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                Sudbury By-Election:

  A Depressing Example Of Voter Cynicism

 

 

By Susanna Kelley

From the beginning, everyone knew it was going to be a tough campaign. 

What wasn't expected was that the Sudbury by-election would lay bare the kind of backroom, patronage deal making that is illegal yet commonplace - it's probably not a stretch to say it's the norm - in Ontario and federal politics.

But even more dispiriting than the practice itself is that the voters could be so jaded as to turn a blind eye to it.

Look, it's not as if patronage politics is new to this province.

Growing up in small town Ontario as I did, it was well known at that time that jobs at the liquor store or the drivers' license bureau were reserved for Conservative voters only. There was no point in even applying unless you were known to support the Big Blue Machine in those days. And in a small town, there was really no such thing as a secret ballot: everyone knew how everyone else voted.

Despite the fact that politicians swear on their grandmothers' graves that it never happens, anyone who has been around a leadership race or two knows that horse-trading for cabinet and other appointments is the quid quo pro for throwing a candidate's support to a rival.

Take, for instance, Kathleen Wynne's victory at the 2013 Liberal leadership convention, the last delegated convention Ontario may ever see, but certainly not the last political deal making it will see.

As OntarioNewsWatch and other media reported, sources said Eric Hoskins wanted to be appointed Health Minister in return for throwing his delegates at the convention. Meanwhile, Charles Sousa, who was also a candidate, was hankering to be Finance Minister. 

Both made their wishes known to then-candidate Sandra Pupatello, sources said.

And Mr. Hoskins did seem about to throw his support to Ms. Pupatello - for a moment. On the convention floor, he first walked towards her, but then - and this was caught by ONW's documentary cameras - an aide whispered in his ear, whereupon Mr. Hoskins made an abrupt turn, and walked to Ms. Wynne, mouthing "Thank you, thank you" to her. (at 10:44 in documentary)

Mr. Hoskins is now Health Minister.

Mr. Sousa soon followed at the convention to Ms. Wynne as well.

Mr. Sousa is now Finance Minister.

Of course, to hear politicians tell it, these outcomes are just miraculous coincidences.

If they admit to the deal-making they're cooked, because under section 96.1 of Ontario's Elections Act, to promise someone a job, appointment or other gift in return for their vote is illegal.

Which brings us to the Sudbury by election.

Ms. Wynne's top advisor Pat Sorbara and Liberal operative Gerry Lougheed were caught on tape dangling the prospects of an "appointment, job, whatever" - paid for with taxpayers' money (!) - in front of Andrew Olivier in return for him stepping back from the Liberal candidacy race in the riding. The Premier wanted then NDP MP Glenn Thibeault instead.  

Mr. Olivier, who had run in 2011 and lost by less than 1,000 votes to the NDP, refused to go quietly and released the tapes.

There was massive coverage of this story during the by election, with the taped conversation between Mr. Olivier and Pat Sorbara, as well as one between Mr. Olivier and Mr. Lougheed, available for all to listen to on YouTube.

On Election Day, a story by veteran reporter Antonella Artuso of The Sun broke that the OPP believed the offers constituted attempted bribery and were illegal.

The OPP also said "reference to the premier's authority threatens the appearance of the government's integrity."

If the police are right and this is proven in court, it is a blatant example of the kind of backroom dealing that thwarts democracy - an attempt to bribe a candidate not to run, with jobs or appointments paid for by taxpayers, so that Ms. Wynne's choice of Mr. Thibeault could be essentially appointed, not elected, as the Liberal candidate.

The entire Liberal riding executive resigned, for Pete's sake.

It was bad enough to watch the Liberals' behaviour. 

But even more dispiriting is that voters in Sudbury knew all about it, yet voted for the Premier's handpicked candidate anyway.

They rewarded the Premier and her closest aides for diminishing their democratic choices.

It's no justification to say, "it happens all the time" or "that's just the way politics is run."

How cynical we have become if we see those who want a truly democratic election as naive.

Ms. Wynne and her party should not be taking heart from this win; in fact, they should be very worried about it.

It shows that, if the OPP is proven correct, blatant attempts at candidate-buying and distortion of the democratic process is the best voters think they can expect from Ontario's politicians.

That's a very sad statement on how low the level of respect for our politicians has sunk.

And what does it say about what voters think about our entire political system, and where we're headed?

Ontario politicians certainly have their work cut out for them to win back the respect of the public, and displays like the Sudbury by election aren't helping.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 : February 09, 2015

View all of Susanna Kelley's columns
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