PETER CONRADI/Bullet News
NIAGARA FALLS – George Lepp still believes he was the best candidate in the last provincial election. He thought he’d be the best candidate this time, too. Then Bart Maves threw his hat into the ring and the picture changed.
Saying he is motivated to bring “the best possible results to (this riding)” Lepp Thursday withdrew from the race for the Progressive Conservative nomination in Niagara Falls.
The Niagara-on-the-Lake farmer and businessman, who nearly unseated Niagara Falls Liberal MPP Kim Craitor in the 2011 election, has thrown his support behind former Niagara Falls MPP Bart Maves.
Maves served in the Legislature from 1995 to 2003. He was defeated in 2003 and again in 2007 by Craitor.
Lepp carried the party’s banner in 2011, finishing second behind Craitor by about 500 votes.
Lepp’s withdrawal means the race for the PC nomination in Niagara Falls this time around has three declared candidates – Maves, Niagara Reg. Coun. Barb Greenwood and John Wiens, owner of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Club.
“Niagara Falls is suffering and its suffering because of the type of representation that we have at Queen’s Park,” Lepp said. “We have someone who is very accomplished here. When Bart ran he brought about legislation for appropriate VQ regulations.
“He was largely influential in bringing about Big Becky. He was influential in keeping the Fort Erie Race Track open and in keeping businesses in Fort Erie and Niagara-on-the-Lake and Niagara Falls open, and in bringing us a casino. He’s respected on both sides of the house.
“Things have changed and that’s why today I am withdrawing my name from the nomination for the riding. I intend to support Bart in his run”
Maves, Wiens and Lepp were together Thursday morning for a meeting when the media. Greenwood did not attend. Wiens confirmed he is staying in the race.
“I know what it takes to make business work — to make ends meet. I’ve not been in politics before. Sometimes it’s good to step back and look at fresh faces.”
Wiens, 57, and his family have deep roots in Niagara-on-the-Lake. They once owned the Prince of Wales Hotel and the Riverbend Inn.
The Niagara Falls Tories will select their candidate Jan. 23 at the Americana hotel in advance of what many predict will be a spring election.
Maves, 47, will be emphasizing his government experience, both as an MPP and his current role as a regional councillor.
“I will hit the ground running. There’s no learning curve for me.”
Niagara Falls Provincial Riding Association president Rainer Hummel confirmed all three have to be vetted by the RCMP and OPP before they can be officially considered candidates.
The Niagara Falls Conservatives last held a nomination meeting in March 2011.
That meeting attracted more than 1,000 delegates, one of the largest party gatherings in the province. At that time Lepp outdistanced former Fort Erie Coun. Sandy Annunziata and Arlene White.
The Niagara Falls riding includes Fort Erie and Niagara-on-the-Lake. It’s considered bellweather riding, having elected candidates from the party that forms the government in every election dating back to the 1980s.
The NDP have yet to select a candidate in the Niagara Falls riding. The party was represented in the last election by lawyer and former Fort Erie Mayor Wayne Redekop.