscal responsibility” – but he also champions a cause not typically associated with the Conservatives: protecting the environment.
Furthermore, he wants to continue his campaign to ensure MPs are not controlled by the prime minister or their party leader and to help fight against what he called “an overly intrusive state.”
“My leadership campaign will be about new ideas and new ambition,” Chong told the Advertiser.
He said the Trudeau Liberals, while recently elected, are full of “old ideas,” such as excessive income taxes, racking up debt and “believing there’s a government program for every problem.”
“This is not the 1960s,” Chong said. “We can’t afford their old ideas.”
Chong said he will continue to represent his constituents until the legislature breaks for the summer, likely sometime near the end of June. Then he will start fundraising and travelling.
“I’m looking forward to travelling across the country and talking to Conservatives and talking to Canadians,” he said.
Asked if he thinks running for the leadership – and possibly serving as party leader – could detract from his role as MP for Wellington-Halton Hills, Chong said it will be quite the opposite.
“This is a great opportunity to put Wellington County and … Halton Hills on the map,” he said, adding he hopes to draw attention to the issues facing the largely-rural riding.
“People will definitely be more familiar with (the area). It will be part of the story I tell.”
For more information about Chong’s campaign visit www.chong.ca.