Hillier joins Klees in bid for PC leadership race
TORONTO - Right-wing rookie Randy Hillier added his name to the ballot for leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives on Monday, joining his more moderate caucus colleague Frank Klees in taking a run at the party's top job.
Casting himself as the "libertarian with a strong moral conscience," Hillier said he is the right leader to steer the party and the province back to true conservatism, including smaller government, fewer regulations and a more participatory democracy.
"We have become a nanny state of dependence," said Hillier, who was first elected in 2007 in the rural eastern Ontario riding of Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington.
"We are no longer responsible for our actions, when we allow ourselves to blame others for them."
In launching his campaign, Hillier vowed to bring Senate elections to Ontario and ban compulsory memberships in unions and other professional associations.
He also promised to abolish the Ontario Human Rights Commission -- established in 1961 by a Progressive Conservative government -- and have human rights cases heard in "real" courts.
The three principles that will anchor his campaign -- freedom, justice and democracy -- will appeal to both rural and vote-rich urban areas, he said.
"I believe that talking about these essential ingredients -- freedom, justice and democracy -- are not exclusive to rural Ontario," said Hillier, 51, who was joined by his wife Jane, 49, and two of their four children.
"I believe everyone in this province thirsts for those essential ingredients."
Largely considered to be the most right-wing member of the Tory caucus, the former electrician and federal government employee is no stranger to controversy.
Hillier is perhaps best known as the former president of the Lanark Landowners Association, which once sent a picture of a dead deer to Liberal cabinet minister Leona Dombrowsky with her name written on the photo.
In the lead-up to the 2007 provincial election, Hillier threatened to run his own slate of Independent candidates in some rural ridings if former leader John Tory blocked his nomination as a Conservative.
Even in launching his leadership bid Monday, Hillier was bending the rules.
He made the announcement from the legislature's media studio, even though its guidelines forbid presentations that contain party leadership campaign material.
Hillier dismissed suggestions that his reputation for headline-grabbing publicity stunts as a rural activist has branded him a political extremist with mainstream voters.
"Does anybody here feel fearful of being here with this extremist up here, with my family?" he asked reporters.
"I learned a long time ago that I don't believe everything I read in the papers or hear in the press. And I certainly don't believe everything I hear from a politician."
But for all the controversy that has surrounded Hillier over the years, he's barely made "a peep" since he joined the Opposition benches, said deputy premier George Smitherman.
"Since that election, he's barely made a mark or had a presence around here," he said.
"I think he's asked one, maybe two questions, and those were about Tibet. He's elected by the people in his riding -- you have to have respect for that -- but mostly he's been a no-show."
Klees, who announced his leadership campaign over the weekend, said he disagrees with Hillier's promise to get rid of the human rights commission.
The party needs to return to its glory days when it ruled Ontario for 42 years, back when the hallmarks of the party were fiscal conservatism and social responsibility, he said.
But it also needs a strong leader who can take on the role quickly ahead of the next provincial election in 2011, he added.
"What is different is my experience," said Klees, a former businessman who has sat in the legislature for 14 years.
"I think this is not just about winning the leadership of the party, it's about being ready to step into the responsibilities of premiership."
Klees, who represents the riding of Newmarket-Aurora north of Toronto, came in third in the 2004 leadership race that Tory won.
Tim Hudak and Christine Elliott are also expected to be on the ballot to replace Tory as party leader at a June 27 convention in Markham, Ont.
Federal Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan, who was rumoured to be testing the waters, has all but ruled out a bid.
"As I've said many times, I'm very focused on my job as public safety minister," he said Monday.
Tory decided to step down as leader after losing a byelection to his Liberal opponent Rick Johnson in the riding of Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock on March 5.