Toby Barrett to step down, Ken Hewitt to run for MPP

Toby Barrett to step down, Ken Hewitt to run for MPP

By Mike Renzella

The Haldimand Press

HALDIMAND—In a surprise announcement made Wednesday, April 20, 2022, Haldimand County Mayor Ken Hewitt is the new local Conservative MPP candidate following the retirement of longstanding Haldimand-Norfolk MPP Toby Barrett.

The announcement came with some controversy, which saw Hewitt announce the outgoing MPP’s retirement before he had a chance to do so himself. 

“That’s not how it works, there’s a protocol,” said Barrett. “I was very disappointed. After 27 years of service to the province, and to the great people I represent down here, I was disappointed that one of my archrivals … announced my retirement in the media.”

Barrett said that following his re-election four years ago, he notified the Province that it would be his last term. When he saw no news of an upcoming nomination night to replace him, he reached out to the office of the Premier to remind them of his decision three weeks ago.

Barrett confirmed that he advocated for his Executive Assistant Bobbi-Ann Brady to be his successor, noting how she is qualified, has worked with Barrett since 2003, and is the president of the local PC Association. 

The decision to choose Hewitt over Brady came from the office of the Premier, but Barrett was not given specifics on why the decision was made. He said that upon learning of the decision to appoint Hewitt as the new candidate, he contemplated running again himself: “I will not endorse Ken Hewitt.”

Barrett heaped praise on Brady, stating, “She’s the one who gets all the work done, and gets on the phones and yells at people, sends emails, applies pressure, and lobbies, and gets money for long-term care.” 

The most recent disagreement between Barrett and Hewitt is over the proposed development that would see a city of 40,000 residents built over time near industrial sites in Nanticoke: “He’s pro-developer,” said Barrett. “I’ve never met Empire Homes; I don’t work with them. The mayor does.”

He said the new development would “pretty much kill the attraction of Port Dover as a tourist economy.” Additionally, “Stelco was in Hamilton for 100 years and all they got was complaints about odour, and dust, and cancer…. 100 years ago, they used to build houses near industry, but with new industry, no. The industrial park is down there for a reason, with a green field for a buffer zone.”

Barrett would not speculate on whether Hewitt’s support for the development was a factor in being selected as the new candidate: “Maybe that will come out in the election.”

Barrett also commented on the difference between how he became a Conservative candidate 27 years ago, through a vote, and the way many new politicians are chosen by the party: “It seems to be more the trend now.” 

He reminisced, “I had to run for the job in a nomination night. I had to sell 600 memberships, the fellow I was running against had to sell 600 memberships, and then everybody gathered together in a democratic way, supervised by the Ontario party, and we all voted that night.”

He added, “We only make changes down here if it makes sense. This is common-sense-country all through here…. We resent change being imposed on us; that’s one reason I disagree with Ken Hewitt.”

Barrett reflected on his lengthy political career: “It’s been a really good run for me. I like to think it’s been a really good run for all of us in Haldimand County and Norfolk…. I got to the point where after all these years I feel really good about the work I was able to do. I and my staff have had an opportunity to help thousands and thousands of people and that’s why I ran in the first place.”

Barrett is well known for his love of community. He has been a steadfast presence at countless parades, festivals, and more over the past 27 years: “I’m a riding person. I’ve always lived down here…. I still have my mom’s farm; it’s been in the family since 1792.” 

Some of his favourite accomplishments in office include securing funding for 10 new long-term care facilities across Haldimand and Norfolk, and bringing an end to regional government, which was the prevalent issue of the day when Barrett was first elected: “Haldimand and Norfolk were always good neighbours, but they didn’t want to be married.”

Barrett recalled how the government of the time received a series of petitions, each containing roughly 10,000 signatures, which Barrett said is much more impressive in an era where those signatures had to be collected door-to-door: “Mayor Ken Hewitt may disagree with me, in fact he, along with Norfolk Mayor Kristal Chopp, have talked about bringing back regional government again.”

In addition, Barrett noted how much he has enjoyed writing a regular column for The Haldimand Press, recalling his friendship with former Press publisher Bob Hall, a noted Liberal: “I’m so thankful to your paper and to Bob Hall. I’ve been writing a column for your paper for 27 years. That’s something like 1,350,000 words.”

Barrett said he will remain busy despite stepping down: “I’ve got a farm, I’ve got lots of other things to do.” 

The Haldimand Press asked for an interview with Hewitt for this article, but were told by the Ontario PC Party that he was unavailable; instead, they sent the following release:

“The Ontario PC Party is pleased to announce that Haldimand County Mayor Ken Hewitt will run as its 2022 candidate for Haldimand-Norfolk in the upcoming provincial election.

  “Ken Hewitt is a dedicated community leader and public servant, who has served as the Mayor of Haldimand County for three terms. Previously, Ken worked within the financial services industry for over 30 years, providing business and financial planning advice for businesses and individuals.

  “’I am honoured to join Doug Ford and the Ontario PC team in this next step of my career as your candidate for Haldimand-Norfolk, a community I have had the privilege of serving for the last 12 years,’ said Ken Hewitt. ‘I look forward to earning your support and building our great community.’

  “’Ken Hewitt will be a strong voice for the people of Haldimand-Norfolk as MPP, and we are pleased to have him on our team as our candidate,’ said Brian Patterson, President of the Ontario PC Party.”