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Randy Hiller says suspension was over clashes with Ford advisers

Ontario Conservative MPP Randy Hillier speaks with journalists outside the Ontario Legislature in Toronto on Feb. 20, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

A provincial politician who was suspended indefinitely from the Progressive Conservative caucus last month says he was removed for clashing with some of the premier’s most senior advisers.

In a letter to party members in his eastern Ontario riding, Randy Hillier claims he wasn’t suspended for comments he made in the legislature, as Premier Doug Ford has said, but due to long-standing tensions with two of Ford’s senior advisers over what’s expected of caucus members.

Hillier, a veteran Tory legislator known for being outspoken, says he challenged the justification for his suspension and was given a list of what he called “questionable and childish grievances” by backroom operatives.

Among them, he alleges, were complaints that he didn’t clap enough in the House and wasn’t actively sharing posts about the government’s activities on social media.

Ford has said Hillier was suspended for comments he made as parents of children with autism packed the legislature’s galleries in protest of the government’s recent funding changes.

Some of the parents said that Hillier said “yada yada yada” to them near the end of question period, but Hillier maintains the remarks were directed at the Opposition New Democrats.

Ford was asked Wednesday whether he wanted Hillier out of caucus.

“I can’t say I want him out but I think we need a little time to run through a few things with Randy,” he said. “I’ll sit down with him and talk to him, but I’ll do that.”

He declined to elaborate further, calling the matter a personnel issue.

The premier was not asked about the allegations in Hillier’s letter, which is posted online as part of a petition to see him reinstated. A spokesman for the premier did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday evening.

In the letter, Hillier says he hoped the issue could be dealt with reasonably and with an acknowledgment that his suspension was the result of miscommunication.

“It has become abundantly clear that the motivations involved were far more complicated, resulting in discussions and negotiations regarding my return to Caucus becoming stalled,” he says. “The sticking point is both the substantive matters of conscience and local representation, and the trivial clapping, retweeting and cheerleading.”

Below is the text of Randy Hillier’s letter to local PC Party members

“As I am sure you are aware, I was recently removed from the PC Caucus, although the Party used the term ‘suspension’ to describe my removal.

Unfortunately the truth in politics can be difficult to discern, as it is often camouflaged with spin and word-smithing to craft a preferred narrative, rather than the truth. The truth behind my removal however is not due to banter in the House, but long-standing tensions between me and Doug Ford’s most senior advisors (Dean French and Chris Froggatt) over what is expected of MPPs in the PC Caucus.

This is not the first time that I have encountered attempted coercion and pressure by “backroom” party operatives to co-opt my role as an MPP.

I have always placed the interests of my constituents and the people of my riding ahead of conventions or meetings of the PC Party. I will not apologize for this. This is not a question of loyalty to the Party, but rather an acknowledgment of my over-arching responsibility to you as your elected representative in Ontario’s Provincial Parliament.

When the interests or direction of my Party conflict with local interests, you can be certain I speak out. I have a long history of being vocal with my opinions and advocating for the people I represent. Although my dissent and criticism gets me in trouble with my Party occasionally, there are other trivial and childish expectations of me that have aggravated the situation.

When I challenged the justification for suspension, backroom operatives provided me with a laundry list of questionable and childish grievances. “I don’t stand and clap for Ministers enough in the House”, “I wasn’t actively retweeting or sharing Facebook posts about the government’s activities”, and that I was “putting my constituents and local stakeholders ahead of Party business”. Described in a letter to the media as ‘long-standing concerns’, the only persons who have ever spoken to me about such concerns were Dean French and Chris Froggatt, not the House Leader or Whip.

I had hoped that this issue could be dealt with reasonably and with the mutual acknowledgment that my suspension was the by-product of miscommunication and snap-judgment. Unfortunately it has become abundantly clear that the motivations involved were far more complicated, resulting in discussions and negotiations regarding my return to Caucus becoming stalled. The sticking point is both the substantive matters of conscience and local representation, and the trivial clapping, retweeting and cheerleading.

While I appreciate the significant amount of support from both Party membership across the province as well as local residents, not everyone is aware of the circumstances, which is why I am asking for your support today.

The Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston PC Association has started a petition directed to Premier Ford to have me reinstated to the PC Caucus as soon as possible, and I am asking you to lend your voice to that call. Public interest and action is required to make it easier for the Premier to reverse the suspension that has been imposed upon me by the backroom operatives.

Once again, I thank you for your ongoing support, and look forward to continuing to represent Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston in Ontario’s Provincial Parliament as your PC representative.

Sincerely,

Randy Hillier