When Eric Melillo announced his bid to represent Kenora in the House of Commons last spring, few would've given the 20-year-old a chance. After all, he would have to knock off long-term incumbent Bob Nault, who had been in politics since before Melillo was born.
Still, Melillo's determination paid off, as he won the riding in a tight three-way race last October. In a see-saw battle, NDP challenger Rudy Turtle of Grassy Narrows took the early lead, after two visits from national leader Jagmeet Singh, only to watch it evaporate, as the results poured in on election night.
Nault's family and friends had been through many of these nights, but it must've been hard, as his lead also slipped away into the night. In the end, it was the upstart -- who had only just finished university -- who was left standing.
"Hard work," said Melillo at the end of the night.
"We put it all out there. We had a great team. We've been working hard, really, since February with the nomination process spreading our message and ensuring that people know I'm going to put our constituents first and get ready to go to work for real tomorrow morning," he said in his victory speech.
When asked to talk about the dominant issue, the new MP was equally clear.
"One of the biggest ones I've heard over and over in our riding is affordability. So many issues touch on it. It really is something that I think encompasses a lot of the broader issues we see here. That's definitely one of the biggest ones," he said.
Provincial cabinet minister Greg Rickford was also pleased to see his political apprentice was successful. Melillo was a student at Beaver Brae, when he first offered to work for Rickford. Over the years, Melillo graduated from party volunteer to constituency office worker to becoming Rickford's campaign manager last spring.
As one of the younger new faces in Ottawa this fall, at 21, Melillo quickly went from the fire place into the fire, as he became part of the post-election turbulence that would eventually unseat party leader Andrew Scheer.
“Andrew Scheer has made a decision to put his family first. I respect his decision and thank him for his service to Canadians and to our Party,” said Melillo. “Our caucus remains focused on delivering positive change for Canadians and holding this government to account.”
The riding's new MP has also taken steps to heal rifts from the campaign. He met with Nault and Turtle the morning after the election. He sent out early messages in favour of a mercury treatment clinic for Grassy Narrows, where Turtle is chief. He also supported calls for an addictions treatment centre at Mishkeegogamang First Nation.
Since most of his party members will be from western Canada, Melillo has voiced his support for national unity. He says a resurgence of the Bloc Quebecois is only part of a larger trend of ebb and flow, with an ebbing of support to follow for the separatist party.
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