McMeekin ponders future amid PC infighting
As veteran Liberal weighs his options, former Tory candidates challenge their party
He was way over in Essex county working on a rural poverty report for Premier Kathleen Wynne.
The cloud cover was thick, rain was bucketing down, and cellphone reception was broken and muzzy.
Still, there was enough sporadic clarity to hear Liberal MPP Ted McMeekin’s response to the pressing question: Does he intend to seek re-election in 2018?
“I haven’t made a final decision yet,” he said. “I’m talking to a lot of people. I haven’t met anyone yet who thinks I shouldn’t run again. So the feeling is pretty good out there.”
The question is timely because of Progressive Conservative infighting in the new riding of Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas (HWAD), where McMeekin will run if he decides to take another shot at it.
The right to carry the PC banner in the riding was won earlier this month by 25year-old Ben Levitt, a constituency assistant and longtime volunteer with Conservative MP David Sweet.
But Levitt’s win is being challenged by two of the other three nominees, who allege irregularities at the nomination meeting.
In the light of other disputed outcomes, Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown has decided to bring an outside auditor on board to quarterback all future nomination meetings. It’s a smart move. The last thing Brown wants while riding high in the polls is to be buffeted by embarrassing and distracting party squalls.
But clearly some damage to the PC cause has already been done in HWAD, just as it was done in 2011 when Donna Skelly was cherry-picked as the candidate for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale (ADFW). Then as now, party squabbles can only be good for the Liberals and, to a lesser extent, the NDP.
The new riding replacing ADFW was created in 2012 when the federal electoral boundaries were rejigged. In the 2015 federal election, HWAD was comfortably captured by Liberal Filomena Tassi. The Tories placed a half decent second, the New Democrats a forlorn third, and the Greens a farflung fourth.
But that was when Trudeaumania-lite was in full sizzle. Next year’s Ontario election will be the first time HWAD is contested provincially. And the Liberals will be going into it burdened with 15 years of accumulated scandals, deep voter unrest, and Wynne’s washed-out authenticity.
That’s why McMeekin’s plans are so significant. For almost 20 years and two previous riding alignments, he’s been the area’s provincial lion. A member of cabinet six times and now parliamentary assistant to Wynne, McMeekin is Hamilton’s only Liberal MPP. He has deep roots, a solid track record of delivering for the city, and, regardless of his party’s fortunes, he’s bound to remain a formidable foe at the ballot box.
Some Liberal insiders think McMeekin will, barring a major uptick in the party’s depleted popularity, finally hang up his skates in 2018. After all, by the time the election rolls around, he’ll be almost 70 years old and the prospect of sitting on the opposition benches can’t be very appealing.
But if you take McMeekin at his word, it’s all up in the air. He says he meets with Wynne weekly. He wants to have a good chat with her about what’s going on before making the call.
“When I decide, I will go public with it. People deserve to know. And if I’m not going to (run), I’ll go public with that too because people would need an opportunity to get lined up if they want to go.”
If he does bow out, McMeekin figures as many as 10 candidates may seek the Liberal nomination to replace him. He doesn’t know if he’d endorse anyone.
“I have to make my own decision before I even cross that bridge.”
Given the party’s baggage, even with McMeekin on the ballot it could be a tight contest. Without him, it’s sure to be a wide open race.
That means whichever way the old warhorse jumps, any dissension in the Progressive Conservative ranks must be as welcome to the Liberals as the sun breaking through clouds.