Gary Vidal, the Conservative candidate for Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River, is still getting used to his transportation method as he travels back and forth throughout the riding. The former Meadow Lake mayor is campaigning through the north, making a stop in Denare Beach Sept. 15 while driving a truck with his face plastered on the side of it. As he’s driven across Saskatchewan, the truck has gotten some attention from onlookers.
“We drove up to get gas and the jockey came out and said, ‘Is that you on the side of the truck?’” Vidal said during the campaign stop.
“I had a couple ladies that went, ‘You’re younger than your picture.’”
Vidal said branding is an important part of campaigning in large ridings.
“I'm not personally it's about the spotlight and stuff like that,” he said laughing.
“It's just really important that we behave and have a visibility component to this. I'm more of a roll up your sleeves and let's get it done kind of guy. I want to have meetings where you accomplish things and solve problems. This is probably not my natural personality to self promote but it just comes with the territory for a little while.”
Vidal said he was drawing on his experience as a mayor while campaigning. He pointed to his ability to reach out beyond his hometown’s borders.
“I worked very closely of building relationships with the First Nations folks, with the rural folks,” he said.
“I always made the argument we're better when we work together, then when we work against each other. When I decided to do this, one of the first people to endorse me was actually the chief of the Flying Dust First Nation in Meadow Lake, Chief Jeremy Norman. That's really helpful in talking about building relationships.”
The riding Vidal is campaigning in spans thousands of square kilometers wide, meaning he is constantly on the move. Vidal said he sold his accounting firm to be able to campaign full time.
“In that course of three days, we saw five communities, some of them twice, and put on about 1,200 kilometers,” he said, describing his schedule.
“We met with three mayors, four or five councillors, two chiefs. That's over the course of three days.”
While door knocking, Vidal said he has heard general dissatisfaction with the ruling liberal government.
“I think there's a very significant level of dissatisfaction with Mr. Trudeau,” he said.
“That's something that I think that's probably across Western Canada.”
It was that frustration with the Liberal government which spurned Vidal to make the leap from mayor to federal candidate.
“I got frustrated with the policy and the direction that I saw happening in our federal government kept catching myself saying somebody's got to do something about this,” he said. “Eventually, one day I looked in the mirror and said, somebody's got to do something about this. And the person looked back and said, ‘Are you somebody?’”
Vidal said he heard three main criticisms of the government while on the campaigning: overspending, credibility and local representation. The incumbent in the riding is the NDP’s Georgina Jolibois.
“Until you've had to do it, I'm not sure you comprehend the challenge of trying to represent a riding this big,” he said.
“I hope I get to figure that out. But people are frustrated that they haven't necessarily seen their MP in their particular area... it's really hard to be everywhere to satisfy everybody.”
Vidal said he’s had time to think about the riding as he’s driven across it, and considered solutions to improve representation.
“One of the things I've often said is it would sure be nice to be able to break this riding into two or three pieces, for a couple reasons,” he said.
“One, the size. Secondly, the diversity of the needs. The people in Meadow Lake have very different needs than the people in La Ronge or Sandy Bay or Fond du Lac or Creighton and Denare Beach. Everybody has such a variety of different needs. In a in a larger community, I think the riding are more homogenous... the challenge with that is if you kind of keep creating more pieces to this process, there's a huge cost factor.
In the last election, all three major parties earned more than 30, but under 35 per cent of the vote, and Vidal expects that to be similar.
“I think it is very unique in that all three parties, really believe they have a shot at winning, which is fair,” he said.
“Over the last six elections. They've all held it. So I suspect everybody's going to work hard to get their message out and encourage their people to come out and vote, and on Oct. 21, we will see who was the most successful.”