Friday, September 23, 2011

Another Word Tim Hudak Should Avoid on the Campaign Trail: Cronyism

Tim Hudak is on the campaign trail accusing the McGuinty government of "cronyism". I thought this was a dangerous path for Hudak to take, given the fact that his former boss and current mentor, Mike Harris, had made cronyism an art form.

A friend shared a 2004 article with me, one of many from the day, giving us some idea of how this was done.  The piece did not come from the CBC or the Toronto Star, but the National Post.  Hardly a "leftie rag".

Hudak recently warned the opposition to keep his wife out of any of their attacks.  For those who don't know, his wife Deb Hutton was Mike Harris's gatekeeper, who took her job so seriously that she earned the nickname, 'Jabba the Hutt'.

Hudak's protection of his family might seem more sincere, if he wasn't dragging them around for the cameras, painting himself as a "family man" simply because he has one.

Back to the National Post article.  We can't leave his wife out of it, because she was the centre point of the exposé .
New documents show Hydro One paid more than $400,000 to the consultancy run by former Conservative campaign co-chair Jaime Watt, as the list of Ontario Tories who received lucrative contracts from the utility continues to expand .... Documents obtained by CanWest News Service through freedom of information legislation show Navigator's bills, worth a total of $400,374 between October, 2001, and October, 2003, were for services that included company surveys, strategic counsel and communications planning.

In August, 2002, the utility paid $64,200 for an annual subscription to Current Opinion, Navigator's syndicated study of public opinion on electricity issues.  Almost all of Navgator's bills were directed to the attention of Deb Hutton, a senior advisor to both Mr. Eves and his predecessor, Mike Harris. For most of the period in question, Ms. Hutton was Hydro One's vice-president of corporate relations.

The Navigator deals bring the latest total for contracts awarded to senior Tories by the power distribution company to $6-million.
Six million dollars.  Yet Hudak is blaming Jim Flaherty's HST for the increase in Hydro bills.

The cronies involved, included Jaime Watt, former Conservative campaign co-chair.  Watt is still running Navigator.  You might remember the name from an investigation conducted over the relationship between the firm and the Harper government.

Another was Leslie Noble, former college pal of Tony Panayi Clement.  Noble was a top lobbyist who helped to run Mike Harris's campaigns, resulting in an undefined position of power within his government.  It is said that she often taunted elected MPPs, knowing how impotent they were.
One pipeline Noble has to influence government decision-makers is the unelected cadre of political aides in the offices of the Premier and his top ministers. These aides, many of whom report to Noble during the election campaign, wield tremendous power in government, a reality acknowledged by some Tory MPPs.

Tory backbencher Bill Murdoch says they openly flaunt their power. ``They say, `Hey Murdoch, we didn't even have to go through an election and we're running the place.' '' Queen's Park Speaker Chris Stockwell, a Tory MPP, calls them a "cabal'' and says they make decisions without input from elected politicians. (1)
And she wielded her power unabashed.
When Mike Harris was elected Premier, Leslie Noble became the hottest power broker in Ontario. The 37-year-old is one of Harris' closest advisers and runs the leading lobbying firm dealing with the Ontario government. No other lobbyist has Noble's access to Harris. And no other top political adviser to Harris is a lobbyist. Noble helped write the Common Sense Revolution, ran Harris' successful 1995 election campaign and will run the Tories' next campaign, expected later this year. Noble has no official job with government but regularly briefs Harris, his cabinet ministers and Tory MPPs on what needs to be done politically to stay in power. In corporate circles, Noble is the lobbyist Ontario business executives hire when they want the Harris government's ear.  (1)
Her involvement with the Common Sense Revolution, leads us to another name mentioned in the 2004 National Post offering.  Said April Lindgren:
Also a beneficiary was Tom Long, a senior Conservative strategist. The headhunting firm at which he is a senior official at one point was paid $88,000 to recruit Ms. Hutton - who was working in the premier's office with Mr. Harris - for her job as vice-president.
Long was another Clement pal, and the man who met with American publisher Steve Forbes and Republican strategist Mike Murphy, to draft the CSR, borrowed from then New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman.
Hudak has to be careful about generalizations like "cronyism", when attacking his Liberal opponent.  His party's history is one he'd be wise to keep buried.  If there are two words that can still put many Ontarians into the fetal position, they are "Mike" and "Harris".
NDP leader Andrea Horwath, is running a nice clean campaign, sticking to the issues.  The Liberals are hoping that their record will keep them in power.  The Conservatives need to stick to issues that define who they hope to be, not remind us of who they were.
1. Queen of the Park: She's the Premier's adviser and Ontario's leading lobbyist. Should taxpayers be concerned?  By Kevin Donovan and Moira Welsh, 1999

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