Hamilton

David Christopherson, long-time Hamilton Centre MP, says he won't run again

Hamilton's perennial NDP politician, known for his thundering oration and staying power, is retiring.

Christopherson, an autodidact with a ninth grade education, went on to become a cabinet minister

David Christopherson, a long-time NDP politician from Hamilton, says he won't run next year. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Hamilton's perennial NDP politician, known for his thundering oration and staying power, is retiring.

David Christopherson, who's been in politics more than 30 years, issued a statement Thursday saying he won't run again.

"I have made the decision to not seek a sixth term as Member of Parliament and I plan to step away from public life when my current term expires in October 2019," Christopherson said.

Christopherson has served as a Hamilton Centre MP, MPP and city councillor.

Christopherson speaks to supporter Sheri Selway in 2015 after winning another term as Hamilton Centre MP. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

He served as an MPP from 1990 to 2003, including stints as solicitor general and minister of correctional services in the Bob Rae government and as house leader under Howard Hampton. In 2003, he unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Hamilton. He's served federally since 2004.

Christopherson, 63, has been reelected even when his party was unpopular, including after the Rae government's term.

He said in 2015 that he was prepared to be swept away by Justin Trudeau's red wave.

"I've been in a number of those tsunamis, coming in and going out," he said then. "They are powerful forces of political nature."

Christopherson spoke at the 2015 launch of a bicycle pump track in Gage Park. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

Christopherson took an unusual path to politics, but one that was true to his Steeltown roots.

He dropped out of high school after ninth grade, but educated himself through years of voracious reading. At 19, he started work at International Harvester, where he remained for 11 years. He was also one-time president of the now-defunct United Auto Workers Local 525.

Christopherson said Thursday that he "truly love(s) our city and the people who call it home."

"I have loved my time as your Member of Parliament and I can't thank you enough for your support. My staff and I will continue to work hard during the remainder of my term in office and I look forward to seeing many of you in the community over the next 15 months."

In another life, I think he would have been a southern Baptist preacher.- Matthew Green, Hamilton city councillor

Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh tweeted that Christopherson "has served the people of Hamilton with unmatched integrity."

"David dedicated his career to the idea that governments belong to the people."

Christopherson joined Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath onstage after the election results June 8. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

But the pair haven't always seen eye to eye. In March, Singh removed Christopherson from his role as vice-chair of a powerful parliamentary committee. He did this after Christopherson supported a Conservative motion protesting the Liberal government's changes to the summer job program.

He puts the people above the partisanship.- Filomena Tassi, Liberal MP for Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas

Singh later reinstated him.

Matthew Green, NDP supporter and Ward 3 councillor, has fielded questions over whether he'll seek the nomination. He wouldn't talk about that Thursday.

"Today is really about David Christopherson and the 33 years of leadership and public service to Hamilton," he said.

Christopherson, he said, is "the quintessential people's champ, an underdog who came up through labour."

Christopherson is also known as being a powerful public speaker. "There are very few people who can command a stage like David Christopherson," Green said.

"In another life, I think he would have been a southern Baptist preacher."

Filomena Tassi, Liberal MP for Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas, agrees that Christopherson has powerful public speaking skills.

She's had to speak after Christopherson at community events, she said, and "following him is always a tough act."

NDP MP David Christopherson discusses the ongoing filibuster at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, then offers hope after the committee is suspended until Wednesday afternoon. 2:32
Hamilton NDP MP David Christopherson explains why this Bill is a way to honour his friend Mauril Belanger 1:36

Tassi ran against him for the Liberals in Hamilton Centre in 1995. She's recently served with him on the parliamentary procedure and House affairs committee.

"He puts the people above the partisanship," Tassi said. "I just think that's so important. When I've worked with him, my experience is he's always treated me as a friend and colleague and not a rival."

David Sweet, Conservative MP for Flamborough-Glanbrook, worked with Christopherson in several capacities, including on the parliamentary steel caucus.

"You always knew where David was at on an issue, he kept his word and was always dignified in our interactions," he said. "I will truly miss working with him."

Christopherson's cross-party friendships have included the late Liberal MP for Ottawa-Vanier, Mauril Belanger. The pair are shown here in 2016. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)
Christopherson poses with Marnie Alexander, widow of Lincoln Alexander, at city hall in 2014. An NDP MP tried to use unanimous consent to declare Jan. 21 Lincoln Alexander Day, but the Conservative government at the time introduced it as a government bill. “Whatever,” Christopherson said. “The important thing is that we get a bill that establishes the day." (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Andrea Horwath, Ontario NDP leader and Hamilton Centre MPP, said Christopherson has impacted people "in profound ways.

"From one Steeltown scrapper to another: thank you."


Timeline

1984: Christopherson makes his first run for public office in the federal election.
1985: Worked as a constituency assistant to NDP MP Ian Deans (Hamilton Mountain).
1985: Elected a Hamilton city alderman and regional councillor for Ward 4.
1988: Reelected to Ward 4.
1990: Elected MPP for Hamilton Centre. He would go on to serve as solicitor general and minister of correctional services.
1995: Reelected MPP for Hamilton Centre.
1999: Elected MPP in the newly created riding of Hamilton West.
2003: Finished his third term in the Ontario Legislature and in the fall of 2003 lost his bid to become Hamilton mayor.
2004: Elected MP in the new federal riding of Hamilton Centre.
2006: Reelected MP for Hamilton Centre.
2008: Reelected MP for Hamilton Centre.
2011: Reelected MP for Hamilton Centre and appointed a Deputy Leader of the Official Opposition.
2015: Reelected to a fifth term as Member of Parliament for Hamilton Centre.

About the Author

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca