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Chuck Strahl leaving federal politics

Son Mark, 32, to seek nomination in Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon, which includes Pemberton



Pemberton's Member of Parliament is leaving federal politics.

Chuck Strahl, the member for Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon, which includes Pemberton and Lillooet, has decided not to seek re-election in the next vote, which could come after a parliamentary budget vote later this month.

His son Mark, 32, announced Tuesday that he'll be seeking the nomination for the riding in the next election.

"While I am healthy, and though I still feel honoured and privileged to be a Member of Parliament, I have decided I won't be seeking re-election when Canada next goes to the polls," Strahl said in his parting statement. He was not available for an interview.

Strahl entered politics in 1993 as a member of the Reform Party under leader Preston Manning. He has been in government ever since, serving as a Canadian Alliance MP under Stockwell Day, who is also leaving politics, as well as a Conservative MP under Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Elected to a seat on the government side in 2006, Strahl has served in every Harper cabinet in portfolios such as Agriculture, Indian and Northern Affairs and is currently minister of Transportation, Infrastructure and Communities.

Electoral boundaries were redrawn prior to the 2004 election and Pemberton was added to Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon. In the 2006 election, Pemberton voters made up a full 3.6 per cent of votes cast in the riding, leaving valley residents with a feeling of alienation.

That alienation, however, hasn't extended to residents' opinions of Strahl, whom many see as a member who worked hard to reach out to his constituents at the far end of the riding.

"Chuck was always very helpful when it came to applying for grants and that sort of thing," said Mark Blundell, a former councillor with the Village of Pemberton and now president of the Pemberton and District Chamber of Commerce, adding Strahl was in Pemberton about three times a year.

"I know that he tried to help us with the Pemberton Airport, I don't know how effective he was, but he did try to help us in that area.

"I think he was supporting us with our application to get funding for it, but at the time, there wasn't much funding, so obviously he wasn't successful."

The Conservative Party contacted Allen McEwan when Pemberton was added to the riding. McEwan, secretary of the Pemberton Wildlife Institute and co-owner of McEwan's Farm, helped orient Strahl to the area, introducing him to community members and apprising him of issues relevant to valley residents.

"We met several times over the years," McEwan said. "He liked to hold little dining room chats in the evening when he was in town or whatever. He would put out the word he was in town, a bunch of us would go down and meet with him and chat about politics in general. It was always a very interesting discussion."

A great deal of government money flowed through to Pemberton under Strahl's tenure.

In March 2009 he announced $900,000 in federal and provincial funding for various infrastructural projects in Pemberton. That included $400,000 for a water metering and leak detection program; and $40,000 in LocalMotion funds for the One Mile Lake Accessible Trail Improvements Project.

Two months later he announced that Federal Gas Tax Transfers to municipalities would double and payments would be accelerated. That added up to $4,883,719 in his riding alone.

Then in September 2009, Strahl announced $89,500 in federal funding to help improve four kilometers of existing recreational trails around One Mile Lake in Pemberton. That included new surfacing and construction of a wheelchair-accessible bridge.

Then finally, later that month, the federal government in partnership with the province and municipalities announced $367,854 through the Building Canada and Infrastructure Stimulus Fund to help build a new skate park on a property beneath power lines next to the Cottonwood Community Centre.

Back in Ottawa, Strahl could be a scrapper. In 2001, he led a revolt of 13 MP's against then-Alliance leader Stockwell Day, disappointed as they were with his leadership and an underwhelming performance in the 2000 election.

Five of the MP's soon returned to the Alliance fold but Strahl remained an outsider, sitting alongside the then-Progressive Conservative Party as a member of the Democratic Representative Caucus. Strahl rejoined the party when Harper became leader in 2002.

As minister of agriculture he fired the president of the Canadian Wheat Board, acting on a Conservative campaign promise in 2005 that a Tory government would stamp out the board's monopoly on sales of Canadian grain.

He also leaves politics alongside John Cummins, yet another MP elected under the Reform banner in 1993, and as one of the longest-serving members in Stephen Harper's government.