Tribute to the late Herb Epp, MPP in the Ontario Legislature
Ted Arnott, MPP
Wellington-Halton Hills MPP Ted Arnott delivered the following tribute to the
late Herb Epp, MPP in the Ontario Legislature on December 4, 2013
I feel so very honoured to have this chance this afternoon to say a few words about the
outstanding public service of Herbert Arnold Epp, who cared so much for his community that he
became known to everybody as “Mr. Waterloo.” On behalf of our leader, Tim Hudak, and my
Ontario Progressive Conservative colleagues, we welcome you, Jane, and the other members
of your family who have joined us here today.
It’s so appropriate that you are all here, for we remember Herb first and foremost as a family
man, as good and decent a gentleman as this place has ever seen. We remember him secondly
as a man whose devotion to his province and his vision of a better Ontario led him to seek
election to this Legislature in 1977, after effectively serving in local government. But for Herb
Epp, his family always came first.
Herb and Jane were blessed with two children of their own. David and Sarah grew up with their
dad in politics, first as an alderman, Waterloo regional councillor, mayor of the city of Waterloo,
and MPP for Waterloo North for 13 years, through four provincial elections, all of which he won.
But Herb also had a distinguished career as a high school teacher before he was elected, and
he was a successful realtor after he decided not to seek re-election to this place in 1990. But as
we all know, he wasn’t yet done with elected public service, and he made an amazing
comeback in 2003 to be elected mayor of the city of Waterloo for another term, something like
28 years since he was first elected mayor.
While it turned out that Herb was departing the Legislature in 1990, the same year that I was
fortunate to be first elected, I actually came to know him fairly well. Our first encounter was in
the early 1980s, when I was still a student at Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo and still
open-minded enough to want to go and hear the Ontario Liberal leader, David Peterson, and the
local MPPs, Herb Epp and John Sweeney, when they visited Laurier. I remember thinking that
these two local MPPs, Epp and Sweeney, supporting their leader that day, were polished,
professional and determined, and I was thinking that my beloved Tories were in for a tough fight
in the next provincial election. I was right about that, and as it turned out, Herb had his
opportunity to serve on the government side from 1985 on.
Through those years, he proved that a government MPP who works hard and is well-respected
can in fact make a significant contribution and get a lot done. We can’t all be Premier, and not
all of us end up in the cabinet, but we know that it is the private members, people like Herb Epp,
that are the foundation of the Ontario Legislature.
He was chair of his caucus, chair of the all-party Standing Committee on the Legislative
Assembly, and parliamentary assistant to the Treasurer, Robert Nixon. He was heavily involved
in the structural renovations to our assembly building, which had long been neglected, really
threatening the physical integrity of the building.
He did a lot behind the scenes for his constituents, and with visionary zeal he pushed hard to
ensure the long-term water supply for the communities of Kitchener-Waterloo would be assured
and guaranteed. In this he was showing careful regard for the needs of future generations, not
just looking out for his own interests in the next election. He was ahead of his time, thinking
about the challenges we continue to face going forward managing our drinking water resources.
No wonder that as long as his name was on the ballot in a provincial election, our party couldn’t
His last opponent, in a provincial election in 1987, was my good friend Elizabeth Witmer.
Elizabeth always said she ran in that election knowing she would lose to Herb but saw it as a
learning experience which would help her plan a winning campaign the next time, which of
course proved true as well. Elizabeth always had the highest regard for Herb as a person and
as a politician. They became close friends as well. Elizabeth even hired Herb’s two constituency
assistants after she was elected to succeed him in 1990. Can you imagine that happening
today? But she never regretted it, because Herb’s staff always wanted to put people ahead of
politics, just like she did. Just like Elizabeth Witmer, his political philosophy was pragmatic and
practical, with a focus on fiscal responsibility alongside a caring social conscience.
When he launched his political comeback and was re-elected mayor of the city of Waterloo in
2003, I was privileged to be representing the riding of Waterloo-Wellington, which included the
townships of Wellesley and Woolwich, which were parts of his old riding of Waterloo North. We
saw each other at many events in Kitchener-Waterloo, and I was always impressed by his warm
kindness and thoughtfulness.
There was nothing phony or artificial about Herb Epp, that’s why so many people loved and
respected him. As far as I know, he lived his life and made his career here without making any
enemies, only friends, and friendships that lasted across party lines. He was who he was-
nothing more, nothing less-a man who loved his family, loved his community and always sought
to strengthen it, and with Christian faith, lived his life to glorify God.
He left us far too early, in February of this year. We share his loss with the family who he loved
and who loved him so much.