Randy Hillier was right to blow the whistle against Brown-style centralization of power under Ford
Randy Hillier took a brave step in speaking truth to power last month. Mr. Hillier’s letter outlining his ethical and legal concerns surrounding Premier Ford’s key advisors is quite revealing. Now it turns out that the OPP “anti-rackets squad” is investigating suggestions of “unregistered lobbying” at the very highest levels.
I am sure every honest and law-abiding member of the Ontario PC Party looks forward to the results of this investigation, and expects any wrong-doing to be dealt with appropriately.
As for the drama between Mr. Hillier and Team Ford, it appears that Ford removed Mr. Hillier from the PC caucus because the long time MPP simply asked too many questions – too many questions that, it seems, have now led to a police investigation.
One can well imagine why Ford’s team leaders wouldn’t be pleased with Randy Hillier. Too many questions! My own experience with Team Ford’s Dean French and Chris Froggatt is quite similar to that of Mr. Hillier. I too asked “too many questions”, and for this reason, I believe, Team Ford turned against me and orchestrated the (possibly illegal) overturning of my democratically won nomination.
My story with Ford’s confidantes goes back exactly one year, to March 2018, right after Ford won the PC leadership. Both Ford and I campaigned on platforms to have a clean, honest and democratic nomination process for PC candidates, as our PC party attempted to move on from the Patrick Brown era controversies. To his discredit, Ford’s lack of action on cleaning up the party’s nomination mess is one of his biggest failures to date.
To my knowledge, neither the Premier’s office nor the PC Party office have properly addressed the issues raised by the thorough investigative reporting by the Globe and Mail reporters, which brought to light nomination scandals from the Patrick Brown era, and the failure of the Ford-led PC Party to clean them up.
Among the disturbing findings of the Globe’s investigation: that an undisclosed number of current PC MPPs “had ties to a political operative convicted of fraud”, namely, Snover Dhillon; that Ford’s campaign team actually had a list of PC candidates who, it seems, had paid operative Snover Dhillon tens of thousands of dollars for their nomination victories, with some of these nominations involving “stolen data, alleged fraud and forgery”; and, despite having all of this information, Team Ford, once in charge of the PC campaign “did not pursue formal investigations.”
Add to this the disclosure by the Globe & Mail on April 23, 2019 of this additional and sordid aspect from the Brown era: “Then-Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown asked donor to give funds to girlfriend.” Different rumours of a large “donation” via a cheque, payable to Brown’s girlfriend, have been circulating among PC insiders since Brown was still leader, but the evidence for this is now coming to the public’s attention. That Brown approved the candidacy of that “donor’s” favoured nomination candidate on the very same day is something that I am only hearing about now.
This is the sort of thing to which I was referring when, as a candidate for the PC leadership, I repeatedly condemned Brown for his “political crimes”.
In March 2018, during my campaign for the PC nomination in Mississauga Centre, I heard firsthand accounts from various local PC party members of the some of the fraud and corruption that had afflicted local nominations in the Brown era.
Perhaps the most notorious case occurred in Mississauga East-Cooksville, where Brown had disqualified all but one of the nomination candidates a mere day or so before the scheduled meeting. The survivor, Khaleed Rasheed (now MPP) was Brown’s favourite, and, to my surprise, remained the PC candidate under Ford.
This nomination was allowed to stand, despite Ford’s description of the unfairness of what happened in that exact riding. Indeed, on March 24, I was standing beside Doug when our new leader told one of the nomination victims from this riding that it was not up to him to rule on such matters but it was entirely in the hands of the party’s Provincial Nominations Committee (PNC).
After Brown’s resignation, the Vic Fedeli-era PNC had the courage to overturn two of the worst cases of voter fraud: Ottawa West-Nepean and Scarborough Centre. After Ford’s victory, Doug Ford appointed a number of his key people to this powerful committee, including former MPP Frank Klees and Ford’s newly-minted Campaign Chair, Dean French.
In its first week, this new Ford-era PNC overturned four more meetings, including Patrick Brown’s own nomination in Barrie. Knowing more work was needed to clean up the remaining corrupt PC nominations, I felt that these new PNC members would be interested to afford me the opportunity to discuss, from a grassroots perspective, the concerns of the party membership. The situation was urgent, as time was running out to both overturn the questionable nominations and hold new meetings before the looming June election.
Not wanting to cause controversy for the party, but wanting to be true to my campaign promise to do something about the Brown-era corruption, I wrote to the PNC members, seeking a private meeting. After heaping praise on the PNC for overturning a half a dozen meetings thus far, I requested the opportunity for a frank discussion on the need for more to be done. I never received a reply from the PNC.
Several days later, though, I did receive a call from Doug’s campaign. Chris Froggatt (who was not on the PNC, but was now the #2 to Dean French in terms of the management of the campaign) phoned me, furious that I had sent that letter to the PNC. He resorted to crazed yelling in what was, for him, a rather emotional confrontation.
This was not the only time that he would aggressively berate me for having the temerity to broach the topic of these nomination controversies. My driving concern was that the longer the party delayed in addressing the rot and corruption of the Brown era, the worse things could get.
A few weeks later, and the day after I successfully won a first-ballot victory in my nomination for Mississauga Centre, I was part of a rather tense conference call with Dean French and with Doug Ford himself. In what was supposed to be a “Congratulations, Tanya!” call, French started yelling at me- which also shocked my husband who was sitting three feet away.
French was hostile, nervous, and emotional (Ms. Caesar-Chavannes: we should grab a coffee sometime and compare notes of “important” men tantrumming at “difficult” women in politics). French renewed Froggatt’s complaint about my request of a month earlier to speak to the PNC about the controversial nominations.
For his part, Ford seemed confused about the subject matter and, uncomfortable with the way the conversation was heading, Ford abruptly ended it. Frankly, I don’t think that French and Froggatt were keeping Ford informed about the lack of “clean-up” action with respect to these various corrupt nominations.
But why would French and Froggatt insist on retaining so many of the Patrick Brown corrupt nomination results? Especially the numerous Brown/Snover Dhillon tainted nominations? Why would they so bitterly resist efforts to pursue the issue of nomination meeting corruption that Ford and I both championed during the leadership race?
Little did I know the scale of the fraud that had been conducted in the Brown era. Nor did I suspect what the Globe’s reporters would uncover months later: that, allegedly, Ford’s team, led by French and Froggatt, were fully aware of the fraud that had occurred, but were covering up the problem.
If Dean French and Christ Froggatt are guilty of incompetence on this matter, Doug should fire them immediately (French as Chief of Staff, Froggatt as Campaign Chair) and show them the door. If, however, there was some darker motive in the cover-up, then perhaps there should be yet another police investigation. Patrick Brown’s legacy haunts us still. A pity – it didn’t have to be this way.
As for Randy Hillier, it seems that his main offence against the political class is truth-telling. Mr. Hillier was the most effective whistle-blower when it came to the now-proven ethics violations of disgraced former leader Patrick Brown. If only we had more MPPs like him who were willing to call out “corruption” when they saw it, the political arena in this province would, in the long term, be a more respectable place. If Randy Hillier is now saying that he has witnessed “possible illegal and unregistered lobbying”, then I believe him. Mr. Hillier was right, after all, about Patrick Brown.