He was in Fort Kent a few nights ago, on the heels of a two-day visit to the businesses and homes in Cold Lake and rural Bonnyville. He's been through Plamondon, Fort McMurray, and there haven't been too many community events across the region that Shawn McDonald hasn't been to in the last month.
He's the People's Party of Canada candidate for the Fort McMurray-Cold Lake riding in the September 20 federal election, and like the party's name says ... he's all about the people.
"You have to think of the people you are representing," says McDonald explaining that current system of government has moved away from 'ground-up' politics and continues to dictate down. "Politics has changed so much — it's not just right or left, it's about our freedoms ... You are supposed to be working fo the people in your riding."
Being told what to do — not just the recent vaccine mandates and masking measures associated with the coronavirus pandemic — but a general sense of those freedoms to choose being lost, is what McDonald and the PPC are fighting against.
"There is so much control now from the higher-ups... our freedoms have been taken away from us," he said during a break in his busy and short campaign tour around the large federal riding.
Part of that tour has included visits and advice from the outgoing MP for the riding, David Yurdiga. A Conservative Party member, Yurdiga has been supportive of McDonald's PCC campaign, although the riding does have a Conservative Party candidate running in the election.
Falling short of saying Yurdiga is endorsing his candidacy, McDonald says the outgoing Conservative Party MP is very supportive.
"I'm not using the word 'endorsing' but I would say he is supporting his fellow riding neighbour," said McDonald when asked about recent social media posts from Yurdiga showing the two of them spending time together.
Several attempts by Lakeland Today newsroom staff over to contact Yurdiga the last week, and the previous three weeks since the two-term MP announced he would be stepping down from office due to personal family health matters, have been unsuccessful. Representatives of the Conservative Electoral District Association have also not returned calls after Conservative leader Erin O'Toole appointed former provincial MLA Laila Goodridge to be the federal riding's chosen candidate — foregoing the normal selection process carried out by the EDA.
McDonald, who says he has been a true-blue Conservative his entire voting life, began to seek other party lines over the last year. His disappointment in the party has been a slow and gradual process. He even renewed his five-year Conservative Party membership recently — but is now planning to revoke it.
"I see the Conservatives as 'light Liberals now," he said, explaining that his first attempt to find a new a party took him to the fledgling Maverick Party. Their underlying desire to break Western Canada out of Confederation, however, was not something he agreed with. When he began to examine the Peoples' Party of Canada, he was immediately drawn to their platform. After an hour-long one-on-one talk with PPC leader Maxime Bernier. The charismatic founder of the PPC, Bernier is a three-term elected MP in Quebec who left the Conservative Party in 2018 to sit in the House of Commons and an Independent before starting the party.
McDonald said Bernier told him that not only are the freedoms of all Canadian's paramount in his party platforms, but the PPC candidates themselves are free to adjust those platforms to fit their ridings.
"There are some issues with the platform that I had questions about, and how it affects our specific riding, and he told me, 'Do what you need to do with the platform to suit your riding,'" said McDonald, explaining that he sees Indigenous policies, economic and industrial strategies and rural and urban disparities as key focus areas of the riding.
Admitting that running as a candidate in a fairly new party — and one with loose ties to the larger conservative base — could be seen as a hurdle, McDonald is hoping the recent attention to "heavy-handed" government decision-making will sway residents to vote for the best person with the best platform.
When asked if the abundance of new parties could "split votes" away from the Conservative Party and possibly help to strengthen a continuing Liberal presence, McDonald said that like him, many of the Conservative Party's faithful are questioning the party.
"We vote Liberal or Conservative, and nothing really changes for us. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result," he said, explaining that the first of the freedoms for all Canadians will be to get out and vote for the people who will put people's freedoms first. "I care about this party, but I care about the people and this riding first."
McDonald, who has been the president of the Resource One Aboriginal Business Association since it began seven years ago, has stepped down from the position during the federal campaign. McDonald, a husband and father is also the operator of an oilfield resource company in the Lac La Biche area.