Premier Doug Ford made a surprise visit to the Barrie area on Friday.
Heading into the long weeked and escorted by local MPPs Andrea Khanjin (Barrie-Innisfil), Doug Downey (Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte) and Jill Dunlop (Simcoe North), it was Ford's first visit to the area since last summer's provincial election campaign.
The visit was unannounced and Ford had already left the area before BarrieToday was able to catch up with any of the local politicians involved with the tour.
Khanjin said there was no announcement made about the visit, but added it was an "incredible day, and the premier's really quite the rock star here."
The Barrie-Innisfil MPP said "it's not unusual" for the premier to visit ridings without any advanced notice.
"The premier obviously tours all around the province, so he wanted to come see what Barrie, Springwater and Oro, Midland and Orillia what they had to say there," she said told in a phone interview around 5 p.m. "Being the premier, he wants to get to every area of the province. He hadn't been back since the campaign."
Khanjin said it was a chance for Ford to "check in, because he wants to listen to people all around the province, not just in one pocket."
The meetings were just a chance for Ford to talk to business people directly, she said.
"It was really a listening session for him. It wasn't something that he was looking to get publicity for," Khanjin said. "He wants to make sure he's listening to all Ontarians in all corners of Ontario."
Ford's stops in Barrie included IBI Behavioural Services and Brotech Precision CNC before breaking for lunch at the Farmhouse, Khanjin said.
Brotech Precision vice-president Jerome Horowitz told BarrieToday that the visit from the premier was last-minute and unexpected.
“I don’t even know how it happened, to be honest,” Horowitz said. “I scheduled a meeting with MPP Khanjin about two weeks ago and today her assistant asked me if I’d be OK if the premier stopped by. Obviously, I was and we toured the facility and he spoke to pretty much everyone he could before we went and sat down to talk about what we do and to discuss a lot more about skilled trades promotion and nuclear industry.”
Brotech works with CNC machining and makes metal parts for high-precision equipment, currently being involved in many projects, including in the nuclear industry.
Horowitz told BarrieToday he felt the premier was keen to learn about what Brotech did and that Ford was at the local business for about 40 minutes.
“I think he was very interested in what we do and his stance was very clear in that he just wants to have government get out of businesses way and let them grow,” he said.
Then the entourage was off to Heritage Park and the Sandbox Centre in downtown Barrie before heading north to Blue Mountain Linen and a visit to the Orillia OPP detachment.
Khanjin said the visit was a chance for the premier to visit the region "and see what the key demands are," including from the local entrepreneurial sector, "which we have a lot of locally, especially in Barrie... because of our Open for Business agenda and some of the things we want to do with reducing all the red tape and regulatory burden."
Khanjin said people "really like to see the relief he's providing and lot of the policies we're introducing. He's willing to listen and actually implement the policies that help businesses thrive."
At Blue Mountain Linen in Orillia, Ford helped the business celebrate its expansion.
"The premier seemed really glad to be a part of that and had some words of encouragement for the business," said Orillia Mayor Steve Clarke, who as also at the facility on Harvie Settlement Road.
Clarke told OrilliaMatters, BarrieToday's sister site in Orillia, that Ford served cake to employees and folded laundry with staff.
Clarke was able to have a brief chat with Ford.
"I told him that Orillia was looking for ways to become more self-sufficient and rely less on other levels of government, and he kind of agreed with that philosophy," Clarke said.
William Dandie, MPP Dunlop's communications adviser and operations manager, confirmed Ford was in the riding, but could not provide details. A reporter was directed to Ford's media relations staff, who have not yet responded.
Calls to Dunlop's constituency offices in Midland and Orillia went unanswered.
Downey's office was closed on Friday and the local MPP could not be reached for comment.
-- With files from Shawn Gibson and Nathan Taylor