It’s unlikely that any of Chuck Strahl’s political opponents will be shelling out $125 to attend Saturday’s tribute dinner in honour of the former Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon MP.
But New Democrats Al Ens, who managed several election campaigns trying to dislodge Strahl, and Rollie Keith, who twice ran against him, had nothing but good things to say about the man — if not his politics.
“I’ve always liked Chuck as a person,” Keith said, when he was contacted by The Progress for this story.
“As an opponent, we agreed on a number of things — but not the solutions,” he said.
Ens recalled one election when an NDP sign was mistakenly planted “right on Strahl’s doorstep.”
“I expected the worst, and quickly called to apologize and offered to take it down.”
But it apparently tickled Strahl’s sense of humour, Ens said, “and he told me just to leave it there.”
Keith ran against Strahl in 1993, the “breakthrough” election of the then little-known co-owner of a family logging camp running as the candidate for the fledgling Reform Party.
At the time, Reformers made much of their grassroots origins and eschewed the title of ‘politician.’
“(Strahl) grew into the political role relatively successfully,” Keith conceded. “His knowledge of politics when he started wasn’t very deep, but he became a competent representative for the riding … and he played an important role in the government.”
Strahl’s political skills indeed seem to grow as the Reform Party morphed into the Canadian Alliance, where he led a “rump caucus” of MPs unhappy with the leadership of Stockwell Day.
After a flirtation with former Prime Minister Joe Clark, Strahl finally settled into the new Conservative Party led by Stephen Harper, although he had backed another man – Tony Clement – for the leadership.
But instead of being banished to the backbenches, Strahl was named to one ministerial portfolio after another, a testament, perhaps, to his growing influence as a politician in Ottawa.
Chilliwack-Hope MLA Barry Penner, who shared a constituency office in Chilliwack with Strahl, pointed out that the “wise leader” doesn’t dump political talent where he finds it.
“Harper is very astute, whether you agree with him or not,” he said.
Chilliwack MLA John Les agreed Strahl’s cabinet appointments were “remarkable” given the internal politicking that had gone before when the “populist” Strahl had “hooked up” in parliament with “Red Tory” Joe Clark.
But Les disagreed that Strahl had changed during his 16 years of political life.
“I think Chuck was an ordinary, down-home, principled, logging contractor who got elected to politics and has remained straightforward and straight-shooting ever since,” Les said.
“And it’s a credit to the Canadian political system that people like that can have an impact,” he added. “Without a great deal of education, he rose to the highest level of government in our country.”
Strahl was an eyewitness to Canadian political history as the Reform Party led by Preston Manning merged with the remnants of the old Progressive Conservative party to become the new Conservative Party of Canada under Harper.
“Through all of that, Chuck was there,” Les said. “And what we’ve ended up with (in Ottawa) certainly has his fingerprints all over it.”
Duncan Goguillot, who managed Strahl’s election campaigns from 1993 to 2008, said the young Strahl’s talents were obvious from the beginning.
Strahl “stood out” among the candidates the Reform Party was looking at in this riding, he said, “and you could just see him improving from meeting to meeting.”
“He grasped the big picture ideas,” Goguillot said, a skill he honed over the years.
“He had a great ability to get to the centre of an issue, and not get hung up in the superficial stuff,” Goguillot said.
Strahl also had “a natural sense” of humour, and one other characteristic not often found in a young man acting as the “boss” of a logging crew.
“He always had a great respect for people, and their points of view,” Goguillot said.