Taking It To The Street

Hudak vs. Hillier, Shurman:

 A Good Leader Heads Off Problems Long Before They Explode Into Public View

By Susanna Kelley  


Tim Hudak's firing of Randy Hillier - the second Tory MPP the PC leader has stripped of a high-profile critic's post in a week, raises more questions about Mr. Hudak's hold on the party than it answers.

It also provides some interesting insights into Mr. Hudak's leadership abilities as he heads into this weekend's hornet's nest of a PC convention, with its upcoming vote on a constitutional amendment to call a snap leadership review.

Mr. Hillier, the PC MPP for Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox & Addington, was ostensibly fired after Mr. Hudak accused him of leaking an e-mail warning his caucus colleagues to vote against a fellow PC MPP's private members' bill.

Mr. Hillier denies he leaked the email.

The bill allows the construction giant Ellis Don a special exemption to hire non-unionized workers, contrary to an agreement from several decades ago binding it to that practice.

Ellis Don says it needed the legislation to "remain competitive" despite the fact the company records revenues of more than $2.7 billion annually.

Ellis Don has always had strong connections to the Liberal Party, providing it with ample donations dating back to David Peterson's days and Hillier warned it would look like the Tories were trading their vote for future donations.

It is true that there are PC rank and file members angry about the email becoming public.

Mr. Hillier says Mr. Hudak demanded he retract his statements about the bill, but that he refused, and was fired.

"I made it clear to Tim that under no circumstances would I retract the comments and concerns that I raised three months ago and that I still stand by to this day," Mr. Hillier said in a statement.

But timing is everything in politics.

The email was written months ago and Mr. Hudak has known full well Mr. Hillier was not about to publicly stand with the PC's in favour of it after alleging they were doing so to curry donations.

It seems logical then, that Mr. Hillier has been fired going into a convention because he supports the constitutional amendment with its immediate leadership review.

Mr. Hillier ran against Mr. Hudak for the leadership last time and is thought to aspire still to the top job.

And so, the thinking goes, Mr. Hudak has little to lose by firing him.

Pretenders to the throne abound in the lead-up to the convention.

Peter Shurman, who Mr. Hudak fired a week ago from the finance critic post for refusing to pay back controversial housing expenses, is thought to have his eye on the leaders' post.

Frank Klees was one of the first out of the gate pledging support the leadership review amendment and is known to want the top job.  He too lost to Mr. Hudak in the last leadership campaign.

There are many a cast of characters besides these that harbour ambition to take over one day.

But back to Mr. Hillier's firing.

Mr. Hillier is what is called in politics a "maverick" - the type of caucus member that is the most difficult for a leader to deal with.

Mavericks are generally beloved by their constituents, because they are more loyal to those who voted them into power than their leader.

As such, they are usually around Queen's Park for a long time as they keep getting voted back into power.

Mr. Hillier is one of a long line of mavericks who have defiantly strode the halls of the Legislature, much to the chagrin of those leaders who try - and usually fail - to control them.

Every party has them.

Dalton McGuinty, former Liberal Premier, had Niagara Falls member Kim Craitor to deal with.

Former PC MPPs Bill Murdoch and Chris Stockwell drove the Whiz Kids in the Mike Harris Premier's Office mad.

Then there was the late NDP Welland MPP Peter Kormos - a thorn in former Premier Bob Rae's side from day one.

Their story is a classic lesson on how not to manage a maverick.

Mr. Kormos' street-smart, bare-knuckle, take-no-prisoners approach to legislative politics grated with Mr. Rae's more traditional style.

Mr. Kormos was a "populist" politician much like his riding predecessor Mel Swartz and Ellis Morningstar.

Mr. Rae, an Oxford-educated Rhodes scholar and son of an ambassador, was from the more publicly genteel leader mold.

First he tried including Mr. Kormos inside the tent, appointing him to lead dual portfolios as Minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs and Minister of Financial Institutions. 

But when Mr. Rae broke his election promise to bring in public auto insurance, he and Mr. Kormos fell out spectacularly and publicly.

Mr. Rae seized upon Kormos posing - completely clothed - as the "Sunshine Boy" in the Toronto Sun as an excuse to fire him from cabinet, but it was really about much more.

But a Peter Kormos outside the cabinet tent was just as much - if not more - trouble than inside.

He, along with several other NDP MPPs of the day - Dennis Drainville, Karen Haslam and Mark Morrow - then worked together as a "left" caucus opposing Rae.

They eventually voted against the so-called "social contract" legislation that ripped up public service contracts and split the party for decades to come.

So Mr. Rae had no more luck firing Mr. Kormos than he did keeping him in cabinet - maybe even less so.

And in the end, Mr. Kormos ended up being re-elected for another 16 years, acting as kingmaker when Howard Hampton became leader and becoming his trusted confidante for many years.

He was still in power long after Mr. Rae resigned from provincial politics and the NDP itself.

It is even more difficult to control any independent-minded politician when you are not the Premier, but Leader of the Opposition, as Mr. Hudak is.

You just don't have the "incentives" - cabinet posts - to hand out.

But you do have the shadow critic roles and committee positions to help top up caucus members' salaries, or take away if they are deemed uncooperative.

But that's not the only way to keep them in line.

Great leaders find jobs for their mavericks that are consistent with party policy and a maverick's own pet project.  

Allowing a person to work on what he/she holds dear, and then giving them their lead, works wonders for inspiring loyalty and getting great results.

Great leaders keep their ear to the ground and listen to their caucus and party, heading off trouble long before it becomes public.

And while firing MPPs is occasionally necessary - for corruption, for instance - a leader who has matched people to the tasks they are capable of doing should only rarely have to strip an elected representative of their job.

Firing them a week before a snake pit of a convention that is going to vote on whether to review your leadership looks like desperation.

And firing those who may aspire to you job because, well, they aspire to your job, looks not just disciplinary but panicky.

Every leader knows there will be pretenders to the throne before they take on the job, part of which is finding constructive ways to deal with them.

Because in the end, firing people the public has voted to be their MPP really represents a failure of both good leadership and the ability to inspire loyalty.


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 16, 2013

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