EDITORS NOTE: This is part of a series of articles of the provincial election candidates in the Sarnia-Lambton Riding
By most standards, Bob Bailey has had a successful political career.
He became interested in politics in his twenties and did practically every job the Progressive Conservative riding association in Sarnia-Lambton asked of him.
He was a municipal politician, the chief electoral officer for two provincial elections and he’s served three terms as MPP. He’s running for a fourth term this election, carrying the PC banner in Sarnia-Lambton.
Bailey can trace his success back to meeting one person in SS#1 Enniskillen in Oil City.
The young Bailey had just entered school and there were only two other people in his grade – both girls. One, Elizabeth, would become his life-long friend and partner.
He says plainly most of his success “is due to her.”
Bailey didn’t start out in politics. At 12, Bailey would help his contractor dad every Saturday afternoon, running the bulldozer – something he admits he’d never let his own children or grandchildren do now.
Bailey remembers his dad challenging him to do more, taking the heavy equipment through Petrolia’s downtown. “He said, ‘You’re going to have to do it sometime and I won’t be with you.’” So, with his dad by his side, young Bailey navigated the heavy equipment down the main street, without hitting anything.
Working with his dad presented lots of opportunities and challenges, he says. And it opened the door for him to continue in the trades after school.
He became a crane operator and still holds his licence to this day.
Eventually, he ended up working with heavy equipment in the Chemical Valley and he loved it.
But politics called. His employer was always good about letting him have the time he needed, particularly when he served on municipal council. By then, Bailey and his wife, Elizabeth, had three children. Elizabeth stayed home to raise the kids and when they went off to school, she went to work, managing retail stores and eventually joining Polysar and worked in human resources and pensions. That would become invaluable to Bailey as his interest in provincial politics increased.
When he took on the role as the Returning Officer in Sarnia-Lambton, Elizabeth was right by his side, doing all the paperwork behind the scenes including payroll for the nearly 800 people required to run the election.
In 2007, the PCs in Sarnia-Lambton didn’t have a candidate to run in Sarnia-Lambton. Bailey’s long-time friend, John Phair, suggested Bailey should move out of the backrooms and run to become the Member of Parliament.
Bailey was interested, but more than a little nervous about talking to his wife about the idea.
He and Elizabeth were sitting in Streets one day when a number of the PC faithful came in and started talking with them. One mentioned it was “time to get your campaign going” leaving Bailey scrambling to hustle Elizabeth out of the restaurant lest she know what was being cooked up.
He eventually screwed up his courage and told his partner that, yes, party members wanted him to run for MPP.
He shouldn’t have been worried.
Elizabeth’s response; “if we’re going to do that, now we need to sell some memberships.”
They did and Bailey eventually won the nomination on the fourth ballot.
After winning the election, Elizabeth helped him set up his constituency and Queen’s Park offices, creating job descriptions for the employees – something that had never been done before.
And she still helps Bailey, reminding him about all kinds of things, including to stop and listen to people’s questions when he’s appearing on live radio broadcasts.
Bailey says his work has always been a partnership with his wife. “She’s not outgoing…I did all the talking but she knows the job better than I did.
Bailey says there are other people behind his success including the famed MPP of Lambton, Lorne Henderson. He and Bailey talked to almost weekly about the happenings in Petrolia. Bailey gets emotional thinking about what Henderson would think of his work now helping all kinds of constituents solve their problems with government.
“I hope he would be proud,” Bailey says through tears.
But, Bailey says, the truth is he wouldn’t be where he is today, without Elizabeth. “Most people who know us know most of my success is due to her.”