Globe and Mail: Ontario Tory’s bill would allow recall of misbehaving mayors, MPPs

Published in the Globe and Mail on November 20th, 2013

By Maria Babbage, Canadian Press

Ontario’s Premier should allow voters to fire provincial and municipal politicians who behave badly, Progressive Conservative Randy Hillier said Wednesday.

He’s calling on Premier Kathleen Wynne to throw her support behind his private member’s bill, which allows for the recall of members of provincial Parliament.

The legislation could be amended to include municipal politicians in the wake of the scandals surrounding Toronto’s Rob Ford and other misbehaving mayors, Hillier said.

“The controversy that’s going on right now in Toronto gives us an opportunity to actually have a good and proper discourse about what mechanisms ought there to be for people to deal with this,” said the staunch conservative, who represents a rural Eastern Ontario riding.

Current municipal law makes no provision for Ford’s forced removal from office unless he’s convicted and jailed for a criminal offence or misses three months of meetings without permission from council.

“I don’t believe that the way the situation is right now is correct, that people have no tools and have to go beg, borrowing or stealing or pleading with some other level of government for involvement – I just don’t buy that,” Hillier said.

Politicians should be treated like anyone else, he added.

“If you’re not performing to the expectation of the employer, you can be replaced,” he said. “And the employer doesn’t have to wait four years to replace an underperforming employee.”

Hillier’s proposal is to allow voters recall a politician if they get the support of at least 25 per cent of the people who voted in the last election.

The politician would be removed from office and a by-election would be held. The recalled politician could still run as a candidate.

His bill was introduced Oct. 30 – a day before Toronto police confirmed that they seized a video that media outlets have alleged appears to show Ford smoking crack cocaine.

A few days later, the besieged mayor admitted to smoking crack, grabbing headlines around the world. But he refused to step down or take a leave of absence. City council has since stripped him of most of his powers.

London Mayor Joe Fontana, a former federal cabinet minister, is also in hot water. He’s facing fraud charges, but has denied any wrongdoing and refuses to step down.

Municipal Affairs Minister Linda Jeffrey was unavailable for comment, but her spokesman says the government will look at the bill once it comes up for review in the legislature.

The governing Liberals have been reluctant to take action to remove Ford from office. Wynne said she’ll consider offering “new tools” to Toronto if the city’s government decides it simply can’t function as a result of its scandal-plagued mayor.

Hillier said he’s not in favour of it, because it wouldn’t apply to all municipal politicians. Voters are the only legitimate authority to replace an elected representative, he added.

“It’s not appropriate for me or Premier Wynne or anybody else to stand back and say, ‘I think this is what the citizens of Toronto need me to do for their own elected people,’ ” he said. “Sometimes politicians get things wrong.”

There needs to be checks and balances on the conduct of elected officials between elections, Hillier said. It might have prevented such abuses of public dollars as the Liberals’ cancellation of two gas plants, which could cost taxpayers up to $1-billion.

Politicians may not support such decisions if they know that they could be recalled by voters, he said.

Hillier wants Wynne to consider fast-tracking his bill, with a provision for municipal officials.

Government House Leader John Milloy said Hillier can push the bill forward himself by finding another MPP who would give him their allotted time in the legislature.

Private members’ bills rarely become law without the support of the government.