Win or lose in Monday’s election, John Duncan has something to celebrate.
After eight months of intense chemotherapy and radiation for metastatic breast cancer, the Conservative candidate’s wife, Donna, 52, learned mid-campaign that her latest test results showed no sign of cancer.
“We can plan our personal life beyond Oct. 19,” Duncan said.
His political life, however, remains a question mark.
The 66-year-old, who is running in his eighth election, is one of the country’s longest-serving members of Parliament. He is the only Conservative running for re-election on the Island, and one of just two remaining MPs elected in 1993 with the Reform Party (the other is Conservative Leader Stephen Harper).
If Duncan wins, he’ll carry on that legacy. If not, he views his candidacy as his way of having served Canada and his party.
“I believe I helped our candidates on the Island here by being one of them, and that’s very meaningful to me,” he said. “I’m invested in wanting several of my colleagues to win, and if they do win, I will consider it personally rewarding.”
Despite nearly two decades of travelling back and forth to Ottawa and his own health problems in 2012 — a serious bacterial infection stemming from heart- valve replacement surgery two years prior — Duncan said retiring wasn’t a consideration.
“I just didn’t feel like I was ready,” he said. “My mother always imbued in me: No. 1, do something for your country, and No. 2, you don’t get older, you just get better, and I believe that.”
Duncan, who lost his seat to the NDP in 2006 before being re-elected in 2008, narrowly won his Vancouver Island North seat in the last election. This time around, he is running in the new riding of Courtenay-Alberni.
He faces New Democrat Gordon Johns, a former Tofino councillor and businessman; Liberal Carrie Powell-Davidson, a former Parksville councillor and writer; Green candidate Glenn Sollitt, a commercial fisherman and engineer; and Marxist-Leninist Barbara Biley, a health-care worker.
Duncan, who moved to Qualicum from Campbell River in 2011, said he has lived and worked as a forester in other parts of the riding, including Ucluelet and Port Alberni.
“It gives me a world view that I think the other candidates may not have.”
Duncan said one of his top infrastructure priorities is to create jobs and economic opportunity by pursuing a preliminary proposal for an energy-efficient, safe circle route into Port Alberni, estimated at roughly $60 million. His second is a foot-passenger ferry in Nanaimo.
In the lead up to the election, he announced federal funding for an $85-million interchange at the congested McKenzie Avenue and Trans-Canada Highway intersection.
Despite Duncan’s experience, Johns said it’s time for him to go.
“We are in the closest race on Vancouver Island,” Johns said. “He’s a roadblock to progress.”
The NDP candidate ticks off his criticisms: Duncan has been an inadequate voice on important coastal environment protection, cuts to marine traffic control centres, the inadequate infrastructure for B.C. Ferries and derelict vessels. He has an abysmal track record on aboriginal issues and child poverty in the riding. As the Conservative Party’s chief whip, Duncan sought votes on omnibus bills that gutted Canada’s environmental laws.
To top it off, Johns points to Duncan’s resignation as aboriginal affairs minister after improperly advocating to the Tax Court on behalf of a constituent.
“B.C. and Vancouver Island and Canadians deserve better representation,” he said.
Travel expenses for MPs’ families show that Duncan was the highest spender in 2013-14. His wife flew to Vancouver Island and on special trips with him 26 times — costing the taxpayer more than $60,000.
Duncan said it was a unique circumstance — they were newlyweds, and Donna was sick. (Duncan separated from his former wife, Ahousaht member Mary Duncan, with whom he had three children, about three years before she died of chronic lung disease in 2012.)
“We didn’t want to be apart,” Duncan said of Donna. “It was an extraordinary circumstance. I have been very prudent with taxpayer money.”
More recent travel expenses will show that amount reduced, he said.
The couple dove into this election with the view that while Donna fought cancer they could sit around and “twiddle our thumbs and hope for the best” or divert their attention to something they both enjoy.
In politics and cancer, you have to believe things are going to work out, Duncan said.
“You have to take that attitude. I am that way.”