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Sheila's back: Copps campaigns like a pro for Hamilton Liberals

It’s been 15 years since Sheila Copps has campaigned in Hamilton, but walking down a Dundas sidewalk, she still looks like a pro.

Copps was the first sitting MP ever to have a baby

Sheila Copps, centre, joins Filomena Tassi, left, Liberal candidate for Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas on Wednesday. She stopped to chat with Michelle Magro and three-year-old Ryker. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

It's been 15 years since Sheila Copps has campaigned in Hamilton, but walking down a Dundas sidewalk, she still looks like a pro.

The former deputy prime minister stops Taithleach Smythe, who's walking down King Street West on a Wednesday afternoon. And even though people Smythe's age — 24 — don't know much about the former MP, Copps works them anyway.

"Hi, I'm Sheila Copps," she says, shaking hands. "This is Filomena Tassi. She's running for election." By the time Tassi finishes her handshake, Copps already has a flyer extended.

Smythe said afterward that she knows who Copps is, but mainly because "my dad went to high school with her."

I thought 'Wait a second. I recognize her.'- Lori Goldblatt, Dundas resident

"I'm not overly into politics," she said. "It was nice to talk to them, but I generally lean toward the NDP."

In Picone Fine Food, Copps stops Michelle Magro of Carlisle. "I'm Sheila Copps," she repeats. "This is Filomena Tassi. She's running for election."

Magro admitted afterward that she didn't know who Copps was. At the next stop – Horn of Plenty – Lori Goldblatt did know her.

"I thought 'Wait a second. I recognize her,'" Goldblatt said. "It was kind of neat."

Whether people recognize her now or not, the Copps history with Hamilton Liberals is a storied one. And it's one filled with campaigns — some of them happy, some sad, some frustrating.

She first ran provincially for Hamilton Centre in 1977, when she was in her early twenties, and lost. In 1981, she won a seat as Hamilton Centre MPP and became the only woman in the Liberal caucus. Within a year of her win, she ran for leadership of the party, which she lost. Last year, she even revealed that during her time as MPP, she was sexually assaulted.

She ran and won the federal Hamilton East seat in 1984, and scrapped her way through parliament too. She was the first sitting MP ever to have a baby. In 1985, Conservative MP John Crosbie famously told her to "quiet down, baby," to which Copps retorted "I'm nobody's baby." Within a year, she'd published an autobiography called Nobody's Baby.

In 1990, she ran for the federal Liberal leadership — and lost. But she remained an MP until 2004, when scandal struck. Copps was a Jean Chretien loyalist and ran against Paul Martin for the federal Liberal leadership, a bid she maintained even after some thought she should concede. Martin won.

They know me because of the coliseum. They say, 'Oh, the coliseum is named after you.' And I say, 'No, that was my dad.'- Sheila Copps

Copps planned to run in the new riding of Hamilton East-Stoney Creek, thinking Tony Valeri, a Martin loyalist, would run in Niagara West-Glanbrook. But he didn't. He ran against her.

Copps narrowly lost the nomination. She asked authorities to investigate into phone and vote tampering. She appealed to the appeals commission of the Liberal party, but later dropped it. She wrote about it all in her 2004 book Worth Fighting For.

This isn't her first time back in Hamilton. Copps said she's helped the Liberals here in the last two elections. She's aware that she's not instantly recognizable anymore, and she's OK with that.

"I was in Bob Bratina's riding (of Hamilton East-Stoney Creek) and a young girl said 'I don't know you but I know of you,'" she said.

"They know me because of the coliseum. They say, 'Oh, the coliseum is named after you.' And I say, 'No, that was my dad.'"

I don't spend a lot of time looking back.- Sheila Copps on her battles with the Liberals

Copps insists she has no hard feelings anymore — even though as recently as 2012, she ran to be president of the federal Liberals and lost.

'Things happen for a reason'

"It's past history," said Copps, who runs her own communications firm. "I don't spend a lot of time looking back. I'm a great believer that in life, things happen for a reason."

Not surprisingly, she foresees a Tassi win, and Hamilton going from orange to red again. Tassi's rivals in the new riding of Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas dispute that prediction. The race is tight, and they're all feeling confident.

"Alex and her campaign team have been getting a positive response at the doorsteps," said Paul Mason, campaign manager for NDP candidate Alex Johnstone.

"We will continue to talk issues that matter … and run a positive campaign."

Green candidate Peter Ormond said he has a great chance too "if people vote for what they want."

'We've just been running a little harder'

As for Conservative candidate Vincent Samuel, campaign manager Ron Bowers said the team feels good about its chances.

"This riding has been a Conservative riding since 2006, and we fully expect that trend to continue," he said.

"All candidates have been running hard. We feel that we've just been running a little harder."

Whatever happens, Copps seemed to enjoy the chance on Wednesday to just work the street, whether people knew her or not.

"Some people in politics don't love the campaigning part," she said. "I always loved the campaigning part."

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