Jeff Heuchert email@example.com
Perth-Wellington MP Gary Schellenberger announced in a statement to local media Thursday morning that he will not seek re-election in Oct. 2015.
The decision to retire at the end of the 41st parliament was made “with a heavy heart,” said the longtime Conservative politician, who last week celebrated his 71st birthday.
"I have been thinking about this for a while. But it was a very tough decision to make," he added in a phone interview with the Gazette from his office in Ottawa.
Age was certainly a factor, he admitted. He's not getting any younger and the demands of the job are as great as ever. After more than 10 years of driving back and forth to Ottawa - he always tried to come home on weekends when parliament was in session - he said he's looking forward to a less busy schedule.
But, he quickly pointed out, "I haven't got my rocking chair picked out just yet." He said he plans to spend more time with his wife Judy and his family in his retirement, but also remain active in the Perth-Wellington community, as well as in Huron County where his family has a cottage.
Schellenberger said he is ready to "pass the torch to someone younger," and noted it was important to him that he made a decision now so that the party and its supporters in the riding have lots of time to find a suitable candidate ahead of next year's election.
It's one that many pundits are predicting will be close as the Liberals look to regain some prominence under leader Justin Trudeau.
Schellenberger said he thinks Canadians will instead choose to side with the party that has the last eight years of experience on its side.
"I think that as time goes on the people here in Canada will realize that the Conservative government that they have is the most stable and the best way to go," he added.
Schellenberger first won a seat in the House of Commons in a 2003 by-election, representing the Progressive Conservative Party in what was then the riding of Perth-Middlesex. He defeated Liberal candidate Brian Innes by roughly 1,000 votes. One year later in the general election, representing what was by then the Conservative Party in the new riding of Perth-Wellington, he defeated Innes once again, but this time by a wider margin.
Schellenberger would cruise to election wins in 2006 and 2008, defeating his nearest challengers by roughly 10,000 votes. In 2011 he won re-election in a landslide with more than 50 per cent of the ballot.
"I was humbled by the support I got," he said. "We must have been doing something right for the people of Perth-Wellington. Did I satisfy everybody in the riding? I'm quite sure I didn't. But that's party politics."
Schellenberger holds the unique distinction of being the last Progressive Conservative to be elected into the House, in the 2003 by-election, before the party dissolved and members joined the newly formed Conservative Party of Canada. It was a time of transition in Canadian politics that Schellenberger appreciates having been involved in.
"I feel proud that I was a part of the group that helped bring the Conservative family back together," he added.
In Ottawa Schellenberger served as chair of both the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage and on the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs. He currently serves on the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, and was recently elected chair of the Canada–Germany Interparliamentary group.
The veteran MP said he has many fond memories of his time in office. But perhaps the ones that stand out the most are those that received no attention in the press. For instance, he was involved in helping bring back to Canada two residents from the riding who were stuck in Saudi Arabia. And just recently he helped reunite a local family with their young daughter from India after being apart for four years.
But the one that has stuck with Schellenberger the most is that of an Afghan interpreter who was successfully extricated to Canada after the Taliban threatened to murder him for his involvement with the North American coalition forces.
"It took about a year but we got him here," said Schellenberger. "I only met him once, and he looked me square in the eye and said, 'Thank you for saving my life, and for my wife's, and for giving my child an opportunity.'
"That really meant a lot to me."
Through his standing committee work on foreign affairs and human rights issues, Schellenberger has developed a deeper appreciation for his own country and the role its military plays on the world stage. He said he is deeply troubled by the turmoil that's going on in places like Syria and by the actions of extremist groups like ISIS. He said the rest of the world can't choose to ignore what's happening.
"Some people say we just need to stay out of those things. (But) we're too interconnected now. We're a pretty close-knit world."
Schellenberger was born and raised in Sebringville, where he and his wife still live today. Before entering politics he operated a family painting and decorating business for over 40 years. For 12 years he served on Downie Township council.
In his statement to media announcing his retirement, Schellenberger thanked his family, his staff - many of whom have been with him since the beginning - and the local riding association for their support over the years. He also extended thanks to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and to his colleagues in the House of Commons for their dedicated leadership.
"I feel very fortunate to have served in the Conservative caucus," he said.