Dufferin-Caledon nomination race features familiar Tory face
John Mykytyshyn, Oakville North-Burlington campaigner, also behind Paul Hong's efforts to beat MP David Tilson
UPDATE – After what has been described as surprisingly close vote on Friday evening, veteran Conservative MP David Tilson eked out a narrow victory over local challenger Paul Hong.
The long-time Conservative strategist behind Natalia Lishchyna's bid to beat Eve Adams in Oakville North-Burlington is helping out another nomination challenger angling to oust a sitting MP.
In addition to his activities in Oakville, John Mykytyshyn is backing Paul Hong's efforts to win the right to run for the party in Dufferin-Caledon, a seat currently held by veteran Conservative MP David Tilson.
That vote is scheduled to take place tonight — and, unlike that other nomination, there's no sign that it will be hit with a sudden postponement due to cross-candidate complaints flooding Conservative headquarters.
But don't take Mykytyshyn's double duty on the southern Ontario nomination campaign trail as evidence of an anti-incumbent bias.
As he tells it, at least, that's just the way it worked out.
"I've known Paul for many years," Mykytyshyn told CBC News.
"I first met him at a campaign training session while he was a student. It was pretty clear back then that he was special."
He also worked on Hong's ultimately unsuccessful attempt to win the local provincial Conservative nomination in 2007.
"Frankly, in my 30 years of helping get people elected, Paul is one of the very best I've ever supported."
Since joining Hong's team, Mykytyshyn said he's been lending a hand where needed, but he stressed that the candidate is the one running the show.
"Paul is the guy calling the shots and he has really impressed me," he said.
"From day one, [Hong] was determined that he was going to run a respectful campaign," Mykytyshyn said.
"He's never taken shots at David, and I have to tell you, after the other race I'm involved with, it's been really refreshing to see such a respectful race take place."
Even without Mykytyshyn's support, Hong would be a formidable contender.
His online biography lists degrees in business, law and war studies, as well as 13 years in the Canadian Armed Forces Naval Reserve.
On the political front, he claims close to 20 years of experience on the hustings.
Hong worked for Baird, Kenney
Hong has also served under three former and current foreign affairs ministers — David Emerson, Lawrence Cannon and John Baird — and worked as a policy adviser to Jason Kenney.
Kenney even makes a cameo appearance on Hong's official website, which prominently displays the praise he heaped upon Hong during his 2007 provincial run.
"Paul Hong is one of the most principled and effective young Conservatives I’ve ever met," the website quotes Kenney as having said at the time.
"[H]e represents the future of the conservative movement in Canada.”
Like all Conservative caucus members, Kenney is barred from publicly supporting any candidate challenging a sitting MP, but that rule does not, it seem, cover past remarks.
In response to a query from CBC News, spokeswoman Alexandra Fortier made it clear that her boss is not endorsing anyone in the current race and pointed out the quote is from the 2007 provincial run.
Hong praised by other prominent Tories
Kenney isn't the only prominent Conservative to make an appearance on Hong's webpage.
Several other familiar names show up — most notably, Nazanin Afshin-Jam MacKay, an author, lawyer and human rights activist who also happens to be married to Justice Minister Peter MacKay.
There are also approving comments from former Kenney staffer Kasra Nejatian and PMO communications director Sandra Bucker.
Tilson, in contrast, doesn't even have a dedicated campaign website, and the twitter account under his name has yet to send out a single tweet.
He did, however, defend his record in an interview with a local community newspaper last month.
"In the 2011 election we led in every poll and had 59 percent of the vote." he told the Orangeville Citizen via email.
"I would say it is unnecessary to challenge me now when I have proven myself to be a strong representative in Ottawa," Tilson continued, adding that Dufferin-Caledon residents and local Conservatives "echo that thought."
Tight race predicted
For his part, Hong told CBC News that he's "very proud" of the campaign that he's run.
"We have run an energetic, honourable, clean campaign — one that is respectful towards David Tilson," he said via email.
"I am very much looking forward to tonight, and to having an opportunity to speak with Dufferin-Caledon conservatives about our need for renewal."
Asked for a prediction on the outcome of tonight's vote, Mykytyshyn was cautiously optimistic.
"Defeating an incumbent is a really tall task," he noted.
"But Paul's worked his butt off. It'll be a tight one, but I am hopeful ... he'll pull it off."