The debate had been over for 20 minutes, the venue had been transformed back into a cafeteria and the students were trickling in to eat their lunches. All the other candidates had left for their next campaign stop, but not Will Lomker. Guelph’s New Blue candidate remained on stage, answering questions from College Heights students who were among the lucky ones able to hear from this politician in his first and only debate appearance.
“Maybe it’s just because I was different,” Lomker told Guelph Politico in a phone interview Sunday. “The experience was what I love to do, I love to talk to people at their level, let them come and ask their questions and answer them as best I can. I find it frustrating when politicians are resolved to scripted messaging for an answer or just dodging the question.”
Going off script is essentially what New Blue is all about. Co-founded by Jim and Belinda Karaholios, two conservative politicians from Waterloo Region, New Blue came about after Belinda, the incumbent MPP from Cambridge, was removed from the Progressive Conservative caucus for voting against emergency powers to fight the pandemic in the summer of 2020. Like the Karaholioses, Lomker found himself disillusioned with PC policy the last few years.
“As a previous PC voter, I felt that they were the most interested in looking out for small businesses, at least, that’s what they said,” Lomker explained. “It’s become very evident to me that they weren’t looking out for these small and medium sized organizations, and that they weren’t interested in representing that group of people. At that point, I couldn’t vote for them anymore, and I needed to find a new option.”
Lomker’s business is the family business, which is managing a number franchisee-owned restaurant establishments. Lomker’s formal title is director of operations, which requires him to oversee several different locations with great attention to detail, and he said that the supposedly business-minded PCs were not responding to the pandemic in a very business-like way.
“I see things in terms of trends and movement rather than particular events, so what really bothered me about the PCs is just a total lack of stability,” Lomker said. “As a business owner, you have to deal with the environment that the government sets up for you, and it’s really hard to operate any business when the rules are constantly changing. Or they change, and you kind of get a heads up for it, and then they quickly change again.”
Yes, Lomker is talking about the changing series of COVID restrictions over the last two years, but he said it’s also a more general attitude he felt from the provincial government, and that it was more answerable to businesses much bigger than his. “I think what COVID did was it told something about our leadership and where their priorities really are,” Lomker said.
“There are very big differences in how businesses function, the margins they work with, and how they treat their employees,” he added. “In a smaller organization it’s more like a family, you know everyone that works for you, which is different compared to a shareholder in a public traded company, which has a board and then somewhere down the line, you have the workers who you aren’t really connected to.”
So how would New Blue be different? Lomker said they’re guided by principle, not policy. “Prosperity is best ensured by empowering individuals to improve their personal situation through self-reliance and the maximum enjoyment of the fruits of one’s own labour,” is one of those principles. “This is best achieved by providing equal opportunity to participate in a competitive market economy that rewards initiative and innovation, values ethical transactions, protects private property, and ensures security and privacy.”
“It won’t be good for Canada if we erode the ability to start businesses and maintain them under competitive conditions,” Lomber said. “I’m not saying that all business models can work, but we can’t have government stand in the way and instigate the failure of a business either.”
So how what would that look like as government action? “So the Province would say, ‘What are you good at? How do you make that? How do we make you more effective at what you’re good at?’ Whether that’s a business, a municipality, or a charitable organization, I think that will reflect in how the party would govern.”
The conversation makes it sound like New Blue is a quiet pro-business alternative to the Progressive Conservatives, a bit more dedicated to laissez-faire economic ideals than the PCs who are a little active in economic matters, but it’s not economic matters that have gotten New Blue the most attention. Belinda once called proof of vaccination measures both “undemocratic” and “disgraceful”, while Jim was a speaker at the Freedom Convoy in Ottawa earlier this year.
Lomker did not endorse the Freedom Convoy, but he did say that the government reaction to the Freedom Convoy was a good example the current Provincial government’s unwillingness to listen to its people, especially if there’s disagreement.
“The foundational issue is making sure people have freedom of speech, conscience and religion and that those basic freedoms are being honoured, so that me as a business owner or a committee member, can have my voice heard,” Lomker explained.”They’re now seizing property and bank accounts, or terminating insurance and licences, and if that’s what they’re doing to dissenters, what are people going to if they can’t voice their opinion safely and without risk? How is your issue going to be heard in the first place?”
“If people are self-censoring, or are angry that they’re not being heard, that’s going to push those voices underground, and that can end up being worse than if it’s just on the surface level,” Lomker added.
Lomker, perhaps aware of his long odds, has a simple message for all the undecideds out there, whether they’re thinking about voting for him or not. “I think people should vote their conscience. I’m doing this so people can can vote for what they believe in,” he said. “I want people to participate, and I think the best way to do that is to give them something they want to participate with. Positively.”
Election Day is June 2.