Ottawa Citizen: On hydro bills and constituents’ concerns: A Q&A with Randy Hillier

Published in the Ottawa Citizen on October 18th, 2013

By Matthew Pearson

OTTAWA — Randy Hillier was tossed from the Progressive Conservative shadow cabinet last month, but that suits the Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington MPP just fine.

As he tells the Citizen’s provincial affairs reporter Matthew Pearson, he’s been busy helping solve constituents’ problems and plans to seek re-election.

Q: It’s been about a month since the shadow cabinet was shuffled. What are you doing with your time?

A: Other than talking to reporters? (Laughs) Today was a full day dealing with constituents who have problems with government and spending time to learn what their problems are and crafting up a resolution for them. And that’s what I do for the better part of my life and I have a little more time to do so now. I don’t have to immerse myself in party politics, I can devote far more of my time to helping constituents.

There’s also my legislative interests. I’ve spent a great deal of time putting together motions and recommendations on how we ought to reform the Ontario Legislative Assembly. I have a number of bills that I’ve advanced and a number of bills that I’m working on that I believe are areas that need to be corrected, rectified or improved legislatively.

Q: What are some of the big issues that you’re hearing from constituents about?

A: Hydro is a big one. It is the No. 1 in quantity of complaints, but there’s a host of others that I’m working on as well. The Ontario New Home Warranty program, the numerous areas in my riding that are being subjected to industrial wind turbines ... there’s also the unique elements of constituency work. I don’t want to get into exact examples, but people who have either felt or have been let down by government in their dealings with government, and there’s a significant number of them.

Q: What issues do you see on the top of the list facing Ontario and Eastern Ontario?

A: There’s the issues that somebody faces directly today, but there’s also the longer-term problems that are harder for people to put their fingers on but regardless, they need to be addressed.

Earlier this week there was a report out that indicated the percentage of people engaged in minimum wage work in this province has doubled in the last 10 years. We’ve gone from four per cent of the workforce making minimum wage in 2003 to over nine per cent today. We’re the only province in the country that’s seen such expansion of the minimum wage participation rates in our workplace. Not surprisingly, jurisdictions such as Alberta, Newfoundland, Saskatchewan, even New Brunswick, has seen the reduction in the percentage of minimum wage jobs in the workplace. That’s a big concern. It’s not something people can put their finger on and fix today, but it’s a consequence of our economic policies in this province, and you could go on further on that same vein. The decreasing participation rate of people in our economy, the increasing levels of people requiring government assistance to make ends meet ... I talk to a lot of people and many are concerned about the lost opportunities or the lack of opportunities that Ontario was once known for, and seeing their children and grandchildren having to go elsewhere to find economic opportunities and prosperity.

Q: Speaking of your constituents, Lanark County is more than 300 kilometres away from Oakville and Mississauga, the site of those cancelled gas plants. I’m curious how often you hear about them and what people say to you about them.

A: Most people will be able to articulate what happens to them directly in a more thoughtful fashion than the farther-removed problems. Without a doubt, people are cognizant that we have a scandal-ridden government. They may not be able to put down precisely how much was wasted with ORNGE or how much was wasted with eHealth or how much was wasted with the gas plants, but where they really get their backs up is when they get their hydro bill. When they see a hydro bill that is 300 per cent what it used to be, when they see a multitude of charges they can’t understand or that have no rational justification in their minds ... Your question was ‘do they bring up the gas plants?’ Some of them do, (but) all of them do in an indirect fashion and it’s how the scandals are hurting them in the pocketbook.

Q: What role do you have now in caucus? Do you participate?

A: Absolutely. I speak my mind. When a subject comes up for debate, I provide my input.

Q: Have you been given any opportunity to ask questions?

A: In the house? No.

Q: Do you miss being in the shadow cabinet? Do you miss having a critic post?

A: No.

Q: Has the last couple of months taught you anything about politics that you didn’t know before?

A: It’s reinforced what I did know.

This interview has been condensed and edited.