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Thursday, June 11, 2009
Everybody Loves Randy
But do they love his ideas?
Hillier was dismissed as a libertarian radical and quietly jeered by some members of his own party when he captured the Tory nomination in Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington in 2007.
Now in the race to succeed John Tory, he is a man whose support is being courted by all three of his opponents.
Hillier's influence was on full display at a leadership debate in London, where he was showered with attention by each of his three opponents.
"I side absolutely with my colleague Randy Hillier on this one," beamed MPP Frank Klees, in one variation of a repeated endorsement.
Hillier doesn't have a Tory's chance in downtown Toronto of winning the leadership. He has however influenced the policy debates of the campaign, putting the Human Rights Commissions front and center, and even provoking Tim "Middle Class" Hudak and Frank Klees to back Senate elections. None of these issues were on the public's political radar a few months ago.
"Randy's saying a lot of things people like to hear," says Murdoch. "A lot of first place votes will go to him. And that's OK, I always tell people they should vote the way they want, but if I could have their second place vote (for Elliott), that'd be good."
His argument: Hillier's populist policies, which include raising the speed limits on provincial highways, allowing alcohol sales in corner stores, allowing municipalities to de-amalgamate, scrapping the province's unpopular property assessment agency MPAC and cracking down on native land occupations, are often incompatible with "real life."
It was once said of Henry James, that he was an American who out Englished th English. Randy Hillier is a Common Sense Revolutionary who is pushing further and harder than the Harris government ever ventured. He is out Harrising Harris. Naturally, some of our friends on the Left think differently:
Warren Kinsella, a lobbyist who has played key roles in past provincial elections, said Hillier would keep Dalton McGuinty in power "for, say, the next 100 years."
"In all seriousness, the fact that the likes of Randy Hillier is a force to be reckoned with in Ontario's Conservative party ... tells voters they don't have a serious political party anymore. They have become a rural rump."
Which is what they said in 1995. The Dalt's two terms will be remembered for deficits and petty nanny statism - highlighted by banning pit bulls and mandating seat belt usage. The vision thing is decidedly lacking and the current eHealth scandal, as well as the backlash from tax harmonization, is likely to sink the Good Ship Grit come 2011. The voters of Ontario are not nearly as partisan, or ideological as most QP operatives would like to believe. A clear and consistent alternative to the mediocrity and drift of the last few years, just as the province will be recovering from the current recession, will be welcome.
The problem with Hillier is not his principles, but his still unpolished performances and lack of focus on issues that resonate with suburban, er, Middle Class Ontarians - as Mr Hudak never stops reminding us. In some ways Hillier's strategy makes sense, he comes from rural Ontario and his influence stems from his support for rural issues. Lacking a proper provincial network he is focusing on building the depth of his organization rather than wasting time, in a relatively short campaign, fanning out across the province.
Less than two years in electoral politics Hillier has traveled very far and made a remarkable impact. Why? The sneaking suspicion among many provincial Tories, despite their initial liking of Tim Hudak, is that he is an empty suit. This has not been helped by his sound bite performances at the debates, including the never ending invocation of the Middle Class. I don't believe that Tim Hudak is an empty suit, he seems, however, to have succumb to front-runners-syndrome. Seeing the leadership, and the Premier's office, within his grasp Hudak and advisors have played the game very safely.
The biggest back of the mind issue, that doesn't show up directly in the polls, among the electorate is the lack of clarity. The political class is largely indistinguishable. Like the Big Banks, each of the parties has their brand colour, and they'll all try to rip you off is the main sentiment. What energized the party in the Harris years was his political clarity. The kind of clarity that Hillier has, so far, exuded:
"When we stand for nothing, we lose everything," Mr. Hillier said, citing the party's poor showing in the past provincial election. He made his remarks during the last of four regional debates among the four aspiring leaders.
His barb was a poke at Christine Elliott, who has tagged herself as a "compassionate" conservative. She called yesterday for a doubling of the provincial charitable tax benefit to encourage giving, and said her more moderate brand of Conservatism is needed to defeat the Dalton McGuinty's Liberals in the 2011 provincial election, a contest that is certain to hit political lows, she added.
"It will be negative and it will be dirty."
Yes, and trying to eliminate whatever daylight exists between you and the government ain't going to help.
Here's a slogan Randy Hillier would love to see on Ontario's licence plates, but it's not "yours to discover."
The first-term MPP and rural rights advocate seeking the leadership of Ontario's Progressive Conservatives prefers "live free or die."
"New Hampshire's a beautiful state," he quips.
Hillier, 50, a self-described "libertarian" comfortable with the anti-government rhetoric of American conservatives, tried to change the system from outside as founding head of the Ontario Landowners Association. Now he figures his best shot at protecting property rights and those of individuals is at the helm of what was once known as Ontario's natural governing party.
What we can hope for in this leadership campaign is a clear Tim Hudak win, as the most electorally viable right wing candidate, with Randy Hillier as the kingmaker. Hudak is a very polished and highly experienced performer. His wife and team of advisors comprises some of the most talented operatives on the bluish ends of the Canadian political spectrum. A Hudak leadership indebted to Hillier will help ensure that a Premier Hudak, a distinct possibility given how weak a candidate the Dalt truly is, doesn't again succumb to front runners syndrome. Among the first requirements of a Hudak-Hillier partnership should be this: From now until the election in October 2011, Tim Hudak is absolutely forbidden from using the term Middle Class. That's surely something we can all agree on.
Posted by Richard Anderson on June 11, 2009 | Permalink
Since I don't live anywhere near Ottawa I had to follow along at the internet website Tin set up online for his supporters. The Ottawa Citizen article mostly talked about Hillier which filled me in on the other candidates.
Publius is correct that Randy Hillier has been great for this leadership campaign and while it looks like Tim HUdak is going to win, he should definitely give Randy a prominent cabinet position when the conservatives get a majority.
Posted by: James | 2009-06-11 10:30:10 AM
Conservatives getting a majority?? I highly doubt it at this point.
Posted by: Bob Peloquin | 2009-06-16 1:02:00 AM
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