Jeff Green | Jul 10, 2019
For a time in the winter, Randy Hillier, the outspoken MPP for Lanark Frontenac Kingston, made headlines across the province when he was suspended and then permanently removed from the ruling Progressive Conservative Party caucus.
He says that he can trace when things began to turn sour between him and the “leadership of the party”, Doug Ford and his closest advisers within the Premier’s office.
It was over a year ago, during the election campaign. Hillier had become convinced that the Liberal Party were losing support, but that their supporters were not sure where to take their vote, partly because of unease over Doug Ford’s political history and lack of experience in provincial politics.
“I told the people who were running the campaign that we needed to convince people to vote for Doug Ford. I told them that I had been part of three losing campaigns and we needed to make sure we did not lose again.”
Not getting the response he was looking for, Hillier took matters into his own hands and posted a home-made video that featured himself, a Dodge Truck and the Ford brand name.
“It got a hundred thousand views and there was nothing in it that contradicted our election message, but the central campaign did not like that I had taken it upon myself the make it and post it.”
Later in the summer, after the party had been elected, he had an interaction with then Chief of Staff to Doug Ford, Dean French, at a party BBQ.
“He told me straight off that he wanted me out of caucus,” Hillier recalls.
Hillier was suspended from caucus this winter for saying “yada, yada, yada” to an NDP MPP after question period, something that he calls “standard fair at Queen’s Park that was twisted into being a pretext to remove me from caucus.”
His riding association has expressed its support for him, even after his suspension had become an expulsion, and over the last few months he has been revelling in his role as an Independent MPP, and has felt free to criticise aspects of government policy on his Twitter feed and elsewhere. He does not feel that the riding has or will lose out because he is not on the government benches.
“When I was in opposition the riding never lacked for support, that hasn’t changed ... I’ve got a good relationship with cabinet and my former colleagues; the relationships are strong.”
He will not rule out running for the Conservative Party in the next election, and remains a member of the party, but says “under the current leadership” he will not seek the nomination.
“I would like to see the leadership in the PC Party be different down the road to the extent that I would want to join. I will not associate myself with people who lack ethics and integrity.”
He added that he is not certain that Premier Ford will still be leading the PC party by the time the next election comes around.
“It is unprecedented for a government to fall so low in only one year after winning a majority. Everyone learns from their experience but will they learn well, or will they just double down. The premier came out and said that he thinks people don’t care about nepotism. I think he is wrong about that.”
Hillier has not had an easy relationship with former leaders of the Conservative Party as well. He was suspended from caucus under Tim Hudak, and was one of the strongest voices against Patrick Brown, raising questions about his ability to function within a party.
He said, however that he recognises that in order to work within a party, MPP’s need to refrain from commenting in some cases.
“Although I accept that your independence is curtailed when you are in a party and a caucus, there are limits. When you are elected you need to represent your constituents’ interests and political parties have to understand that. And if you want the party system to work well, there has to be some level of tension, some ability to challenge the policies that the leadership comes up with. You are not being disloyal just by challenging decisions that are being made.”
He supports some of the initiatives that have been undertaken by the Ford government, particularly the efforts that are underway to achieve healthcare reform.
“I have been to meetings in my riding where people from various parts of the healthcare sector have been working to come up with proposals that will work better for their patients, trying to fix a broken system,” he said.
But others, such as the changes in funding for autism, he said he cannot abide by.
“You’ve got to set your priorities, and one of the priorities I have always believed in is that you should spend money for those who are so disadvantaged that they cannot fend for themselves. But to provide $35 million to Maple Leaf Foods to built a plant and a week later limit eligibility for autism funding for so many families, is difficult to support.”
As an Independent MPP, he said that he is still able to help his constituents navigate the government bureaucracy.
“Often, it is a matter of calling the right people within a ministry and making the right argument. I had a case last week, when an individual who produces mobility devices had a long-standing problem getting paid by the Ministry of Health. We were able to sort that out.”
This summer Randy Hillier is taking a few days off to spend time with his 6 young grandchildren, but will be out in the riding for the rest of the summer meeting with constituents. He will also be monitoring government announcements and taking to Twitter to express his unbridled opinions, just as he did when he was an opposition MPP.