McMeekin ponders fu­ture amid PC in­fight­ing

As vet­eran Lib­eral weighs his op­tions, former Tory can­di­dates chal­lenge their party

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - AN­DREW DRESCHEL An­drew Dreschel’s com­men­tary ap­pears Mon­day, Wed­nes­day and Fri­day. adreschel@thes­pec.com 905-526-3495 @An­drewDreschel

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.

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