The Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario stands a pretty good chance of winning the next provincial election in the fall of 2011. It’s relatively new leader, Tim Hudak, will therefore be Premier. And, given his seniority in the party as an MPP and his support for Hudak’s leadership bid, Bruce- Grey-Owen Sound MPP Bill Murdoch will finally have a seat in cabinet, something I feel quite safe in saying he has long cherished in his heart of hearts. I think Bognor Bill was hurt when his pal, former Premier Mike Harris, didn’t give him one back in 1995. I also think he found some considerable measure of consolation for that disappointment in his reputation as a “renegade” or “maverick” in, and for a while out of, the PC caucus.
But you know what Bill – and I take a moment to tell you this with your best interests at heart, believe me – it’s time to put that aside. It’s time to start taking yourself more seriously because of the important position you now occupy in the PC party. And it’s not just because election after election you deliver the safest seat in the province; it’s mostly because of your seniority and experience, as well as your firm grasp of constituency politics. You have your intuitive fingers on the pulse of the people; not all of them, but clearly enough to keep getting re-elected time after time. And this too: despite your rough edges, you’ve got a good head on your shoulders, when you put it to good use. So stop underestimating yourself. You’re not doing yourself and your party any favours by indulging in the theatrical, attention-getting, Legislative-disrupting shenanigans you and rookie MPP and right-wing extremist Randy Hillier were up to earlier this week. At this point you and your government should behave like a government-in-waiting, not yahoos incapable of governing themselves, let alone Ontario
I started off by saying Tim Hudak and the PCs stand a pretty good chance of winning the next provincial election, and Bill Murdoch of getting a seat in cabinet. I’ll amend that now by saying that’s what I thought before the now famous, or infamous, events of this week in the Legislature when our local MPP called Premier Dalton McGuinty a “liar.” Such language, and that word in particular, is considered an “unparliamentary” breach of the rules governing conduct in the Legislature.
It was not a slip of the tongue. It was scripted, and as we now know the curtain went up on a two-day farce that predictably attracted loads of news media attention. It even made it to the top of the CBC radio hourly news for a while on Wednesday. You have to hand it to our Bill, he knows how to get attention. He was even in costume, kilt and all. When asked by the Speaker of the Legislature, Steve Peters, to withdraw the “liar” remark, Murdoch refused, thus forcing Peters to suspend him from the house. He refused to leave, Hillier got involved when he blocked the Sergeant-at-Arms from taking Murdoch by the arm and escorting him out. Other Tory MPs gathered around. At that point Peters showed the best judgement of the whole affair by choosing not to call for help from more Legislative officers to take Murdoch and Hillier out forcefully. But both MPPs, out of their assigned seats, along with other shouting, desk-pounding Tory MPPs, continued to disrupt the Legislature to such an extent that business could not continue. That included by the way a bill to protect private retirement funds from seizure by creditors.
Is that the way people want their elected officials to behave.
Murdoch and Hillier, who was not wearing a kilt, spent two nights in the Legislature, sort of. To help preserve their dignity and the dignity of the house, Peters let them use a room where they had access to a washroom and couches to sleep on. They finally left Wednesday morning confident they had drawn attention to what Murdoch regards as a matter of principle important enough to cause such a disruption: the McGuinty government’s failure to hold public hearings outside Toronto on the planned change to a Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) in Ontario to replace the current PST and GST. Murdoch told the Legislature Monday before he called McGuinty a “liar” that the Premier “one said he believed in public hearings. Now he is shutting them down.”
Murdoch may have a point about the need for public hearings about the HST legislation. It’s going to increase sales tax on such things as electricity, home heating, gasoline and Internet use, so people in all parts of the province will be impacted. He may have a point to make about McGuinty being a promise breaker. However, deliberately calling the Premier a liar in the Legislature to get attention is an unacceptable breaking of the rules at any time. But at this time it’s also foolish. It brings into question Tory leader Tim Hudak’s judgement in letting it happen, and his ability to lead a governing party. He needs to show that he can keep his so-called “mavericks” and “renegades” under control to avoid any further damage to the party’s image in the eyes of the voting public. He might be surprised at how many people don’t like the kind of behaviour that hijacked the Legislature this week. There were other, better ways to draw attention to the HST-public hearing issue, like calling his fellow Tory, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and asking him to withdraw federal government support for the change in Ontario. Apparently Harper has no problem with the streamlined, business-friendly HST which several other provinces have already adopted.
Meanwhile, our local MPP should think carefully about his behaviour in light of his status as an elder in the PC caucus, and then apologize as soon as possible to the Speaker. Hopefully he will then be allowed back into the Legislature to do the job he was elected to do.
Originally published in The Sun Times in 2009.