News Local

Van Loan mum on political ambition

By Raymond Bowe, Barrie Examiner

Veteran Tory politicians in Simcoe County wouldn't be surprised to see York-Simcoe MP Peter Van Loan make the move from Ottawa to Queen's Park.

The federal heavyweight is said to be gauging support for a possible stab at the Progressive Conservative party's provincial leadership, but the area MP isn't saying anything publicly, one way or the other.

Van Loan's name isn't catching many insiders off guard.

"That's not a surprise," Simcoe-Grey MPP Jim Wilson said yesterday, adding he has heard Van Loan's name being thrown around for a few months.

Van Loan was president of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party from 1994 to 1998, so he's well known to party members.

"He is competent and well-liked, so he would have a very good chance," Wilson said.

Simcoe North MPP Garfield Dunlop said Van Loan's name is the first he's heard mentioned from outside the party caucus.

"Obviously, he has a lot of respect and is a friend to a lot of MPPs," Dunlop said. "We would welcome Peter's candidacy."

Dunlop said Van Loan could be weighing his decision on what could happen in Ottawa over the next few years, including how the Conservatives might fare in the next federal election.

Van Loan was unavailable yesterday to comment on whether or not he's even contemplating the idea, but one Queen's Park source said "where there's smoke, there's fire."

"Minister Van Loan is very focused on his work as public safety minister," spokesman Chris McCluskey told the Examiner. "This isn't a distraction."

The PC leadership post was vacated last week when John Tory resigned after losing a byelection in the Haliburton area. His successor will be announced this summer.

The provincial party is expected to name an interim leader on March 23, at which time the "crowd should start thinning," Wilson said. Tradition holds that the interim leader would not run for the leadership.

Possible candidates to become the new leader include federal industry minister Tony Clement -- although the former provincial politician told a Toronto newspaper he's not testing the waters-- and Tim Hudak, but he's not commenting on his intentions, either.

"No one has actually said I'm in for sure," Dunlop said. "Obviously, this is a huge step for people. You have to take the time to make the decision, because it's been thrust on us so quickly."

The party wants a new leader installed by July 1. An emergency meeting was called after Tory stepped down and the executive voted in favour of a spring convention. A leadership conference will be held May 22 in Toronto.

Wilson says the leadership convention should be delayed so the party has more time to choose its next leader.

"It doesn't leave a lot of room for people to come from the outside," Wilson said. "But it's really anybody's opportunity right now."

The party is at a crossroads. "We need to rebuild the party," Wilson said. "We need new ideas.

"The next leader needs to have the work ethic and smarts of John Tory, but also public appeal," he added. "There's not a lot of stomach out there with the people for another byelection. We can't take that chance again."

Julia Munro, who holds the provincial York-Simcoe seat, could not be reached yesterday for comment.

However, Wilson said Munro has stated in the past that she's not willing to give up her seat for a byelection.

Van Loan has been York-Simcoe's MP since June 2004. He was named minister of public safety last October.

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