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Ed Deibel -- 82-year-old NOHP leader and candidate (Roy MacGregor/The Globe and Mail)
Ed Deibel -- 82-year-old NOHP leader and candidate (Roy MacGregor/The Globe and Mail)

A voice in the wilderness barks again for the Northern Ontario Heritage Party Add to ...

‘Just give me a minute to put my teeth in!”

It has been a wild week for 82-year-old Ed Deibel of the Northern Ontario Heritage Party. The clock on the wall behind the double-screen computer on which he hammers out his missives on how the North gets shortchanged has ticked past 2 p.m., the deadline for registering as a candidate for the June 12 provincial election, and he is getting a bit jittery waiting for the confirmation from Elections Ontario that eventually does come.

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Teeth in, the man known for decades more for his bark than his bite is ready to go.

“On Monday I wasn’t a leader, I wasn’t a candidate, the party was going to be de-registered,” he says. “Now I’m a candidate … and I guess I’m the leader.”

There were only two registered candidates on the NOHP ticket, but then a group of disenchanted northerners in the riding of Thunder Bay-Atikokan rounded up 25 signatures, enough to get a name on the ballot, and they asked if the old leader of the often-dormant party would let his name stand.

Of course he would. Just because you’re old – the vast majority of his years spent working for Bell and running a small motel and trailer park in North Bay – doesn’t mean you’re no longer up for the fight.

“I’d written off the election up until they called me,” he says, laughing. “Now I’m running it!”

It all changed so suddenly he’s having trouble getting used to it. He figured he was retired and comfortable enough sitting at his twin computer screens firing off e-mails to the likes of the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities (“They never responded”) and Premier Kathleen Wynne (“She never responded”).

Back in January, 2011, Mr. Deibel won $83,189 in a Lotto 6/49 draw and was able to take his seriously ill wife on a dream trip to Florida. (Phyllis Deibel passed on in 2012.) And then there’s the $200 a month that comes in from Ontario hydro for the electricity produced by the solar panels his son has installed on the family home.

And yes, make no mistake, Ed Deibel, who battles Queen’s Park at every turn, sees the irony in all this.

“Ha!” he says of the lottery win. “I got back all my two dollars I spent on tickets – and a lot more!”

More than 40 years ago, Mr. Deibel and a couple of dozen supporters camped out on the lawn of Queen’s Park demanding an audience with then-premier Bill Davis. He eventually got in and asked Mr. Davis if he would support a plebiscite on whether Northern Ontario should or could be its own political entity. Mr. Davis, of course, refused.

The rebuffed northerners eventually formed their own political entity. It was never taken very seriously, having failed to elect a member to Queen’s Park, but Mr. Deibel, who served briefly on the North Bay council, never stopped pressing his argument that Queen’s Park had no sense whatsoever of the vast northern expanse of Canada’s most populous province.

While he certainly has had his issues with Queen’s Park, he considers himself a fervent Canadian nationalist. “It’s in my DNA!”

What he wants from Queen’s Park is recognition that the North is badly done by when decisions that affect it are taken far to the south.

His party commissioned a survey in April involving 508 voters in the 11 constituencies that are deemed Northern Ontario. More than half, 55 per cent, felt the provincial government has done a poor or very poor job of managing the affairs of the North. Nearly three-quarters, 74 per cent, do not feel that Southern Ontario-based governments have been effective in promoting northern development. And two-thirds, 67 per cent, feel the issues facing their region are significantly different from those facing residents down south.

Changing this reality is urgent, Mr. Deibel believes, because of the Ring of Fire mineral potential in the Ontario lands near James Bay, a vast development that has an economic potential of $120-billion, according to federal estimates.

“Not ‘millions.’ Not ‘billions’ with the ‘B,’” Mr. Deibel says dismissively. “We’re talking about trillions of dollars if Northern Ontario had control of its resources. The corporations don’t own them – we do.”

Do it right, he says, and “We’d have a different Canada – not just a different Ontario.”

And so, even though he knows well beforehand what the outcome will be, Thunder Bay-Atikokan candidate Ed Deibel will be the voice of those who have grown used to not being heard. But one day, some day, he believes they will have to listen in Queen’s Park for the simple reason that he has truth on his side.

“I’m right,” he says. “I believe what I’m doing is right. I have a lot of people who believe I’m right – just not enough to get elected.”

Follow on Twitter: @RoyMacG

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