Randy Hillier: his heart's in the Right place, but is he?

January 17, 2011 by  

Over at the National Post’s blog, Progressive Conservative MPP Randy Hillier writes about his proposal to make a legislator’s pay increases contingent on increases in “the standard of living”. I agree with Hillier’s sentiment – that legislators should be more personally accountable for the harm they cause – but I disagree with his strategy (see a copy my critique of it – which I originally posted to the comments section of Hillier’s post – below). Such, it seems, is often the case: Hillier’s heart seems to be in the right place, but I disagree with his strategy.

Perhaps the most important aspect of this is Hillier’s strategy to bring into the Legislature MPPs who seek less government intervention in the economy. And so, for the first time, I will disclose an until-now never disclosed history of Hillier’s strategy.

In November of 2005, Freedom Party of Ontario president Robert Metz received a call from the Ontario Landowners Association (Metz does not know whether Hillier – who was the OLA’s president at the time – was the fellow who phoned). The OLA representative asked whether I (i.e., the leader of Freedom Party of Ontario) would be interested in giving a speech at the OLA’s March 2006 meeting. Metz affirmed that I would be willing to do so. We heard nothing more about it until I read Ian Urquhart’s March 8, 2006 column in the Toronto Star. Urquhart reported that, that evening, then Progressive Conservative leader John Tory would take the stage with then OLA president Randy Hillier. He did so, and gave a speech in which he praised the OLA for “the great work you have done”.

On January 15, 2007, Hillier announced that he was stepping down as OLA president. The following day, he called Freedom Party of Ontario president Robert Metz. They agreed that they’d speak again two weeks later, in or about the end of January or beginning of February. On or about February 7, 2007, it was reported that Hillier would be seeking the Progressive Conservative nomination in the soon-to-be-new riding of Lanark, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington: a riding that was to be formed as soon as the 2007 election writ was dropped. The new riding including some of the territory comprising the former Lanark Carleton, then held by Progressive Conservative MPP Norm Sterling.

It would not be unreasonable to guess that, by first laying out the possibility of OLA support for Freedom Party, Hillier was able to put then-leader John Tory into a difficult spot. Either Tory could welcome the OLA and Hillier into the Progressive Conservative Party, or he could risk the emergence of an OLA-backed Freedom Party in Ontario’s rural ridings: the ridings where the Progressive Conservatives still cling to existence. Clearly, just as Tory had agreed to speak at the OLA’s meeting, he also decided not to risk refusing to sign Hillier’s nomination papers.

In the 2007 election, Hillier won the seat for Lanark, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington, and Sterling became the MPP for the resultant, adjacent riding of Carleton-Mississippi Mills. Jack MacLaren took over as the OLA’s next president.

In November 2010, the president of the Carleton-Mississippi Mills Progressive Conservative riding association reportedly sent out a panicked message to the riding membership warning of a “hostile takeover” of the riding association by a former OLA President, Jack MacLaren. Sterling condemned the attempt, saying:

“This is political opportunism. He [MacLaren] thinks this is the easiest way into the legislature,”

The attempt to change the executive of the riding association failed, but Sterling pointed the finger at his neighbour and fellow PC MPP Randy Hillier. Writing on December 3, 2010, the Ottawa Citizen’s Lee Greenberg quoted Sterling thusly:

“He should either be a member of the team…or he should step outside the team and run as an Ontario Landowner under his own party label.”

Greenberg’s quotation having been republished by Globe and Mail columnist Adam Radwanski, the federal MP for Hillier’s riding responded to Radwanski’s column with a letter to the Globe and Mail denouncing Sterling’s attack on Hillier. And the current OLA president, Deborah Madill, shot off an official letter to now Progressive Conservative leader condemning Sterling and asking the Progressive Conservatives to “…respect the OLA and its goals”.

So, is it reasonable to guess that Hillier and his fellow OLA activists have a strategy of taking over local Progressive Conservative riding associations and nominating OLA-related individuals as PC candidates? Of course it does, and it is likely the case. However, I have to say that, though their goal may be laudable, I think their strategy is doomed to fail.

Things are what they are. You can call a dog a cat three hundred times and not change the fact that the dog is a dog. Similarly, a political party is not a car that can be hijacked and driven to Queens Park. Political parties are nothing but groups of individuals having similar interests. A party’s red tory membership cannot be hijacked and forced to support an agenda of respecting property rights. If OLA members were somehow to hijack all or most Progressive Conservative Party executives, and were no longer to represent the interests of the red tory socialists who currently comprise the majority of its membership, the red tories would simply leave the Progressive Conservative Party, register a new party name (e.g., the Red Party) and continue on as usual. The public would not be fooled: the dwindling blue-rinse crowd that continues to vote Progressive Conservative, knowing that the “Progressive Conservative” label had been taken over by the OLA, would simply vote for Red Party members instead. They are who they are, they want what they want, and what they want is the status quo, not the OLA agenda.

In the meantime, any former OLA individuals who manage to get enough people to buy PC memberships that they can win a party nomination will find themselves instantly marginalized within the Progressive Conservative Party. They will also find themselves continually criticized, as Hillier is being criticized by Sterling (rest assured, Sterling, not Hillier, speaks for the majority of the PC party membership in respect of those who share the OLA’s goals). They will be a party within a party, destined to exit the PC caucus voluntarily or involuntarily. The only question is whether they will take advantage of the opportunity exit the party while the legislature is still in session.

All of the above being said, I respect Hillier’s tenacity, wish him well, and remind him, in closing, of this: floors are designed to be crossed.

My critique of his strategy for increasing MPP accountability follows:

Making politicians personally accountable for the harm they do to the governed is certainly an idea worthy of consideration. However, were one to increase a legislator’s pay if “the standard of living for people in a province increases”, one might well find even socialists getting an increase in pay: in a stagnant economy, one might merely need to rob 10% of the highest-income earners and send a cheque to the other 90%. Voila! Overall, the average person’s standard of living would have increased. The following year – after the 10% have moved to another jurisdiction – 10% of the remaining 90% of the relatively poor could repeat the process. And repeat, and repeat, until the province was left devoid both of productive people and of a viable economy.

And, if one considers the history of this province – decades of mostly Progressive Conservative wealth redistribution since the 1930s and as recently as Tim Hudak’s promises to subsidize farmers – one will quickly observe that, in fact, that yearly repetition has been in place the whole time, and MPPs salaries have continued to increase the whole time.

Here’s an alternative plan: stop worrying about MPP pay increases and the standard of living of Sleep-a-day-Sam. Leave every individual’s standard of living to be a private issue…one resolved by the decision either to be productive, or to be unproductive. In short: let people work for a living, instead of finding new incentives for them to vote for a living.

Paul McKeever
Leader, Freedom Party of Ontario


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