When your member of Parliament goes AWOL

Our Votes Count debate
Ed Holder’s seat sits empty at a London West candidates debate on April 26, sponsored by Our Votes Count.

When London insurance broker Ed Holder decided to run under the Conservative banner my riding, London West, in 2008, I was thrilled. I happen to be a big believer in the importance of integrity in local candidates, no matter their political stripe. Elect 308 scrupulous, principled and sincere candidates to the House of Commons and the rest, I figure, will take care of itself. It’s why, three years ago, I saw Glen Pearson, a Liberal in London-North-Centre, and Irene Mathyssen, a New Democrat in London-Fanshawe, as worthy contenders in their respective ridings.

I was especially delighted about Holder’s decision to run because I’d come to know him through my role as editor at The London Free Press. As chair of the newspaper’s editorial board, I kept a slot open for a community member, who would serve for one year. At one point, Holder was one of these.

I invited him to the post largely on the strength of his community involvement and leadership. He was regularly in the news, for all the right reasons — supporting important social causes, raising money to preserve a community tradition that was about to go extinct, and giving of his time in the service of local charities. I was pleased when he accepted and grateful for his sage advice.

What I remember most about his contributions to our meetings was his incisive mind and ability to probe, with business-like detachment, whatever happened to be the issue of the day. He was a stickler for precision, fairness and transparency. He insisted that politicians, chief executives and charities face scrutiny and be held accountable. He believed strongly in the importance of benchmarks and good, defensible standards by which to measure performance.

When voting day arrived in 2008, I was more sure of my vote than I’d ever been. His victory over longtime Liberal MP Sue Barnes, for whom I’d also voted more than once, seemed timely and deserved.

During the last Parliament, I called on Holder’s office for assistance on one occasion. I was serving as chairperson of charitable organization and was perplexed by some new rules being imposed by Ottawa. Within hours, Holder called personally to set me straight on a simple misunderstanding, brought about by a vacancy in our CEO’s office. Holder’s businesslike approach to the problem was exactly what I had expected of him.

Because he’d been such an proponent of accountability and openness, I looked forward to seeing him at candidates debates in my riding in the current campaign. I have been profoundly disappointed by his absences at many of them, including the one debate held specifically in London West riding for London West voters this week. Yes, he has participated in some meetings, such as the Rogers-sponsored debate that would be televised repeatedly through the campaign (best not to avoid that one). And he has appeared at debates in local high schools, where exposure to voting constituents with hard questions is minimal. He has not responded to my question about whether his absences are the result of a personal decision or party war room diktat.

I suspect it’s the latter. If so, London West’s MP must be chafing under the order. This is entirely unlike the Ed Holder I have come to know — the one who held up accountability in public life as an imperative. Absent other explanations, I resent the fact that the long arm of a control-obsessed prime minister appears to have absconded with my member of Parliament. He is absent without leave at precisely the moment — and I think he, in his heart of hearts, would personally agree — that he ought to be living out the notions he once so strongly advocated.

UWO debate posterUpdate: According to CBC.ca, Holder has also declined to attend the all-candidates meeting this evening at the University of Western Ontario, moderated by Huron University College political science professor Paul Nesbitt-Larking and sponsored by UWO’s Faculty Association, the Graduate Teaching Assistants Union and the University Students’ Council.

Update II: Indeed, Holder was a no-show at the UWO debate.

Update III (May 2): Holder was re-elected handily on election night, by a margin of nearly 9,000 votes over his nearest challenger, the NDP’s Peter Ferguson. Congratulations to Mr. Holder. Here’s hoping he finds effective and personal ways to stay in touch with his constituents.