Barry Devolin trading parliament for Korea
|By Mark Arike - Staff Writer | August 6, 2015
From an early age, local MP Barry Devolin was passionate about politics.
"I've always been interested in it," said Devolin in an interview with The Highlander. "When I was in elementary and high school, I was always on the students' council.”
Back then, one of his claims to fame was being the student council president for two years at Haliburton Highlands Secondary School.
"I think I'm the only person that actually did it for two years," he said.
For the past 11 years, Devolin has worn the hat of MP for the Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock riding. In all four federal elections he has handily defeated his opponents, receiving anywhere between 44-60 per cent of all votes.
However, after serving the vast geographic region for four terms, the Conservative Party representative has decided to retire from politics and start the next chapter of his life. He first announced his decision not to seek re-election in November of 2013.
"I still like my job, but I don't have the enthusiasm I had 10 years ago," he said.
One of the big challenges of the job is trying to cover such a large riding. Since it's humanly impossible to make it to all of the events and meetings, Devolin has no choice but to pick and choose.
"When an MP from the city asks how big my riding is, I say it's 13 Santa Claus parades and 16 legions big," he laughed.
Devolin was born in Peterborough but came to Haliburton at the age of five when his father, Doug Devolin, took a job as principal of the old Victoria Street School. Doug also eventually became the first principal of J.D. Hodgson Elementary School.
At the age of 16, he became a Rotary Exchange student and moved to the Netherlands for a year. It was an eye-opening experience for the future politician.
"Whenever I go to a Rotary meeting I thank them, because I think that really opened up my eyes to the world," he said.
When Devolin returned to Canada, he pursued a degree in political science at Carlton University. Then he obtained a master's degree at Stony Brook University in New York.
During the summers, he continued to spend time in Haliburton.
"I've been kind of coming in and out of Haliburton ever since," he said.
He initially wanted to become a diplomat, but instead embarked on a career in federal politics. When he first set his sights on the Conservative nomination in 2004, there were five other candidates in the field including his current executive assistant Jamie Schmale.
Of those seeking the nomination, he wasn't the favourite.
Asked what gave him the edge over the other candidates, Devolin said he had "a clear connection to the riding.”
In his past, he was involved with both the now defunct Reform Party of Canada and the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. In 1993, he ran as the Reform Party's candidate but lost to John O'Reilly of the Liberals. After the loss, he worked for the Reform Party under Preston Manning as their director of research in Ottawa and then became chief of staff for Chris Hodgson at Queen's Park. He was a special advisor to Mike Harris during his term as the premier of Ontario.
When Devolin was victorious in the 2004, the Progressive Conservatives were the opposition party. Since then, he's seen a Liberal minority government, Conservative minority and most recently a Conservative majority.
"I kind of feel like I've been to the top of the mountain, so to speak.”
In looking back at his career, there are a few highlights that stand out in his mind. One of those is being a member of the Conservative caucus.
"That's where you can talk, that's where you can complain, that's where you can make suggestions if you disagree with something you've heard," he said, pointing out he has been a member of regional groups in both eastern and northern Ontario.
"It allows you to convey what you're hearing in your riding.”
And for the past five years, one of the things his colleagues have been hearing a lot about is the Trent-Severn Water. He and four other MPs spent a considerable amount of time educating others about the system and its value to central Ontario.
"It's taken many of us five years, working behind the scenes, to convince people how important it is and what is means.”
He believes those efforts have paid off in the form of a recent $285 million infrastructure investment from the federal government.
When first elected, Devolin said he vowed to provide constituents good service. He says he delivered on that promise by launching touring passport clinics in January of 2005.
In the beginning, he didn't know if it was something that would take off or not.
"It was freezing rain, it was at the mall," he said, recalling the very first clinic held in Lindsay. "We didn't know if anybody would come. When I got there people were lined up from one side of the mall to the other.”
Now he says that somewhere between 50 and 70 other MPs are offering the same service.
While routine passport renewals can easily be processed without attending a clinic, Devolin says they are perfect for those dealing with complicated circumstances, such as name changes and lost IDs.
"Locally, that's something that I'm proud of.”
For two years, he chaired the standing committee on aboriginal affairs and the northern development committee. One of the other roles he took on was assistant deputy speaker during the last two parliaments.
"I guess the disappointment is that I didn't become speaker," said Devolin, who ran twice for the position.
Earlier this year, Schmale sought the Conservative nomination and was acclaimed as the candidate.
For six months, Devolin is going to travel the world with his wife, Ursula, and kids George, 12, and Molly, 10. He has accepted a job teaching political science at Sejong University in Seoul. The full-time position starts in March.
"Korea was always an option because we lived there before," he said, adding that one of his friends informed him that the universities in Korea were creating English language programming.
"He said you could easily get a job teaching politics at a university.”
Although he officially ceased to be an MP when the Governor General dissolved the 41st Parliament on Aug. 2, he will continue to work on some unfinished business.
"My staff and I have ongoing responsibilities until Monday, Oct. 19 to provide services to constituents and wrap up unresolved case work," he wrote in an email.
Devolin thanked all of his constituents for their support over the years.
The 42nd federal election has been set for Oct. 19.
MARK ARIKE is a reporter for The Highlander.