OTTAWA — Alex Ruff, a retired colonel with 25 years in the Armed Forces, has missed commemorating Remembrance Day in his hometown of Tara, Ont. just six times.
He’d even scheduled leave from his last deployment in Baghdad so he could be in the small rural town near Owen Sound, not just for the ceremonies but for an annual euchre game with his father and a pair of local brothers, one of whom is a vet himself.
It’s a tradition he’s determined to continue this year, even as his schedule is suddenly far fuller. Ruff is the new Conservative member of Parliament for the riding of Bruce Grey-Owen Sound, and is fielding far more requests for his presence at events.
“This was never my dream or plan, I looked at them like they had three heads, why would I ever want to get involved in politics?,” he said of his response to a suggestion that he consider replacing outgoing Conservative MP Larry Miller.
“But the more I thought about it, the more excited I got, because I just looked at it as a way to continue to serve.”
In winning the longtime Tory seat in last month’s vote, Ruff became the latest soldier to join the political ranks, a group that’s expanded in recent years.
In the Liberal party, current and veteran soldiers include Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, a lieutenant-colonel who has served in Bosnia and Afghanistan. Liberal MP Karen McCrimmon is a retired lieutenant-colonel who was the first woman to command a Canadian Forces air force squadron. Retired lieutenant-general Andrew Leslie, former chief of the land staff, was a high-ranking Liberal in the last Parliament, but did not run again this fall.
Ruff joins several other Conservatives with military backgrounds, including Erin O’Toole, a former Royal Canadian Air Force officer, Pierre Paul-Hus, a longtime reservist, and Leona Alleslev, who was a captain in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Unlike them however, Ruff, 45, transitioned almost directly from the Armed Forces to political life. He was posted in Iraq until earlier this year. He joined the military as an infantry officer, and over the next two decades he served twice in Bosnia and twice in Afghanistan before his posting in Iraq.
In Afghanistan, he was on the ground for two of the deadliest improvised explosive device attacks Canadians would experience throughout the military’s presence in Kandahar.
On Easter Sunday of April 2007, six soldiers were killed when their light armoured vehicle ran over a roadside bomb. Ruff was the company’s commander at the time, and raced to the scene from his nearby work securing irrigation sites.
The memories of the six men are with him still.
“They are ingrained in my head,” he said.
Three months later, in July 2007, another massive blast killed six more soldiers.
Among the dead was Capt. Matthew Dawe. His mother Reine Samson Dawe is this year’s Silver Cross Mother, who will lay a wreath at the National War Memorial in Ottawa Monday on behalf of all the mothers who have lost children to war.
Ruff has a child of his own, a six-year-old girl. He said he feels it is essential to keep involving children in Remembrance Day events, so they can understand why Canada enjoys the freedoms it does today.
Soldiers like him, he said, who have more contemporary experience with war than the grandfathers and great grandfathers who served in the World Wars, also keep it relevant.
It’s a point of view he intends to bring to his new life as a politician.
While he’d be a natural fit for the jobs of defence or foreign affairs critic, he said that like the military, he’ll serve where he’s asked.
“The military and the veterans issues — I don’t need to be anything associated with them because they’re going to get my opinion and feedback on that whether they want it or not,” he said.
“You’re not going to take that out of me after 25 years of service.”