Premier Doug Ford made a surprise visit to the region on Friday.
Heading into the long weeked and escorted by local MPPs Andrea Khanjin, Doug Downey and Jill Dunlop, 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 Village Media was able to catch up with any of the local politicians.
Earlier in the afternoon, William Dandie, communications adviser and operations manager for Dunlop, Simcoe North's MPP, confirmed Ford was in the area but could not provide details about where he was at the time. A reporter was directed to Ford's media relations staff, who have not responded.
Calls to Dunlop, as well as to her constituency offices in Midland and Orillia, went unanswered.
After touring businesses in Barrie, Ford headed to Orillia, where he visited the local OPP detachment. He also stopped in at Blue Mountain Linen to help 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 Mayor Steve Clarke, who was also at the facility on Harvie Settlement Road.
Clarke said 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.
Barrie-Innisfil MPP Andrea 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."
Khanjin 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 ... had to say there," said Khanjin. "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 Barrie-Innisfil MPP says the meetings were just a chance for Ford to talk to business people directly.
"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 local stops included IBI Behavioural Services on Saunders Road in Barrie and Brotech Precision CNC on Bayview Drive in Barrie before breaking for lunch at the Farmhouse, Khanjin said. Then it was off to Heritage Park, the Sandbox Centre in downtown Barrie. Then they headed to Orillia.
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."
— With files from Nathan Taylor