09/21/2015 01:11 EDT | Updated 09/20/2016 05:12 EDT

Tim Laidler, Port Moody-Coquitlam Tory Candidate, Has Military Background That Influenced Political Run

At 22, Tim Laidler served as a corporal in the Canadian military and did a tour in Afghanistan.

PORT MOODY, B.C. — Many would-be politicians seek to line up dozens of endorsements to bolster their reputations, and Conservative candidate Tim Laidler is no exception.

But on Sunday, he is basking in the star power of two high profile Tories coming to aid his campaign for the riding of Port Moody-Coquitlam.

Outgoing B.C. MP James Moore and Laureen Harper, spouse of party leader Stephen Harper, are making a rare joint public appearance this campaign in the Vancouver-area riding, one the party sees as a bellwether for its political fortunes in the Lower Mainland.

But there's another group of people quietly supporting the 30-year-old's campaign — not for partisan reasons, but personal ones. For several young Afghans, Laidler is the reason they are in Canada.

At 22, Laidler served as a corporal in the Canadian military and during his tour in Afghanistan was in near daily contact with Afghans working as interpreters for the forces. When he and other soldiers learned the Afghans had little by way of benefits, even when injured, and the extent to which working for Canadians put their lives at risk, the soldiers began calling for the Canadian government to help.

The result was a unique immigration program that saw dozens of former interpreters and their families resettled in Canada, many in B.C.

Laidler has kept in touch and in recent weeks, some of the men have shown up at his campaign to shake his hand. 

Laidler's connection to the Afghans isn't something he highlights on the resume he hands out when door-knocking in the riding, but his experience in Afghanistan helps in countless ways, including the all-important first impression at the doors.

"I'm 30, but people sometimes assume I'm in my early 20s," Laidler said in an interview with The Canadian Press at his campaign office in August.

"But once they've seen I've done 10 years in the military . . ."

While his military credentials may seem like enough to win Conservative voters, Laidler translates his experience as a soldier in different ways.

People want concrete answers about how the government is going to improve their lives and those of their children, not high level tax policy, he says.

"And the answer for me is talking about this is my first time in politics but I do have a lot of experience internationally, I've seen economies in Afghanistan where they are starting from scratch almost and other places in Asia and Europe where things are at different stages," he said.

Then comes the Conservative pitch about how well-off Canada is and how more international trade will benefit the local port, which in turn will create jobs — a pitch people can understand, he says.

PTSD led him to politics

Laidler also has an understanding of why people might not trust government to get things done. He'd been that way himself.

"When I came home from Afghanistan, I'd studied political science, I'd door-knocked in politics before, but I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder, I thought the system doesn't work, people don't listen, nothing gets done."

He'd also come home with post traumatic stress disorder. That led him to a research program at the University of British Columbia, focusing on helping veterans transition to civilian life, a program he eventually ended up helping run. That took him to Parliament Hill where the Veterans Transition Network was ultimately awarded significant funding to roll out its services nationally.

The experience taught him, he said, that if you approach situations in a positive way — focusing on a solution instead of a problem — then the chip on your shoulder can vanish. And so, he's running for office. 

While Sunday's star showing is sure to give his campaign a boost, several Conservative cabinet ministers have been publicly supporting him for months, posting pictures of themselves with Laidler on social media or sending public notes of encouragement.

Tim Laidler, left, poses for a photo with Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and outgoing industry minister and B.C. MP James Moore. (Photo: PMO/Facebook)

Those photographs have drawn criticism; PressProgress, a media project under the auspices of the left-leaning Broadbent Institute, noted that the pictures were often taken at government funding announcements, suggesting taxpayer resources went into what were essentially campaign snaps for the candidate.

The issue even came up during Question Period, raised by the NDP.

Laidler is fighting to take an NDP seat away from the party. The incumbent for the area is Fin Donnelly, who won the seat in 2011 by about 2,000 votes.

But redistribution has changed the boundaries, putting more people who voted Conservative in 2011 into the district. Both parties say they expect it to be a tough fight.

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