I expect it will surprise very few people when I say that I am going to write about two Conservatives today and no doubt, some of you will be tempted to stop reading right now. But don’t, because there is something for everyone to disagree with here!
Like most with an abiding interest in politics, I come from a certain perspective. There is nothing wrong with being a partisan, as many political pundits are but just refuse to admit. Indeed, respectful debate and disagreement on public policy is an important element of a democratic society.
But partisanship should never be blind. No political party is free from abuse of power, lack of accountability, or inappropriate behaviour. To pretend otherwise, to defend it, to refuse to acknowledge it when it occurs, is a serious mistake that will eventually bite you on the back.
One of my former colleagues, a person I have always liked, is a fierce Liberal partisan who takes to Twitter like a fish takes to water. While there has been much opportunity, I have never seen him be critical of one of his own. But when someone in the other camp so much as passes gas (metaphorically speaking), he is all over it like a wet blanket.
I think differently than that. I think it is important to speak out when you believe someone you would otherwise support has behaved improperly. I also believe it is important to defend those who are being unfairly pilloried. To do both, protects the integrity of the political party you support, even though many may not like it. And so, today, that is what I am going to do.
Let’s start with Rod Phillips, until very recently finance minister of Ontario. What he did, in leaving the country for a vacation in the middle of this pandemic while the government in which he was a senior member was urging people not to travel and to stay home, was just plain stupid. It undermined the credibility of the Ford Government’s pandemic strategy. It showed a shocking lack of leadership and a measure of superiority. It was simply wrong.
Add to that the tweets deliberately intended to depict Rod Phillips at home over the holidays and the fake background on Zoom calls he participated in from St. Barts that disguised where he was, and it becomes pretty clear that deception was top of mind. It also became abundantly clear that he could no longer remain in Cabinet.
I do not know Rod Phillips well, but I do know that he was a very competent minister. There may have been compelling family reasons for him to take an out-of-country vacation at this time but it, along with the cover up, remains incompatible with his role as a minister of the Crown.
I accept the word of Premier Doug Ford that he did not know about the Phillips’s trip until the horse was out of the barn. When he should have dealt with it is a matter of conjecture. I do agree it is usually best to get out in front of these issues when they occur. In any event, Ford did deal with it and Rod Phillips is no longer one of his most trusted advisors. And that is a shame.
On the other side of the coin is a Conservative that needs to be defended. Former premier Mike Harris fully deserves to be named to the Order of Ontario. It is understandable that some people don’t like him. Anyone who leads a government will be inevitably called upon to make tough decisions and there will always be those that disagree.
But to dump all over Mike Harris for being awarded the Order of Ontario, as some are now doing, is just plain wrong. Serving as the head of government, either nationally or provincially, is a life-changing experience and a sacrificial public service. Few people really understand the 24/7 pressure under which these people operate.
On that basis alone, anyone who has served as premier of Ontario is deserving of the province’s highest honour. It is not a partisan honour. In this year’s list there are people quite properly recognized from other walks of life, other forms of service, and other political backgrounds.
Mike Harris has served this province, in and out of office, to the best of his ability and in keeping with his conscience. He has been elected and re-elected as premier. Has he made mistakes? Yes, but please tell me who hasn’t? On balance, Harris, not unlike his predecessors and successors, did what he thought was right and what he believed he was elected to do.
Now, there are some Harris critics featured in the Toronto Star and on social media who object to the appointment of Mike Harris to the Order of Ontario because he is the chair of Chartwell Retirement Residences.
One critic is Liberal leader Steven Del Duca, who said this: “Doug Ford is rewarding Chartwell Chair and former Premier Mike Harris with the Order of Ontario. Chartwell is a for-profit nursing home that failed our seniors.”
Well first of all, Mr. Del Duca, as you probably know, Doug Ford did not appoint Mike Harris to the Order of Ontario. That is not the way it works. If you don’t believe me, ask Kathleen Wynne, or ask Hershell Ezrin, who was principal secretary to former premier David Peterson and was included in the honours list.
Second, Chartwell is primarily in the business of offering retirement facilities to senior citizens who choose these facilities for a degree of independent, chore-free living and retirement community programs that are not possible in the more confining environment of nursing homes.
Chartwell also operates 23 long-term care facilities, or nursing homes, in Ontario, representing about 11 per cent of their total operations in four provinces. This is the only part of their operation for which they receive government funding, 100 per cent of which must be dedicated to LTC resident care and programs and cannot be used for profit.
Finally, issues related to the standard of care in nursing homes have been a systemic issue in Ontario for decades. If you are going to hold Mike Harris accountable for “failing seniors” then, sir, you must also hold two successive Liberal governments accountable, including at least one of which you were a part.
Mike Harris deserves to be a member of the Order of Ontario. He also has the right to earn a living in the private sector. Every decision he has been a part of may not have always been the right one, but to accuse him of endangering senior citizens is simply inflammatory and untrue and based on bias and opportunism. If perfection is what you expect from a member of the Order of Ontario, the roster would be completely empty!
There, I think I’ve stirred it up enough for the first week of 2021. So, have at it!
And by the way, HAPPY NEW YEAR!
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