On Thursday, July 7th, a retirement celebration was held for former MPP Bill Walker who recently announced he was leaving politics after serving Bruce-Grey Owen Sound constituency for more than 10 years.
The celebration held at Cobble Beach Golf Resort featured several speakers who honoured Walker for his service, a live auction and dinner, with all proceeds from the evening going to support Chapman House, the Residential Hospice of Grey Bruce. Although a final total raised is not yet known, the auction carried out by emcee James Scongack, alone resulted in $10,000 being raised.
Among those in attendance were retired MP Larry Miller, Bruce County Warden Janice Jackson, newly elected MPP Rick Byers Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound and many from the nuclear and health care industries.
Walker was first elected in 2011 for Bruce-Grey Owen Sound taking over from Conservative Bill Murdock who retired. He was then re-elected in 2014 and again in 2018. In February of this year however, he announced that he was not seeking re-election.
Walker was born and raised in the small community of Hepworth (ON) and, prior to entering politics, he worked at Bruce Nuclear Power as an Operations Manager and also held the position of Executive Director of the Bruce Health Services Foundation.
On July 7th, a media release announced that Walker has been appointed as President and CEO of the Organization of Canadian Nuclear Industries (OCNI), an association made up of more than 200 suppliers to the nuclear industry. Bruce Power President and CEO Mike Rencheck said “Bill Walker worked across party lines and really helped our area grow. No matter what industry you are in or what you were trying to do, Bill listened and took an active interest. Now, to have all that energy contained and channeled into the nuclear industry, I can only imagine what we are going to accomplish under his leadership. With his passion, energy, commitment and collaboration, it’s going to make us stronger and will take all of us to the next level of economic growth in the area. It will help our industry expand in the medical industry with medical care and solutions and we are happy that he has joined us in the nuclear industry. ”
Within Premier Doug Ford’s Ontario government, Walker held several positions including Chief Government Whip, Deputy Speaker of the House, Associate Minister of Energy, Minister of Government & Consumer Services and Critic positions of Social and Community Services, Seniors and Accessibility, Long Term Care, and was the Caucus Nuclear Chair for his entire tenure.
Dr. Ian Arra, Medical Officer of Public Health for Bruce-Grey said that it had been a privilege to know and work with Walker. “As a provincial leader of the highest calibre, I didn’t know that the drive and cause behind the work that a person can put forward can have all its value in one person. You look at individuals and at their character and I honestly can’t describe Bill except to say it’s a phenomenon. I have witnessed first-hand the execution, the understanding of local and provincial mechanisms of politics and how you can apply it and utilize it to serve the public that you serve. My position and my work and the organizations that I work with could not have been able to do this (weather the COVID storm) without the effort and support from MPP Walker.”
Bill Harris, former Ontario Premier, in a video said that “… Bill Walker could be counted on to have your back, to speak on an issue and he always worked for his community.”
The Hon. Erin O’Toole MP for Durham and former leader of the Federal Conservative party, also attended the celebration and said that the term ‘honourable’ is not always deserved in the Legislature but “… Bill Walker is an honourable hard-working man. We (my Dad, former Conservative MP John O’Toole) have seen the passion of this gentleman for his community, his province and his country. He had some big jobs but he also had a rough start. He was elected in 2011 and his first speech in the house wasn’t until 2014! But he turned into the ‘iron man’ of the legislature and was admired on all sides … he talked on all issues but most of all he talked about family and his mother … he wasn’t in public life for him, he was in it for the people.”
O’Toole went on to quote Bill Walker’s first speech in the House. “The reason I ran for public office was this … I care. I want the dash on my tombstone to have meant something. I care about people and I want to know that I’ve used my life to make a positive difference in the lives of others.”
He added that Walker had in fact had a positive impact on the lives in his community, the lives in the province and the lives in the country. “We are all here to pay tribute to the honourable Bill Walker.”
Huron-Bruce MPP Lisa Thompson also said that, “When Bill Walker was elected, he took the House by storm. “Nobody walked faster in the halls or talked faster in the House.”
Most of the speakers used the same words repeatedly to describe Walker … integrity, honesty, honourable, hard-working, dedicated – the measure of a man.
In his closing speech, the former MPP extended a “… special and heartfelt appreciation to my family, my wife Michaela and my sons Ben and Zach, my extended family of siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles, and my many friends, riding association executive members (and their families for sacrificing their precious family time to allow them to commit to me and the cause) and the volunteers, donors and voters, who have supported me at every step of my journey, and allowed me to devote my energy to this noble profession over the past 10 years. I also have to thank my mother to whom I owe everything. She raised me and my siblings and always worked hard. Everything I am and everything I’ve done is a tribute to her.”
Bill Walker presented with a Toronto Maple Leafs shirt – not his favourite team