With his name recognition and resume that includes roles as a senior federal cabinet minister, it might be expected that Joe Oliver is the front-runner to win the nomination for the Progressive Conservative party in the provincial riding of York Centre.
But his opponent is certainly not conceding anything, and the president of the riding association believes Oliver, 76, will have to bring his A game to get the nod.
“I think the race is very competitive. It’s not a shoo-in,” said Isaac Apter, president of the riding association. “It’s definitely a race.”
Former Liberal cabinet minister Monte Kwinter is York Centre’s current MPP, a post he has held continuously since first being elected in 1985.
Apter said that shortly after Oliver announced his intention to seek the PC nomination, lawyer Edward Prutschi decided to withdraw and said he is endorsing Oliver. But Roman Baber remains a candidate.
“My campaign slogan is ‘In it to win it,’” Baber told The CJN. “I have great respect for Joe Oliver, and I welcome him in the race.”
“I’m excited about my prospects. We’ve been working very hard and believe it’s winnable.”
Baber, who practices law, was born in the Soviet Union and moved to Israel at age eight. His family came to Canada when he was 15. His website touts him as a principled conservative who assumed senior roles in both of former York Centre MP’s Mark Adler’s federal campaigns and Patrick Brown’s provincial leadership campaign. He is also a member of the Jewish Russian Community Centre.
“York Centre is rich in cultural communities. I share Patrick Brown’s vision of a modern and inclusive Progressive Conservative party,” Baber said.
The Liberals are vulnerable because of various failed policies, he argued.
“Transportation and transit are sub par, the province is deeply indebted, hydro has doubled in the last few years,” Baber said.
Oliver, who represented the federal riding of Eglinton-Lawrence from 2011-15, served as minister of natural resources and later as minister of finance in the Conservative government of Stephen Harper.
In announcing his provincial candidacy, he said he would bring a level of competence to his role as MPP that is missing in the Liberal government.
“Ontarians have been suffering for far too long from the appalling waste, grinding incompetence and shocking political scandals of [Premier] Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals,” Oliver stated. “Patrick Brown is the energetic new leader Ontarians need. I want to work with Patrick to help him restart the Ontario economy and restore fiscal sanity to our province.”
Oliver touted his expertise in business and government, noting his experience in finance and economics and that he can deliver on his promises.
Meanwhile, Kwinter is taking Oliver’s announcement in stride.
“I plan to run again,” said Kwinter, 85. “I have no concerns about Joe Oliver running. He ran in the last [federal] election and was defeated… I have never lost in York Centre, so I have no concerns about him running.”
Kwinter, who said he’s currently living in a “retirement home,” recently suffered from “a bad case of shingles.” He said he was on the road to recovery.
“I’m slowly returning to my day-to-day schedule. I’m meeting constituents, and I continue to serve as MPP for York Centre, as I have done for 31 years,” he said.