A former Progressive Conservative legislator said Tuesday that he’s taken his concerns about alleged unregistered lobbying by some of Premier Doug Ford’s friends and advisers to Ontario’s integrity watchdog.
Randy Hillier, a veteran politician who represents the eastern Ontario riding of Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston, made his comments upon his return to the provincial legislature for the first time since he was ejected from Tory caucus earlier this month.
Hillier said he has spoken with Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake about allegations he raised recently regarding some of Ford’s top staffers and campaign advisers but said he could not discuss specifics for fear of impacting any potential investigation.
He stressed, however, that unelected members of Ford’s staff were constraining the voices of elected politicians.
“As I stated to Doug Ford on many occasions, you can’t hog-tie me and gag me and then complain that I’m not a team player,” Hillier told reporters.
The integrity commissioner’s office said it cannot disclose whether it is conducting an investigation into Hillier’s allegations.
Hillier was first suspended from caucus last month for comments he allegedly made as parents of children with autism packed the legislature’s galleries in protest of 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 then permanently expelled Hillier from caucus following what they said was a review of his behaviour before and after his suspension.
Hillier levelled his allegations in an open letter shortly after, saying he was kicked out of the party for raising concerns about possible “illegal and unregistered” lobbying by people close to the premier. He also said 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.
On Tuesday, Hillier said he raised his allegations with Ford in two meetings in December and January.
He further alleged that Ford’s chief of staff, Dean French, wields an inappropriate amount of power and chairs an important government committee normally run by politicians.
“I think it’s clear, there is an understanding by many people down here in Queen’s Park that there is a culture of fear and intimidation and different people respond to that in different ways,” Hillier said.
The government has denied Hillier’s allegations.
Government House Leader Todd Smith criticized Hillier for not being a team player throughout his career in politics and called his allegations “baloney.”
“This is nothing new for Randy Hillier,” Smith said. “It’s the same old same old. It’s too bad that he comes in here, holds a press conference, makes a bunch of baseless allegations, and wastes your time and now he’s wasting my time.”
Liberal legislator Nathalie Des Rosiers said, however, that Hillier’s ejection from caucus raises serious questions about the independence of politicians in the face of strict party discipline.
Legislators must be able to effectively speak up for their constituents even if that conflicts with government policy and messaging, she said.
“People of his riding voted for a Conservative MPP and I think the threshold should be very high before you kick someone out simply because you don’t like they way he or she behaves,” she said. “I think that’s dangerous for our democracy.”