Taking It To The Street

 Dumping Peter Shurman Won't End Weakened Tories' Troubles

"Money doesn't talk, it swears"  

                    - Bob Dylan

By Susanna Kelley

At its best, politics attracts a lot of people who want to help make their society a better one.

It also attracts a lot of people who like power.

At its worst, it attracts a lot of people who like money.

In what appears to be a last-minute attempt at damage control before the Legislature opens today, Ontario PC leader Tim Hudak has stripped Thornhill MPP Peter Shurman of his role as Tory finance critic.

"I believe we have a responsibility to taxpayers to operate in their best interest," says Mr. Hudak.

"As a demonstration to my commitment to this principle, I have made the decision to remove Peter Shurman from his position as Finance Critic," he said.

According to a story broken by Adrian Morrow of the Globe and Mail last week, Mr. Shurman claimed the maximum $20,719 housing allowance to pay for an expensive (reportedly $660,000) retirement home in Niagara On The Lake, despite the fact his riding is a half-hour's drive from Queen's Park.

While the expense allowance is meant to help pay to house MPPs in Toronto who are from far-away constituencies, Mr. Shurman is getting the money because he is declaring his retirement home in Niagara on the Lake as his primary residence.

This despite the fact his Thornhill riding is just a short distance from the Legislature.

Mr. Shurman no longer lives in the riding.

Technically Mr. Shurman is within the rules, but as finance critic the fact he took money to help pay for the retirement home in Niagara On The Lake would render him a liability in the Legislature.

In Ottawa, the scandals over housing and other expenses involving Conservative Senators Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin, Patrick Brazeau and former Liberal Senator Mac Harb are too fresh and still unfolding, to the disgust of many voters.

Mr. Hudak issued the statement at 6:59 p.m. Sunday night, blaming the Rosh Hashana holiday for not dealing with this beforehand.

At "the first opportunity to do so since Rosh Hashanah, Peter Shurman and I met to discuss the matter regarding his Toronto Accommodation Expense claims," he said.

"Our Party's (sic) top priority is, and will continue to be, holding the Liberals to account," said Mr. Hudak.

However, this was the Tories' third attempt to throw water on the political fire.

First they said Mr. Shurman would not collect the expense money going forward (nothing said about paying back the money he's already taken.)

Then they tried to divert the blame by feigning outrage at the loophole in the rules and demanding it be closed, boldly stating, "if they (the Liberals) won't, we will."

That wasn't dousing the flame either, though, and so Mr. Shurman had to go.

It can be no coincidence Mr. Hudak dropped him less than four hours after the PC's announced they would attempt to have the Liberals ruled in contempt of the Legislature. 

The point of order is over what the Tories see as the Liberals trying to influence the Speaker of the Legislature.

The PC's have spent nearly two years hammering the government for what they call "buying" four Liberal seats in the last election by cancelling the Mississauga gas plant and wasting hundreds of millions of taxpayers' dollars in the process.

Mr. Shurman's credibility as a guardian of the taxpayer's purse has been too compromised to allow him to continue to point fingers at the Liberals.

But Mr. Hudak has a big problem himself in this regard.

Mr. Shurman says the PC leader himself approved the expense claims. There are reports Mr. Hudak's team say the leader was aware Mr. Shurman was living in Niagara On The Lake, but didn't know the details of his expense claims.

This severely weakens Mr. Hudak's credibility as well to lead a charge against the Liberals for spending millions to cancel the gas plant.

It's no secret that, despite Mr. Shurman's complaints that his $112,000 MPP's salary is too skimpy to "pay for two houses," (something a lot of Ontarians have little sympathy for by the way) there's a lot of money to be made from hanging around politics - contracts of all sorts run into the millions of dollars.

And some of his most senior advisors have a history of making millions in public contracts.

Mr. Hudak has appointed Leslie Noble and Tom Long to lead his campaign in the next election.

Among others, headhunting company that Mr. Long was involved with - Egon Zehnder International - was awarded $1.3 million dollars in contracts after Mr. Long co-chaired, along with Ms. Noble, Mike Harris' successful campaign to become Premier in 1995.

Ms. Noble's firm, strategycorp, was awarded $250,980 in untendered contracts to build support for Hydro One after she had also co-chaired Mr. Harris' second majority win in 1999. (The rules making such untendered contracts improper were not brought in until several years later by the Liberals.)

The opposition parties believe they've got the Liberals on the run on the gas plant issue, and don't want to give the governing party any ammunition to blunt the attack.

So now, Mr. Shurman is gone.

But the man who is accused of approving his claims still sits at the head of the party.

And he's about to go into an annual PC party gathers on September 20th in London, Ontario where a significant group is calling for his head in any event.

Some of these groups stand to make a lot of money in the campaign and afterwards, should their favourites wrest the leadership from Mr. Hudak. 

Mr. Hudak is already struggling to hold onto the leadership until at least the next election.

This won't help.

You can find Susanna here: @susannakelley 

About Susanna Kelley

Susanna Kelley is Editor-in-Chief and Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for Ontario News Watch. A veteran political and investigative reporter, documentary-maker, host and media commentator, Susanna oversees and has final editorial control over all news production at Ontario News Watch. Susanna has reported for the CBC, the Canadian Press and served as Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for TVOntario for 13 years. She has also hosted a number of documentaries for CBC’s The Current, CBC Radio News and TVOntario’s Studio 2. Passionately dedicated to excellence in political journalism, and having covered both Parliament Hill and Queen’s Park, Susanna believes quality political reporting is essential to a healthy democracy. You can find Susanna here: @susannakelley
Posted date : September 09, 2013

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