Liberal candidate has 20 plus years of municipal politics on resume

     He has a comfortable lead going into the October 19 federal election, but Liberal candidate Ken McDonald would be the last fellow to take it for granted that he will win Avalon riding.
Instead, the self-employed appliance repairman and mayor of Newfoundland's largest town is employing his usual, below the radar, but well-planned and steady campaign of door to door canvassing to earn support one vote at a time.
     The plain-spoken, easy going 56 year old has had a career of highs and lows when it comes to politics, and life for that matter. The past few years have laid opportunity before him. McDonald is fully appreciative of how far he has come.
     A lifelong resident of the riding, McDonald started his appliance repair business in 1986. It taught him a lot. "I can remember times when I had to keep my paycheque in my pocket for a few days just to make sure the money was there," he admits. "You'd write it out, but you wouldn't cash it."
     Eventually McDonald grew the company to the point where he could employ a couple of others, giving them an extra week's pay each year at Christmas as a bonus.
In 1993, he took a stab at municipal politics in his home town of Conception Bay South. At the time one of the fastest growing communities in Eastern Canada, CBS was making a tough transition from a rural way of life to a suburban one as a bedroom community of St. John's. The councils of the day were frequently embroiled in controversies and imbroglios caused by the rapid pace of growth and a scarcity of funds to keep up with the infrastructure to accommodate it.
     McDonald resigned from council in August of 1996 when his fellow councillors refused to abide by all the changes recommended following an Auditor General's examination of the town's practices. A month or so later, the Minister of Municipal Affairs dismissed the entire council. McDonald was later acknowledged as the only councillor who didn't run afoul anywhere in the AG's findings.
     But it wasn’t enough to get him re-elected in the following election. He ran at-large instead of as a ward representative.
     "In hindsight I was lucky I didn't get elected," McDonald admits. "In July of 1997, Christine was diagnosed with cancer."
     McDonald's wife died of the disease three years later leaving him a single father of their son John, who was then 13. He has since married again.
     In 2005, McDonald took another shot at municipal politics. He ran for mayor against three big names in the community. He placed second to Woodrow French.
     "After that election, I knew what I was going to do," says McDonald. "I was going to run to get on council at the next available chance."
     That came with the next election in 2009, when McDonald returned to the chamber as a ward councillor. Before the next four years were up, he started canvassing to run against French again, who was by this time a provincial personality as well as a local one. "And that was my intent from day one," McDonald says. He won handily.
     McDonald says he was drawn to municipal politics because it’s a way to help people, something he has enjoyed since his days as a member of the Lions Club. "You saw firsthand at that level how you can help people," he explains. "Whether it be giving a scholarship to a student or contributing to a wheelchair for someone who needed it. It really gave you a feeling that you were doing some good in the community. There are lots of organizations out there, whether it be the Lions Club, Rotary or Kinsmen who do absolutely fantastic work but I don't think any of them blow their own horns enough, because many people don't realize the good that they do in the community."
     McDonald is blessed with a folksy way of getting on with people. He attributes that to his upbringing. "As a family we were no different than anyone else," he says. "We had lots to eat, but we didn't have lots of everything else. There no big luxuries. We didn't have a ski doo or a quad by the side of the door. We grew our vegetables, raised a pig or a bull and that's how we survived. We grew enough vegetables in our garden to do us from one year to the next; we never had to buy a potato. I think it showed you the value of things that you move on with in life."
     McDonald says he was confident he would win the mayoralty when he ran in 2013. It came, he says, from having done a lot of work on council during his previous four years, returning calls, taking the time to attend events. "From the get go I knew it would be a hard battle to win it," he says.
     McDonald also took stands that didn't always endear him with the rest of council, such as the time he fought to stop the town from ordering a man to tear down his new house because it was built three inches over a certain regulated boundary line.
     "All that people expect of council is that you will try to help them in some way," McDonald says. "Some things you can't do... but for the most part people are respectful if you try to help them and that's what I've done from day one."
     He sees no big difference in taking that approach to a federal level. "The issues may change," he says. "It may not be an issue of a ditch not being cleaned out or a pothole on a street, but it will be an issue of someone's unemployment getting cut off unnecessarily or a pension cheque gone astray... And bigger issues. It will be bigger issues but it will still involve people. And as I said it in my speech way back when I announced I was running for mayor, the one thing that you should never forget is that you're elected to serve the people. You are not elected to serve the corporates, you're not elected to serve even the leader of a party or to follow party policy on certain issues when it affects the people you are elected to represent."
     McDonald says he agonized over the decision to run federally just two years after being elected mayor. “I was happy as anything being mayor and if I end up going back to being mayor on October 20th I’ll still be happy because I truly love the position of being mayor,” he says.
     McDonald says he would like for his parents to still be alive to see how far he has come. “Growing up, the mayors of the day were notable people in the community,” McDonald says. “I'm thinking, I came from nowhere and can be mayor of the second largest municipality in the province. It goes to show that anyone can do it. You don’t have to have a university education, you don’t have to be a doctor or a teacher or own a big business or be a CEO of a big company; anybody can do this. You just have to be committed to the job that it entails.”

Posted on October 7, 2015 .