Pictou East Liberal candidate François Rochon works long hours both inside and out of his campaign headquarters. Sueann Musick – The News
Editor’s note: Over the coming weeks during Nova Scotia’s election campaign, The News will profile each of the local candidates.
WESTVILLE – Walk into François Rochon’s campaign headquarters and it’s evident he is a practical man.
He admits he would have liked to have something a bit more central, but with limited vacancies in the Town of Westville, he chose to have office in the garage attached to his Angell Street home so he is not only close to his family during this hectic provincial election, but he can also work longer hours.
“There are times when my wife will tell me to come into the house,” he said with a laugh.
Nothing comes off as flashy – there’s a phone, desk, computer and a couch for conversations with guests or maybe a five-minute nap for the candidate in between shifts of door knocking and scheduling. You might even be fortunate enough to have his dog Lucky curl up at your feet and snore away the afternoon.
On the inside of the garage door is a huge white board he hopes to fill with events right up until Oct. 8. This isn’t Rochon’s first kick at the can in provincial politics and this time he is quick out of the gate.
“In 2008, Liberal party was not going to run a candidate in the area for the federal election and that really burnt me. I thought people needed a choice,” he said. “So in 2009, when the provincial election started coming on, I said, I want to know who is running. I stayed up too late one night and I was watching the news. Usually I turn it off and go to bed, but there was an ad for Stephen McNeil and then I looked up the Liberal website and I saw nobody was running. I joined the party, sent in my $10 and I sent an email to Stephen McNeil and I said I want to run. The next day they were calling me. I couldn’t see people going without a choice again.”
He admits he wasn’t the strongest candidate in the last election because he got in the race late, but the inroads he made were encouraging enough for him to give it a second chance.
“My wife and I didn’t have any long political discussions, but sometimes you look at TV and see things done and you think ‘duh – dumb decisions.’ I want to be part of better decisions,” he said. “For someone that was unknown and got his office going about two weeks into the campaign in 2009 and his signs another week later, it wasn’t too bad. I am better known now. I started since I got the nomination three months ago and all my time off has been dedicated to it.”
Born in a small village in Quebec where he says people have to leave to find work, 57-year-old Rochon joined the navy as a young man and was stationed in Halifax in the mid-1970s as an electrical technician.
“I was part of a large damage control team that involved firefighting,” he said. “If you have water on a ship, you want it to get it out and if you have lots of water around, you don’t want to use too much.”
He was part of the forces mid-1990s reduction plan and retired at age 41 with 20 years experience.
“It was scary a bit because you have 20 years on the job with middle management, but they really did me a favour,” he said. “If they’d kept me another five years, I would have been closer to 50 and harder to find work.”
Being without work was never an option for Rochon, but he also didn’t want to jump into the first job without giving it some thought.
“I got involved in the community. Right away I joined the Lions Club and Legion. I got a few odd jobs. I got some jobs offshore. I’ve had two unemployment claims my whole life and never finished them,” he said. “I had one resume going out of the house every day. That is the type of person I am. When I want something I go for it.”
In 1998, he started working at Michelin where he uses both his trade as an electrician and knowledge of emergency services. He is a crew captain for the emergency response team at the Granton plant and a member of both the Alma and Westville fire departments. He also continues to be active in his community.
“I am all about serving,” he said.
In addition, he is also a husband to Mary Jean and a father to three sons as well as the caregiver for a foster child. He said his family supports him 100 per cent in his campaign while one of the children has taken the role of computer technician and regularly updates his website.
He admits an election campaign can run a speedy pace, but he knows he has enough energy to put into it.
One of his biggest challenges is getting to meet the 5,700 or more constituents in Pictou East, but he is determined to knock on as many doors as possible.
“People are concerned and I am glad they are voicing them out. Some people are disenchanted with politicians altogether and I can’t blame them,” he said. “I tell them I don’t blame them. Some people ask me, ‘why do I want to get into that.’ I want to be part of the change. I want to bring a positive attitude and a can-do attitude.”
He said roads are always a topic of concern at the doorsteps, but many of the issues that affect Pictou County residents are felt across the province.
“Our education system is going down the drain. You take $65 million out of it and it’s not going to work. You can’t look at education and health care just as an expense because it is an investment,” he said. “For education, they cut $65 million, but what did they do with it? They gave it to paper mills and Irving. I agree you have to invest in businesses, but Irving, for example, they didn’t need to give them money…. If you give money like that to a big company, you have to have strings attached. You have to have milestones you want them to meet.”
He said he sees the effects of a weak economy when he visits families in the county with members working in western Canada.
“There are no jobs here. People are leaving and that has an impact on the government coffers,” he said. “Another impact it has is on volunteers. I am involved in the fire departments and we have people that are over 70 years old jumping trucks.”
Rochon said he has a lot of respect for Liberal leader Stephen McNeil and the way he is running the campaign.
“Stephen McNeil is the man to lead us,” he said. “What I like is that way he has handled the team. He gave them tasks and responsibility and let them run with it. He let them take the credit for the work.”
Rochon said if he is elected, he will never be the type of politician to make false promises for a vote.
“Some politicians might promise them they will fix everything under the sky, but I don’t. I promise them I am there to work and once I am there I am going to keep on listening.”