OTTAWA - Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak is taking heat for publicly attacking the provincial police union in the wake of the shooting deaths of three RCMP officers in Moncton, N.B.
Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne said Thursday it is a day for “mourning” but Hudak was unrepentant saying he won’t take his orders from a police union or any other union that criticizes his proposed wage freeze.
The Ontario Provincial Police Association earlier this week issued statements and released two videos urging the public not to support Hudak’s hard right policies. It was the first time in the 60 years of the OPPA it has inserted itself into a political campaign.
“I will say the same to that union as I have said the rest. Somebody has got to stand up for taxpayers. It has become the fixed game with unions on one side and then politicians elected by government unions on the other. They win, the taxpayers lose,” Hudak told reporters.
In Mississauga, Wynne said, “This a day for mourning” in the wake of the police tragedy in Moncton.
“My thoughts and my emotions right now are with the people who have been gunned down in New Brunswick. To the first responders who are looking for this person I just pray that they’re safe,” said Wynne after a meeting with municipal leaders.
“It is such a tragedy that has happened in Moncton (Wednesday).
On Thursday, Tory MPP Steve Clark (Leeds-Grenville) held a teleconference to slam the OPPA for recently meeting with the Liberals during the campaign and accused the OPPA of clearly violating provincial policies forbidding police from becoming politically involved.
When asked directly if it was poor timing to rebuke police officers, Hudak said what happened in Moncton was an “extraordinary tragedy . . . that’s why my plan is to protect front-line police officers.”
However, he said, what the OPPA has done is a “serious issue.”
“I do have concerns about the OPP union meeting with Liberals during the campaign and what was promised by Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals in return for advertising,” he said.
While Wynne was careful not to criticize Hudak for the timing of his party’s broadside against the Ontario Provincial Police Association, she insisted there was nothing untoward about the union’s meetings with Liberals.
“We had no idea what the OPPA was going to do in terms of their judgment on our policies or the Conservatives policies,” she said, adding “as far as I know there hasn’t been an endorsement” from the union of her party.
Hudak said he separates the “irresponsibility of the union leadership from the hard working police officers who out their lives on the line each and every day.”
OPPA president Jim Christie responded to Tory suggestions that something untoward has happened at the meeting with Liberals, including that the ORNGE and gas plants scandals may have been discussed. He called this “baseless and irresponsible.”
“As part of our day-to-day political efforts, I meet with senior officials and the leaders from all three parties. These meetings are purely to advocate for our members on issues like health and safety, equipment, benefits, pensions, and the list goes on,” Christie said in a statement sent to the Star.
“I want to be crystal clear on this. Any meeting held with Liberal party officials, or with officials from any party, never involved any ongoing investigations being conducted by the OPP. These investigations are clearly under the purview of Commissioner (Vince) Hawkes and the OPP,” he stated.
“Tim Hudak’s concerns about the OPP Association securing any promise whatsoever with the Liberal Party of Ontario in return for advertising are baseless and irresponsible.”
Wynne agreed “that’s just not true” there were meetings with OPPA officials in which ongoing OPP investigations into the gas-plants affair or ORNGE were discussed.
At a rally with supporters in Port Colborne, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she has had “many opportunities” to meet with the OPPA herself.
“It’s important that various voices get engaged in the political process. I think it’s legitimate for organizations and for individuals to engage in the political debate and to talk freely about their concerns as well as their hopes for this province.”
“I have no problem with the fact that the OPPA or any other organization for that matter gets involved or gets engaged in political discussion, “she added at the rally, where members of the Ontario Professional Firefighters Association, which opposes Hudak’s 100,000 job cuts, stood behind her in yellow T-shirts.
“Vigorous debate and discussion about the real choice people have in front of them in this campaign is extremely important.”
Horwath’s comments followed a recent statement from veteran New Democrat MPP Gilles Bisson (Timmins-James Bay) calling on the OPP commissioner to “clarify the force’s position” in the wake of the police union ads given that provincial police are investigating two scandals under the Liberal government’s watch — deleted emails in the gas plants debacle and questionable business practices at the troubled ORNGE air ambulance service.
- With files from Rob Ferguson