Rob Oliphant says his whole life has been about finding a sense of calling and trying to discern what that call is.
On May 2, the MP and United Church minister was ousted from his political job during an election that saw a handful of Toronto’s Liberal incumbents knocked from their seats in the biggest Grit defeat in the party’s history.
Now, he’s getting ready to pursue his next calling.
“It may be in the church, it may be quasi-public life, it may be in business,” he said. “I’m not ready yet to decide, I want to sit down and talk to friends about where my gifts are, and where I’m useful.”
Oliphant had been a rookie member of Parliament, having beaten Conservative candidate John Carmichael during the 2008 vote.
But the tables were turned on election day 2011, when voters in Don Valley West sent Carmichael, a businessman, to join Prime Minister Stephen Harper and associates in Ottawa.
Oliphant, a former minister at Eglinton St. George’s United Church, suggested his defeat on election night was the result of widespread dissatisfaction with, and Tory attacks on, now-resigned Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and fear of a strengthening New Democratic Party.
“My suspicion is what happened is there are a bunch of older, former Progressive Conservatives that have generally voted Liberal in the north part of the riding that shifted to vote Conservative,” Oliphant said. “I think they wanted to ensure that they could stop a Jack Layton-led government.”
But Oliphant is proud to point out that despite his loss, his votes actually increased from his initial victory in 2008.
Still, the defeat was likely a hard pill to swallow in a riding that hasn’t seen a Tory MP since 1993 when Progressive Conservative
incumbent John Bosley was defeated by now-retired Liberal MP John Godfrey. Adding difficulty for Oliphant during the election period was the illness of his father Leonard who had been battling prostate cancer since late 2010.
When the election was over, Oliphant travelled to his hometown of Sault Ste. Marie, where his father passed away shortly thereafter.
“He was hanging on through the election, very much not wanting to take me away from my campaigning, I know, and I went up immediately on the first plane out of Toronto Tuesday morning.”
Despite the hardships and a gruelling campaign, Oliphant says he is not bitter about the vote results.
“Even though you take these things very personally, I know I did a good job,” he said. “I know I’ve been the most available MP this riding probably has ever had.”
Though he wishes him well in his new post, Oliphant expressed doubt that Carmichael has a concept of the real problems in the south end of the riding, referring to low-income neighbourhoods like Flemingdon Park.
“You have to literally dig in,” says Oliphant, to address immigration issues and employment issues in the area.
Whichever career path Oliphant chooses to follow, it may have to be something relatively temporary. Oliphant said he will indeed be looking to re-enter federal politics in four years time.
“I am a grassroots Liberal, I am not an elite Liberal,” he said referring to his work at all levels of government since the time of Pierre Trudeau.
As for a new calling, Oliphant says there are some certainties.
“I know that it will be in something that reflects the diversity of Toronto and the diversity of Canada,” he said. “I want my life not to be monochromatic, I want it to be working in a very diverse atmosphere, that’s what I’ve loved about Don Valley West.”
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