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Eddie and Bill… They Had Our Backs

Sift through local newspaper coverage of previous attempts to close Chesley Hospital in 1976, 1978 and again in 1996, and an interesting story emerges. So many people have stepped forward in their time to take a leading role in opposing the imminent loss of this community health care facility. To mention a few, names like Mayor Bill McClure, Dr Dawson, Mayor Ron Oswald come to mind along with so many others. But there is one interesting story that emerges as two of our local political figures step forward out of mists of time…Eddie Sargent and Bill Murdoch.

These two men came from different backgrounds and different parties. What did they have in common? Well, both had a reputation for being larger than life; both had a knack for gaining the attention of the media and both were known as “mavericks” who leapt to the defence of the people in Chesley who were fighting against tremendous odds to save their hospital.

eddie sargentEdward Carson Sargent moved to Owen Sound as a young man, completing his education there and earning his living as a publisher and businessman before being elected Mayor of Owen Sound in 1948. He held that position until 1963 when he won election as a Liberal member of the Ontario Legislature representing the riding of Grey North-Grey Bruce. Although he won the first election by a very slim margin, he was subsequently re-elected six times, serving until 1987.

He committed himself whole heartedly to the needs of the community he served and was not afraid of controversy. Digital archives show a picture of him sitting in the gallery in the legislature on April 5, 1976 smiling at the camera and refusing to vote with his Liberal colleagues as they voted down an amendment which, if passed, would have toppled the government of Premier William Davis. This vote took place while the government of the day was listing the Chesley Hospital for closure. When it came to supporting his constituents, he was not afraid to stand against his own party.

Fast forward a few years; it is 1996 and once again the government of the day has targeted the Chesley Hospital for closure. This time the MPP representing this area is Bill Murdoch.

bill murdochBill graduated from OSCVI and worked in a variety of jobs before running for office. He had a rural focus and was proudly known locally as “Bognor Bill”. He held positions locally as a Councillor for Sydenham Township and reeve for several years. He also served as Warden of Grey County.  He won a seat in the Ontario Legislature in 1990 as a member of the Progressive Conservative party. He was re-elected several times and retired in 2011.

Like Eddie, Bill was known for his commitment to his local constituents. Also like Eddie, he was not afraid to step outside the lines of party politics when it came to the interests of this riding. He opposed John Tory’s proposal to provide public funding for all religious schools and said that at first, he thought he would support it, but on learning that public opinion in his riding did not support it, he voted against it. He was there to represent the people from this area.

When Bill announced his intention to retire in 2011 Toronto Star reporter Robert Benzie praised him as a maverick who unabashedly voted on behalf of his own riding. “A thorn in the side to every Conservative leader since Mike Harris, Murdoch has always marched to the beat of his own pipe-band drummer.”

When the PC government of the day threatened to close the Chesley Hospital, Bill was quoted in the Sun Times: “MPP says he will break Tory ranks to keep hospitals open”. Speaking of the Walkerton, Durham, Chesley and Kincardine Alliance being proposed, he said, “I want them to know that I’m prepared to work with them to see that their solutions are given fair consideration.”

Eddie and Bill were called by their first names by the people in this area…because there was a sense of familiarity and common purpose, working together with and for local constituents and putting this area first. Thanks go to both for being the “mavericks” we needed to speak on our behalf and save our hospital.

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