In a strongly-worded letter to his “constituents and the people of Ontario”, Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston MPP, Randy Hillier, made a series of accusations against the 9 month-old Doug Ford government on Monday.
The letter came about in response to the announcement on Friday that Hillier has been permanently ousted from the Conservative Party Caucus at Queen’s Park.
In his trademark style, Hillier came out swinging, and the main focus of his attention were two members of Premier Doug Ford’s inner circle. One is Ford’s Chief of Staff, Dean French, and the other is Chris Froggatt, who chaired Ford’s transition committee. In September, Froggatt became a founding partner in a firm called Loyalist Public Affairs, which describes itself as a “boutique government relations and strategic communications firm based in Ottawa and Toronto.”
In his letter, Hillier talks about how the Ford government seems to have quickly lost its way.
“The PC Caucus was blessed with the election of many new and fresh faces in the June General Election. However, it has become clear that the backroom operatives took advantage of many of the newly elected members who, not being as well informed of parliamentary practices, rights, privileges, or conventions, were taken advantage of by Dean French and Chris Froggatt.
“Like many people, I had high hopes and expectations with the election of a PC government after 15 years of Liberal mismanagement, scandals, and harmful policies. I could not stand by and tolerate operatives engaging in similar and more egregious acts.”
He said that the very first time he met Dean French, at the Ford family BBQ last August, French indicated that he wanted Hillier out of the party caucus.
Hillier then cited ten reasons why he was expelled. Some of them refer to issues that he raised last week, before his expulsion became permanent, insisting on the right to debate public policy within caucus, not cheerleading enough in the house or on social media. But he also made an allegation that piqued the interest of the Toronto media establishment and prompted a quick response from the Premier’s office.
“For raising concerns of possible illegal and unregistered lobbying by close friends and advisors employed by Premier Ford”
In response, Simon Jefferies, Communications Director for the Ford government, released a written response refuting all ten of Hillier’s allegations point by point, calling them “absurd and categorically false.” He called the allegation of “possible illegal and unregistered lobbying “an outright lie”.
The matter was raised in the legislature on Monday, and Minister of Municipal Affairs, Steve Clark, who represents the Leeds Grenville riding which neighbours Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston, said that the illegal lobbying allegations were false.
Opposition parties asked for the matter to be looked into further, and the NDP urged Hillier to bring the matter to the attention of the Parliamentary Integrity Commissioner for vetting.
For his part, Hillier reiterated his commitment to serving the interests of his constituents at Queen’s Park as an independent MPP:
“I want to assure all of my constituents, regardless of political affiliation, that my removal from the PC Party Caucus will neither prevent nor impede my ability to represent each one of you to the best of my ability. I have never put the party line ahead of my constituents, and my removal from caucus will permit me greater freedom to speak publicly on government policy.
“Having conviction is more important than playing politics, that representation of my constituents is more important than being buddies with backroom operatives whose only mission is unrestrained power and control that always leads to corruption. I am now your conservative, independent Member for Lanark, Frontenac, Kingston, and I continue to be proud to represent you.”
As of this riding, it is unclear whether Hillier is still a member of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario.
Given the tenor of these latest statements, on both sides, it would be a real surprise for him to seek the party nomination, should he decide to run again in 2022, and even more unlikely that the party would let him seek the nomination.
What do Jody-Wilson Raybold and Randy Hillier have in common?
They are both Canadians and they are both politicians. That’s where their apparent similarities end.
Wilson Raybould is an indigenous lawyer from BC. Hillier is an electrician from Lanark County. Wilson Raybould is a Liberal, Hillier is not. Wilson Raybould is dedicated to Indigenous rights, Hillier is dedicated to landowners rights. Wilson-Raybould was embraced by her party leader as soon as she was elected for the first time and ushered into a prestigious cabinet position as Minister of Justice for Canada. Hillier was one of the longest serving Ontario Progressive Conservative MPP’s when his party finally took power after 12 years in opposition, and he was not chosen for a cabinet post.
But the two do share something else in common aside from being Canadians politicians. Over the past few month, they both found themselves at odds with their leaders, or more to the point, the people in positions of power within the offices of their leaders.
And they are both now on the outside looking in. Again, there are differences. Raybold left cabinet of her own accord and for the moment she is still a Liberal MP, whereas Hillier was summarily booted out of his party caucus on a slim pretext.
Wilson-Raybold was removed from her post as Justice Minister because she would yield to the will of the Prime Ministers Office. While she has not said that explicitly, the fact that she has not been offered the chance to confirm or deny that makes it all the more apparent that it is indeed the case. Hillier was removed from Caucus because he did not show the right amount of deference to the Premier’s office.
This is the common denominator in these cases, and it reflects the reality of politics all over Canada. Although we elect individual MP’s and MPP’s, the governments that emerge from those elections centralise all the power within the Prime Minister or the Premier’s office.
The role of MP or MPP is certainly relevant as far as local advocacy is concerned, and perhaps in terms of grants for the riding, but in terms of decision-making, members and even cabinet ministers have to defer to the unelected officials who are in place because they are appointed by the leader.
There are two ways to make this system more fair. The first would be for the party’s in power to change that reality. That is not going to happen.
We have been headed down this path ever since Trudeau senior was in power in Ottawa, and under Prime Ministers Mulroney, Chretien, and Harper it became more and more entrenched. And the same is true in Ontario.
In our system, when there is a majority government, the Premier or the Prime Minister, and by extension their personal office, have unchecked power save for the potential of a caucus revolt. Given the fact that the leader also controls the party apparatus, the chances of a caucus revolt, for a party in power, is slim to none.
The centralisation of power in the Premier or Prime Ministers office is an indelible feature of modern Canadian politics.
But when we go to the polls we elect a representative, not a party. Our voting system is out of step with the way our governments operate.
Since, as we have seen so graphically in these two cases, the party and the leader have full control over the government in our times, it is even more undemocratic that electoral reform has been shelved in both Ontario and Canada.
Since the leadership of the party in power had all of the legislative power and local representatives have become irrelevant in terms of policy development in provincial of federal politics, we need a new system.
If we can’t reform our Parliamentary system, then let’s be honest and move to a Presidential system, with a 50% threshold. There are two advantages to that system over what we have now in Canada.
First, at least the name of the leader who will exercise such power, will be on each of our ballots. Second, we can put checks on that power in place.
Right now, our Premiers and Prime Ministers have a level of unchecked power that is beyond anything that could be imagined in the United States, for example.
Just in case the return of rail service from Toronto to Ottawa via Peterborough is indeed a go, Frontenac County and Central Frontenac Council are both looking at making sure the case for a stop in Sharbot Lake is made to VIA rail, the builder, and the government of Canada, the funder.
As well, the Sharbot Lake Business Group, which was formed over the last year, to promote the interests of the business community in the vicinity of the hamlet, is looking at what needs to be done to ensure Sharbot Lake, and Central Frontenac, are enhanced by the return of passenger rail to the region.
(See article by Bill Bowick)
According to reporting from the CBC, VIA Rail is expecting a decision from Transport Canada on the $4 billion project in 2019, and if the go ahead is coming, it will likely be referred to in the Federal Budget, which will be tabled next week.
Paul Langan, who lives in Cambridge, is a long-time advocate for High Speed Rail, and runs the website Highspeedrailcanada.com. He is not, however, a supporter, nor a believer, in the Shining Waters Rail line.
“I question how VIA rail is making a proposal for $4 billion in federal dollars for a project that does not have a business plan attached to it. VIA has not even talked to the planning department of the City of Ottawa about the impact on the rail station from this new service,” he said.
VIA is promoting the line as a “high frequency train” rather than a high speed train, and Langan argues that the speeds that VIA is proposing will not make the train any more successful than it was when passenger service ceased, along the corridor, over 50 years ago.
“This 4 billion dollar debacle has VIA trains travelling at 1975 era speeds through sparsely-populated areas on an abandoned Ontario-Quebec Railway line. (Toronto-Peterborough-Ottawa). Then the line travels on to Montreal-Trois-Rivières-Québec City.”
He also points out that the proposal to run trains along the old line would result in level crossings at dozens of locations along the line, which would pose a safety risk. Langan says that railways around the world have implemented a standard of “Positive Train Controls” (PTC) on their passenger lines, to prevent accidents, but VIA has not adopted them.
“There is no information in what VIA Rail has released in their $4 billion plan that suggests PTC will be implemented on the track they will be building. Track that VIA Rail currently runs on, mostly CN Rail, is not slated to implement PTC systems. The plan should never be approved, but if it is approved, the federal government must demand PTC along the line,” he wrote.
In particular for Sharbot Lake, Langan points to a presentation made by VIA in Quebec last year, which presents a map that does not include Sharbot Lake or Tweed. This contradicts a map that includes both stops that was sent earlier to Central Frontenac and Frontenac County. This, he claims, shows that stops in Sharbot Lake and Tweed are not really planned for the proposed line, but that VIA is saying they will work out those details later.
However, the map that Langan included in his article only came from a presentation, and may only have been included to give a more general impression of the proposed rail system, skipping smaller stations that are still part of the plan. The map he points to also misses several stops in Quebec, including Dorion, Dorval and Laval near Montreal, and Ancienne Lorette and Sainte Foy near Quebec City.
In a phone interview this week with the News, Langan said that if people living in Sharbot Lake end up with a station and a service that helps the community, “I would be happy for them. I don’t oppose anyone in Sharbot Lake. I just think that there is a reason why passenger service was canceled many years ago and the same economic logic is still the same. VIA is using deception to get communities along the line to buy into their plan.”
While VIA has communicated with officials from Frontenac County and Central Frontenac Township over the last year or so, no details about the plan have been released other than the station map that came out a year ago.
According to Langan, “the facts are clear, VIA rail does not want the public to know the details of their plan. If they were a private corporation that would be fine, but they are a public corporation and they are seeking government money for their plans, so the public should be informed.”
Acting Public Works manager David Armstrong submitted a report on the waste amnesty program, a free trailer load of waste that applies to occupied properties in the township. After consulting with the waste site attendants, Armstrong recommended that instead of allowing the load to be brought to the waste site at any time between mid - May 24 and mid- September, as has been the case for several years, two weeks be designated instead. He recommended May 20-26 and August 26 – September 1st.
“The site attendants said that not knowing when the loads were coming sometimes resulted in several loads coming in while the sites were already very busy, leaving them unable to keep up. By choosing two weeks during the season we can put extra staffing on during those weeks to make things run more smoothly,” Armstrong said.
Councillor Tom Dewey said he did not agree with Armstrong’s analysis, and thought the system should remain as it has been. Councillor Nicki Gowdy agreed, saying that it is better for residents to be able to make use of their free load when it suits them, not the township.
Councillor Bill McDonald proposed an amendment. He said that a third week should be added in the early summer for the summer residents.
A vote on MacDonald’s amendment was approved as was the motion to restrict free loads to specific weeks. Dewey and Gowdy both voted against the motion. The dates for the third week will be determined by staff.
Alan Revill, Acting Manager of Development Services, reported that the Piccadilly Hall renovation will be complete by the end of March, and after a clean up the building will re-open for community use.
“The building will be much brighter inside with the painted walls instead of the dark panelling so it will be a very bright space to enjoy,” he said.
The Piccadilly Hall project will be completed within the revised budget that was approved several weeks ago.
The next facility that will be addressed in the township will be the stairs in front of the Oso Hall in Sharbot Lake. Revill said that some excavating work will need to be done before the exact scope of the project is determined and can be put to tender.
“The entrance will be closed when the project is underway and we will try to minimise the time that it takes to complete because the hall is used very often. The kitchen door will be used as the entrance while the stairs are being done,” he said.
The project was budgeted and the money will go over to the 2019 budget.
A joint tender with Frontenac Islands resulted in the bid from Morris Chemical being selected to deliver and apply Calcium chloride on gravel roads in both townships this summer. The projected cost of calcium chloride will be within budget expectations.
A joint tender with all three of the other Frontenac townships resulted in a winning bid by Trillium Pavement Marking for just under $54,000 to Central Frontenac. This a marginal savings of $41 dollars as compared to the bid by the only other bidder, Provincial Pavement Marking.
New plows ordered in 2019 and 2020.
David Armstrong made a request that Council approve the purchase of new snowploughs in each of the next two years. Armstrong explained that the company that has been contracting to make the truck will not be able to deliver a tandem truck until March of 2020, after the end of the winter season next year. But the company has a truck available now that does not meet the specifications in the tender, but would serve the township in the 2019/2020 season and be useful in the future as well.
When it was explained that staff already had intended to seek funds for new trucks in subsequent years anyway, to bring the fleet up to standard, Council approved purchasing both trucks.
No love for train whistle opponent.
Donald LaFleur, a resident of Crow Lake, brought two familiar issues before Council, speed limits and the trains that whistle when they pass over the Crow Lake road.
His proposal regarding speed limits was for a 50 km an hour zone to be put in for one kilometre to the east and one kilometre to the west of the 40km/hr zone that is in place within the hamlet area of Crow Lake.
That proposal was referred to the public works staff for comment.
On the issue of the train whistle, which he has been brought to Council in the past without success, LaFleur prepared a comprehensive submission. He pointed out, for example, that even in cases where there have been fatalities at rail crossings where the whistle does not blow, the missing whistle is not cited as the reason and trains still pass over the crossing without whistling.
He also pointed out, as he had when he came to Council two years ago, that the township would not create any liability if it asked Transport Canada to consider causing CP Railway to cease the trains from whistling at Crow Lake.
“The township only makes the request, it is Transport Canada who then considers whether it is safe, and if any changes are necessary. They make the decision and take responsibility,” he said.
Council did not see it that way.
“We look at it as a safety issue,” said Mayor Frances Smith.
CP trains cross over road 38 at two locations where there are clusters of households nearby, in Parham and Tichborne. The train whistles at those crossings.
Council decided not to act on Mr. LaFleur’s request.
A class of graduate students under Professor John Meligrana at the Queens University School of Urban and Regional Planning is looking for help from local landowners in Central and North Frontenac. The students are working on a project that is focussed on the issues that impact land use planning in rural areas.
Such regions are common in Eastern Ontario, and this project has used North and Central Frontenac as an example of rural areas with a wealth of lakes, the landscapes that contain them and few urban areas.
As part of their work, the students have been looking at a number of topics, including Rural Land Stewardship: Ideas, Concepts, and Indicators; Servicing Options for Private Land Owners; Shoreline Planning Considerations; and Rural Green Economies.
They have consulted with township and county staff and politicians, public and private sector planners, and others, and have prepared presentations about what they have learned.
The next step, according to Professor Meligrana, is to engage local individuals and property owners in their work. A free workshop, which is set for St. James Catholic Church Hall in Sharbot Lake on Friday, March 22, from 10am-3pm (free lunch included) will feature those presentations, followed by an engaging set of exercises that have been designed to bring out the insights of the local population on the true needs of the community and the local environment.
This first study that the students have completed will be extended by a second, more detailed study in the upcoming university term, which will incorporate what the students learn at the workshop. Beyond that, we hope that findings from these studies can be usefully extended to other similar areas in our region.
The Frontenac Stewardship Council has funded this work in the belief that good stewardship in non-urban areas will be enhanced by fresh planning approaches that acknowledge lake and landscape features as foundation elements of resilient communities of the future. The complete project will attempt to gather and incorporate, into those foundations, the views and hopes of people on the land.
Late last week, one of the members of the Lanark Frontenac Kingston (LFK) Progressive Conservative Party Riding Association, Ann Rawson, sent a letter to Ontario Premier Doug Ford asking that he reinstate MPP Randy Hillier to the Conservative Party Caucus at Queen’s Park.
Ford suspended Hillier from caucus indefinitely after Hillier said “yada, yada, yada” to New Democratic Party MPP Monique Taylor at the end of Question Period in February. Parents of autistic children, who were in the gallery that day, said that they were also being addressed by Hillier, prompting Ford to act in short order.
Later that afternoon, Hillier said that the, “yada, yada, yada” comment was directed only at Taylor, not at the parents in the gallery, but there has been no further comment from the Premier on Hillier’s future.
Speaking for herself, Rawson said “Premier Ford, it is reasonable to ask MPPs to vote with the decisions made by the caucus. It is not reasonable to demand conformity to a particular style - and it is certainly not a reason to throw someone out of caucus. In an age when so many politicians paint on fake facades and compromise their integrity without a second thought, Randy sticks by his beliefs and remains true to himself and the people who elected him … You need to welcome Randy Hillier back to caucus without delay.”
On Tuesday of this week, Mark MacDonald, President of the Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston (LFK) PC riding association, sent a letter on behalf of the riding executive.
After pointing out that Hillier’s comment on February 20 was directed at Monique Taylor, “and not anyone else” MacDonald attempted to convince Ford to reinstate Hillier in the caucus.
“As members of LFK, we strongly feel that expelling our elected member, Mr. Hillier, will alienate all members of LFK. As members of LFK, we wish to continue to work with you. However, in order to do so, we require our elected PC MP, Randy Hillier, to be in caucus. On behalf of the membership, I sincerely hope that you take into account the views of the members and voters of LFK who stand behind Randy Hillier.”
Recently, Ontario’s Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Steve Clark, sent a letter to Ontario municipalities concerning the supply of housing in the province. The letter also addressed the related matter of land use planning.
The letter said that the government is “reviewing the Planning Act and Provincial Policy Statement to ensure they are calibrated to achieve our streamlining and housing supply objectives.”
He then said that municipalities may want to wait until those changes are in place before embarking on any major local planning initiatives.
“I encourage you to consider the context of this streamlining work and its focus on the Planning Act and the Provincial Policy Statement, as it may help to inform your local actions. You may consider an interim pause on some planning decisions or reviews of major planning documents such as official plans or comprehensive zoning bylaw updates until this work is completed.”
Frontenac County Manager of Development Services, Joe Gallivan, said that two major initiatives in Frontenac County, the Central Frontenac Township Official Plan process, which is well underway, and the effort to improve the planning process across the county, should not be halted.
I think that, for a municipality such as Ottawa, which is starting to look at a new Official Plan, it pays to wait before spending large amounts of money on studies that will be necessary for that plan. But for Central Frontenac, I don’t think changes to the Provincial Policy Statement or the Planning Act will change things for them.”
He added that there is a lot of interest in Central Frontenac in developing Sharbot Lake as a regional hub in light of what might happen with Hwy. 7 and with VIA rail.
“The official plan renewal process has been going on for two years and, in my view, it should continue,” he said.
Frontenac County has made planning services the subject of a major internal review, under the direction of the County Manager of Continuous Improvement, Kevin Farrell. The county provides planning services to three of the four Frontenac municipalities, and has developed close ties with the planning department in South Frontenac, in recent months.
The long-anticipated initiative aims at developing a clear planning process that is consistent throughout the county, for the benefit of residents who may only deal with planning matters once, and developers as well.
“I don’t see why we should stop doing this work. We are off to a great start,” said Gallivan.
“Megan Rueckwald [Manager of Community Planning] from our office and Claire Dodds [Manager of Development Services] from South Frontenac led a meeting with all of the planning staff from the entire county recently and everyone was extremely positive about making improvements to the way planning is done in Frontenac County,” he said.
He indicated that any changes that do come from the provincial review can be incorporated into the local planning process.
It’s unlikely that members of the Maberly Fair Board will be eating butter tarts any time soon. Or at least they won’t be buying them at the Maberly Bake shop.
In Perth Criminal Court on Monday, May 4, Bonnie Palmer, owner of the shop, pleaded guilty of defrauding the board of $25,194.
In settling the case, Palmer agreed to pay back a portion of those funds, $11,699 and to donate $1,000 to YAK, a youth program in Perth.
Of the $11,699, the Fair board will only receive $1,699, under 7% of the total that they are out. $10,000 will go to the Co-Operators Insurance company, the Fair’s insurer, which provided that amount to the board when they made a claim for the financial loss.
Palmer became the treasurer of the Fair Board in January of 2017. Early in 2018, Perth Septic contacted another board member, and said that they had not been paid for services they provided to the Fair the preceding August.
When the board member went to the bank, they found out both the chequing and petty cash bank accounts had been depleted. After contacting Ms. Palmer and attempting to find out where the money had gone, without success, police were contacted in March of 2018. Charges were laid later in the summer, and the case has been before the Perth court since last September.
In surmising the case, the crown pointed out that of the moneys that were reported missing, up to $15,000 came in the form of cash donations and gate receipts from the fair that had never been deposited, making that money hard to track. The cash settlement in the case was based only on traceable moneys which had been removed from the bank accounts, which is why it was so much less than the amount that actually went missing.
In a joint submission, the Crown and Defence recommended that in addition to paying a total of $11,699 in restitution and a $1,000 donation, moneys that Ms. Palmer’s lawyer, Mr. MacDonald, said he already had in his possession, a 270-day conditional sentence be imposed, followed by an 18-month probationary period.
More detail about the case came out when two victim impact statements were read out in court. Fair Board chair Bill Cameron read an account from Board Secretary Rosetta McCinnis, who recalls that in February of 2017, one month after Palmer became the Treasurer, McCinnis deposited $1,100 in the bank, the proceeds of a highly successful ham and bean supper. They later found out that the very next day, Palmer wrote an $1,100 cheque from that account to herself.
In her victim impact statement, Janet Conlon, who had preceded Palmer as treasurer, said that Palmer’s actions have forced the board and the local community to be more suspicious of newcomers.
“After only a few years in the community, I was given a position of trust by the lifelong community members when I became treasurer. After then extending that trust to Bonnie Palmer and being re-paid in this way, that kind of trust has been broken and the community is not as open as it was.”
Conlon also countered a claim made by Ms. Palmer’s lawyer that the books had been in a state of disrepair when she took over.
“The books were up to date, all remittances had been paid and all the entries had been done when I handed it over to her,” said Conlon.
Palmer was given a chance to address the court. She said “it was a difficult situation all around. I’m sorry for the part I played … I could have done better, I am not a professional book-keeper.”
Judge Wright took issue with that statement.
“You are not in court today because of an allegation of book-keeping impropriety, you do understand that? You have pled guilty to a criminal offence … these types of offences are extremely harmful. This was not a large corporation. Not for profit, community organisations depend on public support, and the public is not as likely to support them in cases where the money that is donated has been stolen,” he said.
Despite any misgivings he may have had about the disposition of the case after hearing the victim impact statements and Bonnie Palmer’s response, the judge accepted the joint submission that had been made earlier on.
He told Palmer that she must remain in her home except for two four-hour periods each week, on Wednesday and Sunday mornings, except for work or medical appointments.
“You must be available in your home or at your place of work whenever police or other officials decide to check, and if you are not, the rest of the sentence will be served in jail. I hope you are clear on that,” he said.
“Good luck, Ms. Palmer,” he concluded, “I hope we don’t see you here again”.
Duncan Sinclair, former Dean of Medicine at Queen’s University, and the author of a book on health care reform in Ontario, now lives a quiet (for him) life on Buck Lake near Perth Road.
But he is still, at 85, involved in health care reform. He has been meeting, over the past year or so, with what he describes as a “a small group trying to organise what the current government is calling an “Ontario Health Team” in South Eastern Ontario.
I called him to this week to get his perspective on the latest government pronouncements over health care and their impact in Frontenac County. It turned out he was way ahead of the curve.
“I think what the government has in minds for healthcare has the potential to be a very good thing” he said in a telephone interview this week.
And there are plans for Eastern Ontario to be one of the first jurisdictions to see some wholesale changes.
A meeting took place in Kingston last week, attended by what Sinclair describes as a “coalition of the willing”, representatives from healthcare agencies from Hastings, Prince Edward, Lennox and Addington, Frontenac, Lanark and Leeds and Grenville Counties as well as the Citied of Belleville and Kingston, to talk about the potential to form a single Health Team to serve the 500,000 people living in those jurisdictions.
Sinclair said that the ambitious idea includes hospitals, primary care, Community Health Centres, and even Public Health Agencies at the outset.
“The idea is to transfer the responsibility for allocating resources from funders as it is now, those delivering service, and to be as efficient as possible in providing all of all of the services that people need, services acting together in consultation with people who are being served.”
In Frontenac County, the Sydenham and Verona Medical Clinics and Sharbot lake Family Health Teams could be part of the change, and community service agencies as well.
The group is attempting to work with the “coalition of the willing” to put together a proposal in short order for the province to look at. They would like to be ready the 14 Local Health Integration Networks (LHINS) fold and the new health care super agency takes over.
Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston MPP Randy Hillier was not named to Doug Ford’s cabinet, and his bid for the Speaker’s chair was unsuccessful, but he continues to make headlines nonetheless, this time by quoting Jerry Seinfeld.
Premier Doug Ford suspended Hillier from the Conservative Party caucus last Wednesday, (February 20) over a comment Hillier made at the end of Question Period that day. The visitor galleries were full up with parents of autistic children, and the NDP members of the house in particular were taking up their cause. The parents are angry about the direction the government is taking regarding funding for autism services, and fearful that the reforms to the system will be detrimental to their autistic children.
NDP MPP Monique Taylor (Hamilton Mountain) who is the Child and Family Services Critic for the NDP, has held meetings with some of the parents and has been one of the most persistent voices on the issue, in and outside of the legislature.
As the MPP’s were leaving the chamberafter Question Period, Hillier said, “Yada yada yada” a phrase that was made famous in an episode of the 1990’s sitcom ‘Seinfeld’.
The Merriam Webster definition for ‘yada yada’ is as follows: “boring or empty … often used interjectionally especially in recounting words regarded as too dull or predictable to be worth repeating.” Hillier’s third yada presumably upping the level of dull and predictable, by a third.
Some of the parents, who were in the visitors gallery overlooking the chamber, claim that Hillier’s “yada yada yada” comment was directed at them.
Shortly after, Premier Doug Ford suspended Hillier from the Conservative caucus, and issued the following statement: “Effective immediately, Randy Hillier has been suspended indefinitely from the Ontario PC Caucus following his disrespectful comments to parents of children with autism. I want to listen to every parent, and every family member who wants to share their stories and their asks. But Mr. Hillier’s comments crossed the line and that is unacceptable.”
Later that afternoon, Hillier said that his yada yada’s were not directed at the parents of autistic children, but only at Monique Taylor.
In a statement, Hillier acknowledged the “emotional challenges and hardships of the many families of autistic children who were present”. He said that the NDP caucus has been politicising the issue and that he finds “the exploitation of those families by members of the NDP caucus disheartening.”
The statement says the following about his own actions.
“At the end of Question Period as members were leaving their seats, Monique Taylor continued to politicise these hardships so I caught the eye of Ms. Taylor and simply said to her “yada, yada, yada.”
“In my twelve years in office I do not recall a member heckling a spectator in the gallery and all banter is always between members on the floor of the House.
“I apologise to the parents present who may have felt that my comments were directed at them: they were not, and never would be.”
At the time Hillier said that he would have a conversation with his colleagues within the Conservative Party to clear up the matter, but as of Tuesday, (February 26), there has been no change in Hillier’s status within the house, he is effectively an independent MPP, although he is still a member of the Conservative Party.
He has received support from some unusual sources however. In a post to Twitter, CBC correspondent Mike Crawley reported that reporters for the Toronto Star who witnessed the exchange, agreed with Hillier’s account of what happened, that his comments were addressed entirely at Taylor and not the families.
And in an editorial published on Sunday, the Star went further, using Hillier as a weapon in a critique of the Ford governments autism funding changes.
The editorial points to Hillier’s and Ford’s different viewpoints on who the yada yada’s were intended for, and then goes further.
“Either way, it’s far less disrespectful than what Ford himself said in 2014 when he was a Toronto city councillor. Ford said then that an Etobicoke home for teenagers with autism had ‘ruined the community,’ and followed that up by telling a father who complained about him to ‘go to hell’.
“Yada yada yada is also not as troubling as Children, Community and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod’s decision to threaten the Ontario Association for Behaviour Analysis with ‘four long years’ they didn’t publicly support her government’s autism overhaul.
“But Ford rushed to defend MacLeod as an ‘absolute all-star’ and ejected Hillier — pending a PC caucus meeting on Tuesday to decide his future.”
The editorial then speculates that Hillier is being punished by Ford.
“Could that be because MacLeod is doing his bidding and Hillier, an outspoken backbencher, is not?” the editorial says.
The irony around the fact that the Toronto Star is supporting Hillier, although only because he is on the outs with Doug Ford and the Conservative Party, was fodder for comment on Hillier’s twitter feed.
“Just what Randy needs: support from the Toronto Star,” was one of the comments.
(This article was written on Tuesday, February 26. A call in to Randy Hillier’s office for comment was made on Tuesday morning. Dave Shostal, from the office, called back in the afternoon. He said that Randy is not commenting publicly beyond what he said in the statement he released last week, but that he would put the Frontenac News on the list of those who had called him should he wish to comment at some point in the future. Shostal said that to his knowledge there had been no change in Hillier’s status within the Conservative caucus resulting from the weekly caucus meeting that took place earlier in the day.)