The Ford government was in damage control mode Monday, denying allegations that an outspoken legislator was expelled from Progressive Conservative caucus for raising concerns about possible “illegal and unregistered” lobbying by the premier’s friends and advisers.
Randy Hillier, a veteran politician who represents the eastern Ontario riding of Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston, was ousted Friday after the party said he was unwilling to be a team player.
But in an open letter Monday, Hillier gave his version of events, claiming he was turfed after pushing back against party operatives who he alleged are silencing elected politicians.
“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,” Hillier said. “I could not stand by and tolerate operatives engaging in similar and more egregious acts.”
Hillier, who wasn’t at the legislature Monday, alleged he was condemned for a variety of activities including raising concerns of possible illegal and unregistered lobbying by close friends and advisers employed by Premier Doug Ford.
He also claimed he was punished for refusing to obtain permission to speak to the media and for failing to stand and applaud the government during legislative sessions.
He further alleged he was condemned for not seeking permission to attend his brother’s funeral.
“This, to me, is the most egregious act,” Hillier said. “It undermines me as a person and thereby undermines all Ontarians by putting party politics above compassion and respect.”
Ford’s spokesman, Simon Jefferies, said all the allegations outlined in Hillier’s letter were “an outright lie.”
“These fabrications are absurd and categorically false,” Jefferies said in a statement that went through Hillier’s allegations point by point to refute them.
“If any of this letter was true, why didn’t Randy Hillier quit caucus on principle or raise these issues with the premier. Instead he launched a PR campaign begging to get back into caucus.”
Hillier was suspended from caucus last month for comments he allegedly made as parents of children with autism packed the legislature’s galleries in protest of the government’s recent funding changes. Some parents said Hillier said “yada yada yada” to them near the end of question period, but Hillier maintains the remarks were directed at the Opposition New Democrats.
The Tories permanently expelled Hillier from caucus on Friday following what they said was a review of his behaviour before and after his suspension.
Ford was not in Question Period on Monday, but several of his top cabinet ministers also refuted Hillier’s accusations and said he had refused to be part of the team.
“Everybody in our caucus wanted to work with Mr. Hillier,” said Finance Minister Vic Fedeli. “But it’s very clear Mr. Hillier did not want work with our caucus.”
Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy also said Hillier wasn’t willing to be a team player, while Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark specifically denied Hillier’s accusations about improper lobbying.
“This government for the people respects the rules of this house, respects the rules in terms of the integrity commissioner, the lobbyist registry,” Clark said.
But independent legislator Amanda Simard, who left Tory caucus last year over cuts to francophone services, said Hillier’s comments about not being able to raise concerns freely echoed what she felt about the party at the time.
“I didn’t feel that I could speak,” she said, adding that she believed too much power was centralized within the premier’s office. “I’m not the only one that thinks that and I’m glad that people are starting to see it.”
NDP legislator Taras Natyshak wrote Ontario Provincial Police Interim Commissioner Gary Couture on Monday, calling on the service to investigate Hillier’s allegations of illegal and unregistered lobbying.
“These, among other allegations disclosed in the letter, are disturbing, first-hand indications that illegal activities may have taken place, or may be ongoing,” he said.
Interim Liberal leader John Fraser called on Hillier to come forward and provide more information on his allegations to province’s integrity commissioner.
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said the Tory caucus has now lost two members who stood up for their constituents and were punished for doing so.
“We’re elected to represent our constituents, put our constituents first, not to be a member of a high-priced pom pom squad for the premier,” he said.