A PO­LIT­I­CAL MAV­ER­ICK RE­TIRES

‘Red­neck’ My­ron Thompson never left any doubt as to where he stood

Calgary Herald - - Top News - TONY SESKUS CAL­GARY HER­ALD TSESKUS@THE­HERALD.CANWEST.C

In 14 years on Par­lia­ment Hill, My­ron Thompson built a rep­u­ta­tion as the straight-shoot­ing, plain-talk­ing MP from cow­boy coun­try who rel­ished a good scrap. But, on this day, the Stet­son­wear­ing Con­ser­va­tive seems more like a sage grand­fa­ther than a fire­brand pop­ulist, mov­ing slowly on an arthritic an­kle that’s bark­ing at him some­thing fierce.

He com­plains about Cal­gary traf­fic and hap­pily rem­i­nisces about a col­lege base­ball ca­reer that once drew the eyes of a New York Yan­kees scout.

Yet, min­utes into a con­ver­sa­tion about his life in Ottawa — one fa­mously spent spar­ring with Lib­er­als — it’s ev­i­dent the 71-year-old isn’t pack­ing it in be­cause he’s lost his trade­mark fire.

“There are two things I don’t apol­o­gize for,” drawls the U.S.-born for­mer school prin­ci­pal, a grin cross­ing his face be­fit­ting the Tory mav­er­ick. “One is for be­ing an old Re­former, and the other is for be­ing an old Chris­tian.”

In fact, the Wild Rose MP hasn’t apol­o­gized for much since ar­riv­ing in Ottawa as a fledg­ling mem­ber of Pre­ston Man­ning’s Re­form party in 1993.

Last Mon­day, he an­nounced this term would be his last in pol­i­tics.

With a shoot-from-the-lip, con­ser­va­tive style that some crit­ics branded “red­neck,” Thompson railed against same-sex mar­riage, ad­vo­cated for cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment and sup­ported the U.S.-led war with Iraq.

For some, Thompson’s pol­i­tics and that of the de­funct Re­form party are hap­pily be­com­ing things of the past.

“Good,” one per­son re­sponded to Thompson’s pend­ing re­tire­ment on a Lib­eral blog site.

“He is an aged Re­form Party di­nosaur . . . and he should have been pushed out of our House of Com­mons a long time ago.”

But one of Thompson’s clos­est col­leagues be­lieves the Tories lose some­thing with the de­par­ture of Re­form’s old guard. Only about one-third of the 52 Re­form­ers elected in 1993 re­main in the Con­ser­va­tive party ranks.

“That group in 1993 was driven by pur­pose and, you know, My­ron clearly rep­re­sented that,” says Cal­gary North­east MP Art Hanger, who is also a mem­ber of the ’93 class.

“We brought a po­si­tion here to Ottawa that hadn’t been ex­pressed for a long, long time that needed to be ad­dressed. . . . We were rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the con­stituency that elected us, not the mes­sen­gers of the Ottawa that sent us back to the con­stituency.”

My­ron Thompson’s po­lit­i­cal ca­reer was born in Sun­dre, but his con­ser­va­tive val­ues are rooted in the Colorado coun­try­side.

He was raised on the fam­ily farm — the third of four chil­dren — near the town of Monte Vista, Colo., a com­mu­nity of about 3,000 peo­ple.

“They were hard­work­ing, tax­pay­ing peo­ple who liked good law and or­der,” says Thompson, who was raised a Bap­tist.

From an early age, Thompson liked base­ball. He’d toss stones into the air and whack them with an old bat for hours, first swing­ing right, then left.

He ex­celled at the sport in col­lege. One game he hit three home runs. He grabbed the at­ten­tion of a Yan­kees scout, lead­ing to an in­vi­ta­tion to a mi­nor-league try­out at age 18.

But, while the young man could hit, Thompson wasn’t blessed with the throw­ing arm to match. The only or­ga­ni­za­tion to call him up was the U.S. Army, which drafted him in 1958. Dis­charged two years later, Thompson re­sumed his ed­u­ca­tion and be­came a teacher.

In 1965, he met his wife, Dorothy, at a dance and they’ve been “danc­ing ever since,” he says.

The cou­ple moved to Sun­dre in 1968, lured to Canada by the prospect of a one-year, tax-free teach­ing con­tract. When the year was up, he wanted to stay. In 1974, he be­came a Cana­dian cit­i­zen.

As a teacher, Thompson had a sim­ple phi­los­o­phy: “Rules min­i­mum, com­mon sense max­i­mum.

“Get your head on straight,” he ad­vises, as if speak­ing to a stu­dent.

“I don’t have to make a rule to tell you it’s not good to pee on the wall in the wash­rooms.” His po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests be­gan to per­co­late in the 1970s when he saw Canada adopt the

met­ric sys­tem, leg­is­late more bilin­gual rules and dump school text­books be­cause they were deemed po­lit­i­cally in­cor­rect.

What struck Thompson was that Cana­di­ans didn’t have a di­rect say in such de­ci­sions. He also found he liked talk­ing pol­i­tics in the cof­fee shops and peo­ple liked talk­ing to him.

Pop­u­lar in his new home­town, Thompson en­tered lo­cal pol­i­tics, serv­ing as coun­cil­lor and mayor in Sun­dre. His in­volve­ment with the Re­form move­ment be­gan in the late 1980s af­ter hear­ing a speech by Pre­ston Man­ning, a right-lean­ing pop­ulist who be­lieved gov­ern­ment should be run from the grass­roots.

“I thought, ‘This man has got it right,’ ” Thompson re­calls. “I joined (the party)that very night.”

While re­cov­er­ing from a heart at­tack in 1990, Thompson was en­cour­aged to run for the party’s nom­i­na­tion in Wild Rose.

It took him three bal­lots to beat fu­ture sen­a­tor Bert Brown in 1992. It was the stiffest test he would ever face.

He’s since breezed through five fed­eral elec­tions, serv­ing un­der Re­form’s suc­ces­sors, the Cana­dian Al­liance and the Con­ser­va­tive Party of Canada. In 2006, he was re­elected with 72 per cent of the vote.

Thompson, who has brushed off five heart at­tacks, didn’t spend his years qui­etly in Ottawa .

He fought for prison re­form, tougher child pornog­ra­phy rules and vic­tims’ rights. He bat­tled with the for­mer Lib­eral gov­ern­ment over spend­ing and same-sex mar­riage.

An un­abashed so­cial con­ser­va­tive, he made head­lines with his def­i­ni­tion of a tra­di­tional fam­ily.

“Grand­fa­ther, grand­mother, mother, fa­ther, kids, mother-kids, fa­ther-kids,” he rat­tled off for re­porters. “Adam and Eve. Not Adam and Steve.”

It was in­evitable Thompson would trade ver­bal jabs with for­mer NDP MP Svend Robin­son, who is openly gay. So view­ers of CBC’s This Hour Has 22 Min­utes were split­ting their sides when the two men ap­peared in a com­edy sketch in bed to­gether with other politi­cians.

“What he prob­a­bly doesn’t know — and I can tell the story now — is that I made the ar­range­ments . . . (so) he would be on the far edge of the bed and I would be right next to him so he was trapped,” Robin­son says.

“He couldn’t move. And there he was, the poor guy in his cow­boy hat and cow­boy boots, ab­so­lutely mor­ti­fied. But he was a great sport.”

Robin­son says they laughed about it for days af­ter­wards.

“I al­ways had a soft spot for My­ron, I liked him,” he adds.

“We were po­lar op­po­sites . . . but he al­ways treated me with re­spect.”

Still, Thompson could drive some Cana­di­ans crazy.

While peo­ple who share Thompson’s views see him as a cham­pion, some who don’t con­sider him “as a bit of a men­ace,” says Judy Ste­wart, who twice ran against him as a Lib­eral.

“His strong stands on things, I just thought some­times he was just be­ing fool­ish,” Ste­wart says. “He made us look like we were red­necks.”

How­ever, Ste­wart says there’s no ques­tion he was loved by vot­ers, adding: “He’s a good man and he did what he thought was in the best in­ter­ests of his peo­ple, whether I agree with him or not.”

In­deed, Thompson says it’s the con­stituency work he’ll miss most.

The odome­ter on his Buick is a tes­ta­ment to the state­ment. He’s logged more than 225,000 kilo­me­tres on the three-year-old sedan.

Now, he feels it’s time to move on.

“I find it more and more dif­fi­cult as the years go by to keep the pace that I think is re­quired,” Thompson says.

When he fi­nally am­bles off into the sun­set, the old Re­former will be ro­man­ti­cized by those who’ll re­mem­ber fondly his pol­i­tics and sig­na­ture Stet­son, says Barry Cooper, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at the Univer­sity of Cal­gary.

“He clearly em­bod­ied the kind of cow­boy West that is de­spised in some parts of the coun­try — and is a source of pride where he’s from.”

Cal­gary Her­ald Ar­chive Leah Hen­nel, Cal­gary Her­ald Cal­gary Her­ald Ar­chive

My­ron Thompson brushed off five heart at­tacks and is shown here re­cov­er­ing from quin­tu­ple heart by­pass surgery in 1997. My­ron Thompson caused a stir with his def­i­ni­tion of a tra­di­tional fam­ily. “Adam and Eve. Not Adam and Steve,” he said. My­ron...

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