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Conservative MP Dave MacKenzie.Handout

Having retired after two decades as a Conservative MP, Dave MacKenzie says he is now supporting a Liberal seeking to become his Southwestern Ontario riding’s next representative – citing concern over the Conservative nomination process for the race.

Mr. MacKenzie told The Globe and Mail on Monday that he is backing local realtor and former educator David Hilderley, who is aiming for the Liberal nomination in the eventual by-election in the riding of Oxford.

The by-election, which must be called before July 29, is required to replace Mr. MacKenzie – Oxford’s MP from 2004 to the end of this past January, when he stepped down.

“The way this thing has gone in my riding from my former party, I just find David an easy switch for me,” he said.

Since Mr. MacKenzie’s resignation, a nomination fight for the Oxford riding broke out that saw one candidate removed by the party, and senior Tories Pierre Poilievre and Andrew Scheer endorse the nomination campaign of the eventual winner, Mississauga lawyer Arpan Khanna.

Mr. Khanna served as Ontario campaign chair for Mr. Poilievre’s successful bid to be Conservative Leader and is currently the party’s outreach chair. He ran unsuccessfully for the Tories in Brampton, Ont., in 2019.

Mr. Khanna won over a field that included Mr. MacKenzie’s daughter. But other party members in the riding were vexed, claiming they were poorly treated by party headquarters. Two Conservative Electoral District Association executive members in Oxford quit their posts after Mr. Khanna’s nomination.

Mr. MacKenzie said he has been concerned that Mr. Scheer strongly backed Mr. Khanna for the nomination: “Why would Andrew Scheer want to bring a guy in from Brampton?” he said.

“It’s not Stephen Harper’s party or Peter MacKay’s party right now. It just operates differently.

“I am not knocking Pierre. Pierre’s got some people around him that he might question at some point.”

Mr. MacKenzie said there are still a few years left in his Conservative membership, and he has no plans to take out a Liberal membership.

Neither Mr. Khanna nor the Conservative Party responded to a request for comment.

A former police chief in the city of Woodstock, Mr. Mackenzie said he has not yet actually spoken to Mr. Hilderley, but plans to contact him soon to find out what help he can provide him for the nomination and the eventual by-election.

“When I am in the riding, a lot of people say they are not happy, and they are looking for somewhere else to go. And people know David, and as soon as you say he’s going to run, they are happy,” Mr. MacKenzie said.

Mr. Hilderley, who previously ran provincially and to be mayor of Woodstock, was taken aback when informed of Mr. MacKenzie’s support.

“That’s a very nice surprise – a welcome one for sure,” he said in an interview Monday.

“I think the local party is very, very disturbed with what has happened in terms of a selection by their leadership,” Mr. Hilderley said, referring to Conservatives in Oxford. “They just want to have a local representative, a local voice, someone who knows the community representing them in Ottawa.”

During the 2021 election, Mr. MacKenzie won the riding with 47 per cent of the vote compared with 20 per cent for the Liberal candidate. He said he would not presume his political shift will have a great deal of weight, but that he knows that some in the riding will be attentive.

Mr. Hilderley said the political situation in the riding may be shifting in a way that would give the Liberals their best opportunity to win the seat since John Finlay held it for them between 1993 and 2004.

“We want to capitalize on that,” he said.

Mr. Hilderley said he has lived in the riding all his life except for three years teaching in London, Ont. He spent 34 years working as a teacher, vice-principal, principal and consultant. He has run a bed-and-breakfast operation, and has been a realtor for 17 years.

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