'It's been a wonderful run': Long-time Cape Breton MP Mark Eyking won't reoffer
Eyking, 58, cites the cleanup of the Sydney tar ponds among his biggest career accomplishments
Mark Eyking clearly remembers the day the Liberal Party asked him to run for a seat in the House of Commons.
That was in the fall of 2000.
Eyking, now 58, initially had no intentions of running. But the farmer had "a garage and a staple gun" and decided he could help the party with its campaign signs.
"I was in the broccoli field," he said. "They came and approached me and I said, 'Wow!' I didn't think my wife Pam would even consider it and she said, 'Well, I think you'd do a great job.'"
Nineteen years later, Eyking said he's had a "long, wonderful run" — but it's time to retire.
"There's a time when you say, 'OK, are you going to go again or are you not?'" said Eyking, the member for Sydney-Victoria. "I think in fairness to everyone, you don't wait until the last minute."
During his time in the House, Eyking has served as agriculture critic and chair of the standing committee on international trade.
Among his proudest accomplishments, he lists securing funding for a second cruise ship berth for the Port of Sydney, and the cleanup of the toxic mess left behind from Sydney's steel-making past, known as the Sydney tar ponds.
Eyking recalled phoning Paul Martin shortly after he was elected prime minister and asking about getting funding for the $400-million tar ponds project.
Martin told Eyking they needed a commitment from the provincial government first. So Eyking rang then-premier John Hamm on his cellphone.
"I said, 'Mr. Premier, I have the prime minister here. He wonders how much money you can put into cleaning the tar ponds.' And he said, 'Well, Mark, we can only put 40 per cent in. So you tell your prime minister that's all we got.' So I went back to Paul Martin and said, 'The premier said he has 40 per cent.' I think that was about $160 million. And Mr. Martin said, 'I guess we're in for the rest. So let's get it done.'"
Eyking said it was the "most exciting couple of hours" of his life.
The MP said the job was difficult, too, especially in the early years. He admits to almost throwing in the towel while trying to adjust to "life in the big city" and spending time away from his young family.
But eventually, he said, he learned how to "roll with it."
Eyking said he still has one goal before his term expires this fall. He wants employment insurance benefits extended for people suffering from serious illness, such as cancer.
Right now, he said, they're eligible for 15 weeks of EI, but many are just starting treatment at that point.
"And all of a sudden, they're losing their car, they're under stress," said Eyking.
Eyking said he doesn't have specific plans after he retires, but wants to spend more time with his grandchildren and perhaps explore his passions in food and agriculture.
And nearly 19 years to the day after he began his first campaign, Eyking plans to be back on his farm in Cape Breton.
"Come October 20th, I'm going to go jump back on that tractor, I guess."
With files from Cape Breton's Information Morning