The election that is on everyone’s mind is the municipal race, with just more than a month until Election Day.
But there is another race underway in the federal riding of York-Simcoe. Sitting MP Peter Van Loan has announced he will be retiring from the political arena at the end of this term – leaving a vacancy in the Conservative Party of Canada. The race is now on to nominate a candidate in the riding, for next year’s federal election.
Three candidates have stepped forward to seek the nomination, and the clock is ticking. Each is working to sign up supporters – people willing to join the Conservative Party of Canada and pay the $15 fee, and come out to a future nomination meeting to vote. And they only have until Sept. 27 to build that base of support.
Heather Fullerton’s career has been spent in business and the arts – but her interest in politics dates back to her childhood.
She has a vivid memory of canvassing for a local candidate with her father, during the 1968 federal election, when she was only six years old.
“Dad was the Sunday School superintendent at our church and usually stayed later than everyone else after the service, but that day we hurried home to drop mom off so she could put the Sunday roast in the oven and polish the furniture – I remember the smell of lemon oil. He and I went off and went door to door on the campaign trail,” Fullerton said.
“My dad decided he was going to help as much as he could… talking to friends and neighbours, persuading them to get out and vote. That instilled in me: This is what you do.”
It took the announcement by York-Simcoe MP Peter Van Loan, that he would not be seeking re-election, to persuade Fullerton to step into the world of politics herself.
The long-time Jackson’s Point resident is a member of the Conservative Party, and secretary of the York Simcoe Conservative Association, volunteering for Van Loan’s campaign for years. She also worked on York-Simcoe MPP and Attorney General Caroline Mulroney's campaign in this year’s provincial election.
“That experience, doing that - it’s made me realize it can be somebody like myself who cares enough to make a difference,” she said.
Fullerton has a background in small business. An entrepreneur, she has worked as a general manager in the retail sector.
In 2004, she became the executive director at the Georgina Arts Centre & Gallery. She said Van Loan told her, “anybody who could make an art centre go and be so vibrant, can do anything.”
In addition to her business experience and work in the arts, she is also a volunteer.
“Another passion of my life is helping people in the community who need help,” Fullerton said. She has worked with Haven on the Queensway, which provides food and a clothing bank for about 400 people “in the direst need” each week, including the homeless, new immigrants and refugees.
A founding member of the York Region Film Festival, and the York Region Arts Council, Fullerton is also a member of the Georgina Chamber of Commerce, a former arts and culture columnist for the Georgina Advocate, and host of a weekly show about Georgina on Rogers TV.
She has served on the cultural planning committee of the Town of Georgina, is a member of the Georgina Historical Society, a volunteer with Red Barn Theatre, the Sutton Agricultural Society, the Turkeys and Toys gala at Christmas for the Georgina Food Pantry, and an assistant coach with Georgina minor baseball for 14 years.
Her community work has been recognized - she earned an Excellence in Small Business Award in 2001, Georgina Citizen of the Year in 2005, and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012.
“You can see by what I’ve done, my community is my passion,” Fullerton said, calling the move into politics “a sort of natural progression. Shouldn't good people step forward?”
The health of Lake Simcoe tops her list of issues in York-Simcoe – “getting that Lake Simcoe Clean-up Fund reinstated. It’s probably the main issue federally that branches out into the local riding.” The fund, which financed grassroots environmental action, was cancelled by the Liberal government.
She sees Lake Simcoe as a connecting link in the riding. “Because of the vast size of the constituency, it is a great thing that we have that lake in the middle,” she said; concern for the health of the lake helps to unite residents.
Other key issues include “supporting our farmers and local businesses,” she said, especially dealing with NAFTA negotiations and cross-border trade. “How we deal with other countries – it all trickles down.”
Fullerton wants to focus on support for business, lower taxes, and targeting crime. She hopes to open a dialogue with constituents through her website to hear their concerns.
Back in 1968, Fullerton accompanied her father door to door while campaigning. Fifty years later, she is seeking the nomination for Conservative candidate in York-Simcoe.
“Now it’s my opportunity to serve and I intend to honour my father’s legacy of commitment and caring about the people in my community,” Fullerton said. “I think my whole life is building toward this.”