Why Caroline Mulroney shouldn’t be the new PC leader

And why Christine Elliott is demonstrably a better replacement for the Liberals' Kathleen Wynne in June

Caroline Mulroney, the daughter of a former Prime Minister of Canada, came to town on Saturday, her specific goal being to win over registered members of the Progressive Conservative Party, which is holding a leadership contest ahead of this June’s provincial election.

A couple of important disclosures. I AM a member of the Progressive Conservative Party. I am NOT a member of any particular campaign representing contenders in this leadership race.

That said, this column is about why I WON’T be voting for Caroline Mulroney and why I WILL be voting for Christine Elliott, the former MPP and former leadership contender.

Elliott ran for leadership of the party in 2009, losing to Tim Hudak, and in 2014, losing to Patrick Brown, who resigned earlier this year—details of which can be found HERE.

While I may be losing some of you, please read on, because I think the reasons I’ll be outlining are important, not least of which because of the very real possibility/likelihood that the Progressive Conservatives will be forming the next Ontario government.

I do believe that ANY of the candidates running for leadership will be a better choice than the status quo, which is the Liberals under Kathleen Wynne, whose “best before” date is long past (although might argue that there never was such a date in the first place).

But let’s get into the why Christine and why not Caroline.

The biggest reason was reflected in a somewhat flippant comment made by Mulroney when she was addressing a crowd gathered at the Holiday Inn in Point Edward on Saturday, where she had been advertised to appear between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. (She arrived at about 2:40 p.m.—I’ll come back to that later).

Caroline Mulroney, while making the point that it was time for the current premier to retire (no argument), said she might even offer her (Wynne) the role of Patient Ombudsman.

It was clearly a sideswipe at Elliott, related to her most recent position, one that was created by the current government, and which comes with a $220,000 a year salary.

Two of her competitors in this leadership race have used the appointment of Elliott, secured not long after she resigned from her seat as MPP for Whitby-Oshawa. as an attack, saying that Elliott was wrong to accept what is described as a political appointment.

Mulroney’s comment, hidden (but not really) as a criticism of Wynne, was deceptive on its face value and here’s why:

Christine Elliott and her late husband Jim Flaherty have three boys, triplets born in 1991. One of those lads, John, was hospitalized as an infant, and doctors later concluded that he had contracted encephalitis, a disease that resulted in permanent damage and developmental delays for the youngster.

That early experience also became a big part of why Elliott and her husband, who died suddenly in 2014 while serving as federal Minister of Finance, became fierce advocates for the rights and services of children and adults with special needs.

So digging deeper into the criticism Elliott has faced about her appointment as Patient Ombudsman, here’s an important fact, one that is not being told by her opponents in the race, and one that makes Mulroney’s comment even more egregious.

Elliott competed for this job, having been asked to put her name forward. There were some 400 candidates who were interviewed for the job, which oversees hospitals, community care access centres and long-term care homes.

When her appointment was announced by then-Health Minister Eric Hoskins (he has recently resigned to take on a role in the federal government’s proposed pharmacare initiative), he said her “advocacy for vulnerable people, extensive knowledge of the health care system and commitment to the betterment of this province make her the perfect choice.”

TVO journalist Steve Paikin, in a Feb. 26, 2018 post, qouted Michael Decter, chair of Patients Canada and a former Ontario Deputy Minister of Health, who was on an independent panel of health-policy experts that vetted all potential candidates for the job that went to Elliott.

“It was an important appointment and followed a proper public-service process,” Decter said. “It was not a patronage appointment in any way. In my opinion, Christine Elliott was an excellent appointment.”

Elliott is said to have demonstrated authenticity during the interview, especially when she described why she wanted to be a voice for those whom the health-care system had failed.

Elliott began her duties on Canada Day, 2016. “Wynne’s government actually received kudos for putting partisanship aside and giving an appointment to a former political adversary,” journalist Paikin wrote.

Elliott resigned from the position on Feb. 1, 2018 to announce her run for the current leadership race.

Caroline Mulroney’s comment about the Patient Ombudsman role (albeit it not very obliquely being tied to Kathleen Wynne and her retirement as Premier) was unfair, especially since its entire premise ignored the facts around how the job of Patient Ombudsman was filled.

But it’s also not that surprising given another comment that her father, Brian Mulroney, made when he was leading the federal Progressive Conservatives (the name they used then), facing John Turner, who had succeeded Pierre Trudeau as prime minister on June 30, 1984.

Nine days after becoming Prime Minister, Turner petitioned the Governor General (Jeanne Sauve) for a September election.

In a televised leaders’ debate Turner attacked Brian Mulroney over a series of patronage appointments that had allegedly been set up in anticipation of a PC victory. Mulroney deftly countered the attack, pointing to a raft of appointments that had been made on the advice of Trudeau (father of the current Prime Minister) and Turner himself. Mulroney demanded that Turner apologize for what he called “these horrible appointments.”

When Turner replied that he “had no option” except to let those appointments stand, Mulroney took the offensive (remember: the original line of argument was against Mulroney, not Turner).

“You had an option, sir – to say ‘no’ – and you chose to say ‘yes’ to the old attitudes and the old stories of the Liberal Party,” was Mulroney’s killer shot, one that many observers of the day believe was a repartee that ultimately clinched the election.

So here we are, 34 years later, and Brian’s daughter is demonstrating that at least some of her wit comes from Dad’s side of the family.

Except then we were at least mostly dealing with facts. Not so much today. Caroline’s comments were not only NOT based on fact, they were hurtful.

I said earlier that I’d come back to Caroline’s late arrival to Sarnia on Saturday. Yes, the crowd in Chatham, where she was scheduled to be from noon to 1 p.m., was larger than expected and people there wanted to speak with her.

But anyone who has made the trip to or from Chatham to Sarnia knows it’s about an hour’s drive.

So she *could* have been here on time. But she wasn’t.

Her tardiness said one thing above all else.

“My time is more valuable than yours.”

Not a quote, of course. But it’s nonetheless a case of actions speaking louder than words.

Which is, perhaps, why her first words to the Sarnia crowd gathered were these: “I’m going to change my logo from ‘Something new, something different’ to ‘Better late than sorry.'”

Laughter followed. Some of it nervous. But at least some of us in the room got the underlying message.

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