Last Tory MPP keeps Fitter than his Own Party

Windsor Star

Sat May 27 1995

Byline: By Gary Rennie Star Staff Reporter

The last Tory elected in Windsor starts each day with 25 push ups, more calisthenics, and a brisk one-hour walk.

Just turned 81 and planning to hit 100, Ivan Thrasher is in better shape than his party has been for more than three decades in this area.

Thrasher won a seat for the provincial PCs in a Windsor-Sandwich by election in 1964.

One of his vote-getting stunts was having a tugboat tow a gigantic election sign back and forth along the Detroit River waterfront when crowds were out.

After his victory, the Tories were so happy about getting a toehold in Liberal and NDP territory that then-premier John Robarts made a point of attending his swearing-in ceremony.

But Thrasher was defeated in the next election in 1967, and it's been a political drought in this area for the provincial Tories ever since. The federal Tories haven't done much better -- electing only one candidate locally in the past 30 years.

In the 1990 Ontario election, the PCs would have had to pool all their votes from the five area ridings to have a chance of getting one candidate elected.

Today, Thrasher is convinced he could have retained his seat but for two things.

The Tory party ran him so ragged making appearances and tackling issues in other ridings where they didn't have MPPs that he didn't spend enough time talking to voters in his own riding about what he was doing.

And a torrential downpour on election day kept too many of his supporters at home.

Thrasher says when he began making the usual calls to committed Tories late on election day, far too many told him they hadn't voted, but not to worry because he'd be elected easily. But he said he realized long before the polls closed that it was all over for him.

Thrasher never ran again, and left politics a little disillusioned. He went back to his real estate career, and training and racing thoroughbred racehorses -- owning 45 at one time.

He was disappointed he couldn't follow through on some of the political projects he'd been involved in --including the start to construction of the E.C. Row Expressway.

Thrasher says having a local PC as a member of the ruling government would have a difference. ``I think I could have had it finished in a couple of years.''

Instead, the expressway became a political football and subject to so many delays over the next three decades that it went into the Guinness book of Records as the world's slowest highway project.

Thrasher says his personal dream when he entered politics was to get federal and provincial co-operation on a plan to build multi-sport athletic facilities for youth in communities across the country.

Partly, he wanted to keep young people from getting into mischief with too much idle time. But he was also a strong supporter of the Olympic Games, and felt Canada should develop more world-class athletes. ``I never got to first base with that (the sport centres),'' he says. Getting federal and provincial governments to agree on the project was impossible, he says.

Thrasher said when he went into politics on a bit of a whim he ``didn't have an enemy in the world.'' Once elected, he soon discovered all kinds of political enemies -- not an ideal situation for someone who still needed some income from real estate sales.

No secretary

An MPP's annual salary at the time was only $8,000, Thrasher recalls. And out of that, you also had to pay for your own local office, and living expenses in Toronto while the government was sitting. He couldn't afford to hire a secretary and had to manage all his correspondence and contacts with constituents himself.

Thrasher says he enjoyed helping people who lived in his riding deal with government bureaucracy over things like pensions, worker's compensation claims, and the like. ``It was unbelievable how many people I was able to do something for.''

Getting behind civic projects with then-Windsor mayor Michael Patrick was also exciting. In particular, he recalls going to bat with the mayor to get a new charter for Windsor Raceway.

Thrasher hasn't been active in politics in recent years.

``At times, I think (NDP Leader) Bob Rae has done a pretty good job; at times, I think he's done a horrible job.'' Like a lot of voters, he says he hasn't figured out what Liberal Leader Lyn McLeod stands for.

Will vote for Harris

PC Leader Mike Harris may need a bit more seasoning, he figures. But ``when it comes right down to it, ``I'll vote for Harris.''

``Leadership is a pretty tough thing,'' Thrasher observes. ``People are getting extremely disappointed with politicians.'' His advice to any party is to get budget deficits down and regain control over the economy. Some of the ``giveaway programs'' have to go, he says.

Thrasher was born near Amherstburg where his large family had its roots. Of the seven Thrasher siblings, two others still survive and live in the area.

A brother Henry, who owned the gas station at Paquette Corners, is retired in Amherstburg. Another brother Oliver owns a farm in Anderdon Township.

By coincidence, a distant cousin Richard Thrasher, also born in Amherstburg, was the federal PC's leading light around the same time.

Richard Thrasher, a lawyer, assistant Crown Attorney and later judge, was elected in Essex South in 1957. He won re-election in 1958, but lost to Gene Whelan in 1962.

Two more defeats by Whelan in successive elections, and Richard Thrasher never ran again. He died in 1993.

The only other Tory elected since the 1960s was former broadcaster Jim Caldwell, who took the federal riding of Essex-Kent in 1984 in Brian Mulroney's sweep to power.

Thrasher and his wife Orpha moved to Guelph in 1983, but don't call them retired. He still dabbles in real estate, and his wife, a nurse, works part-time at a rest home.

Their five children are scattered around Ontario. A daughter Shelley still lives in Windsor; Jeff, Ruby and Ruth are in the Toronto area, and Rosemary lives in London.

The surviving Thrasher brothers, children, and grandchildren still gather every July for a reunion in Anderdon Township, and Ivan comes back to Windsor regularly to visit friends and relatives.

Thrasher and his wife are just back from a two-week trip to Holland where he re-lived some of his wartime experiences, and basked in the appreciation of the Dutch for Canadian liberators.

Thrasher was in the army survey crews assigned to spotting enemy artillery positions, and the task took him from two years of training in England to battlefields in Africa and Italy.

Varied past

But he ended the war in Holland, so it was exciting to return. Thrasher wrote about his experiences in Holland for the local paper, The Guelph Mercury.

``I have no regrets,'' he says about his varied past. And he's still got a keen eye toward the future. Interviewed recently, he was busy working out a list of projects for the coming year.

Besides his calisthenics and daily walks, he likes to hang upside down from a bar about 10 or 15 minutes a day to stretch out his muscles.

And he also enjoys playing the piano an hour a day -- a reminder of the years in Windsor when he and his brothers played in a eight-piece band.

Staying in good health, and keeping active are the keys to longevity, he advises. ``Nineteen years to go,'' he concludes -- a parting reference to his goal of living to be 100.