He is 55 years old, and the first time he ever left “home,” he says a bit sheepishly, was last August, when he headed off to Toronto to take up Dalton McGuinty’s seat in the Ontario Legislature.
John Fraser was born here, grew up in Ottawa South, worked here, raised a family here and still lives in the riding that for 26 years was a McGuinty fiefdom, first under Dalton McGuinty Sr., then under the former premier who, heading into the June 12 provincial election, is nowhere to be seen in Ottawa South or, for that matter, the province of Ontario.
In what was once a sparkling development of new townhouses, Mr. Fraser points out where he and his wife, Linda, first lived when married. A few blocks away, he comes to where he once lived with his parents. A lifetime ago, a very young John Fraser rode his bicycle over to the Elmvale Acres mall where, still on his bike, the youngster shook hands with then local Liberal candidate John Turner. The Ottawa Journal ran a photo of the handshake and, from that moment on, the grown John Fraser says, he was “transfixed with politics.”
He points out where Jack Fraser, his father, who died only six weeks ago, would put up green Christmas lights in the shape of a tree; where Mary Fraser once planted her marigolds. Today, there is only garbage and crabgrass.
He knocks on the townhouse next door to where he grew up. An angry woman and an angrier dog answer, and neither is interested in listening to reason.
“No! No!” the woman shouts at him. “I don’t vote!”
“Well, you should.”
“I don’t!” she shouts. The dog barks, the door slams.
Things have certainly changed since the days when a carefree kid could head off to the mall on his bike. And changed, even, from August of last year when Mr. Fraser, somewhat surprisingly, managed to hold on to the McGuinty seat by a 1,294-vote margin – down considerably from the 7,000-plus lead then-premier Mr. McGuinty had in 2011.
It was not by accident that now-Premier Kathleen Wynne came to Ottawa South as her first campaign stop outside of Toronto. Holding Ottawa South is clearly a priority for the Liberals, especially as last year’s second-place finisher, Progressive Conservative candidate Matt Young, who also has deep roots in the riding, is running again, as is NDP candidate Bronwyn Funiciello, who showed well a year ago with more than 5,000 votes.
On a Saturday morning blitz of what is now a largely Muslim neighbourhood, Mr. Fraser literally races from open door to open door – many of them opened by two Arabic-speaking volunteers. That he is mostly warmly received is due to the recognition factor. For 25 years Mr. Fraser worked on McGuinty campaigns, and since 1999 the former businessman was the “face” of Mr. McGuinty’s constituency office.
That is not to suggest, however, that the McGuinty baggage – the $1.1-billion in cancelled gas plants, the Ornge ambulance scandal – is forgotten in Ottawa South.
“He’s disappeared from the firmament,” says Mavis Finnamore, an unemployed community worker who went to high school with Mr. McGuinty. “But I haven’t heard anybody here roundly speaking badly of him. It’s more of a lingering sadness, a puzzledom.”
“When he quit, we got John,” says Ismail Ibrahim, a 34-year-old who works in medical supplies. “And we knew John. If it had been someone else, well, then maybe I’d question whether or not I wanted to support him.”
“If only they’d been more forthcoming with information, it might not have been as bad,” says Sam Alsabeh, an Ottawa-Carleton bus driver who lives in the riding.
“But there’s no real bitterness here,” adds Ms. Finnamore. “Might be elsewhere, of course.”
Apart from the angry woman and the angrier dog, bitterness is hard to come by during this three hours’ worth of door-to-door campaigning. In part it is Mr. Fraser’s affable nature, his recognition factor and his lifelong roots in the area; in part it is the response of struggling citizens fearful of the alternative; and in part, of course, it is lack of interest one way or the other – people who have tuned out and have no intention of tuning in.
“One-third will say ‘no,’” Mr. Fraser says, “one-third will say ‘yes,’ one-third will say they’re busy, not necessarily engaged. I get people swearing at me at the door but I don’t take it personally. I always tell them, ‘If you need my help, call.’”
He was the “fixer” for Mr. McGuinty all those years and still considers himself far more a force at the community level than at the legislative. At no point does he shy away from the McGuinty connection.
“I’m proud of the work I was able to do working for Dalton,” he says of his 14 years as the former premier’s constituency assistant. “The community is light years ahead because of things he did. You know, my father always said, ‘There’s two things you can do in politics. You can do something or you can do nothing – and nothing carries less risks.’
“Well, I want to something.”