It’s a sum­mer of re­flec­tion

MPPs think­ing of run­ning, or not run­ning, in 2018

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - JOHN MILLOY

With an On­tario pro­vin­cial elec­tion planned for next June, many MPPs will be spend­ing this sum­mer kick-start­ing their un­of­fi­cial re-elec­tion cam­paigns. But not ev­ery­one will be out shak­ing hands and kiss­ing ba­bies on the bar­be­cue cir­cuit. For many, this sum­mer will be a pe­riod of se­ri­ous re­flec­tion. Is it fi­nally time to call it quits? Do they have the stom­ach to face an­other gru­elling cam­paign with the pos­si­bil­ity of four more years of po­lit­i­cal life? Or should they join the likes of En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Glen Mur­ray and sev­eral vet­eran MPPs, in­clud­ing Speaker Dave Levac, who have al­ready an­nounced they will be leav­ing pol­i­tics? It was a ques­tion I faced prior to the 2014 elec­tion and I re­mem­ber how dif­fi­cult it was to de­cide to leave.

Po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tives hate this pe­riod. Con­vinced that the only way to hold ex­ist­ing seats is to have the in­cum­bent run again, cam­paign of­fi­cials will be plac­ing enor­mous pres­sure on cur­rent mem­bers to keep their names on the bal­lot and put aside any talk of mov­ing on.

And it’s not just in­ter­nal pres­sure. Wa­ver­ing mem­bers, par­tic­u­larly on the gov­ern­ment side, are also forced to deal with in­tense me­dia spec­u­la­tion about who might be quit­ting. With the Lib­er­als trail­ing in the polls, ev­ery Lib­eral MPP knows that any re­tire­ment an­nounce­ment has the po­ten­tial to be spun neg­a­tively as a vote of non-con­fi­dence in Pre­mier Kath­leen Wynne and her party.

One need look no far­ther than an April story by the Toronto Star’s Rob Ben­zie, claim­ing that there could be an “ex­o­dus” of Lib­eral MPPs not run­ning in the next elec­tion due to the pre­mier’s un­pop­u­lar­ity. Speaker Levac picked up on the theme in his re­tire­ment an­nounce­ment, telling the press that “some will ques­tion or even use my an­nounce­ment against my party and my leader … Noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth.”

Maybe it’s time both po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tives and the press gave those MPPs con­sid­er­ing re­tire­ment a break. They need to stop re­duc­ing a com­plex per­sonal de­ci­sion to one based solely on crass po­lit­i­cal cal­cu­la­tions. A po­lit­i­cal life is hard enough with­out hav­ing to worry about be­ing ac­cused of trea­son against your leader and party for sim­ply de­cid­ing to leave. In my ex­pe­ri­ence, few de­cide to re­tire sim­ply be­cause of poll num­bers.

I look at my own de­ci­sion not to run in the 2014 pro­vin­cial elec­tion. At that point I held the du­bi­ous dis­tinc­tion of be­ing the Lib­eral MPP who had won by the small­est mar­gin — 323 votes. The polls showed the gov­ern­ing Lib­er­als in real trou­ble and as House Leader I had be­come one of the main de­fend­ers of the gov­ern­ment in the never-end­ing gas plant scan­dal. It was easy for the op­po­si­tion and oth­ers to char­ac­ter­ize my de­ci­sion as a lack of con­fi­dence in the Wynne Lib­er­als. Never afraid to take a cheap shot, the Op­po­si­tion was quick to de­scribe me as “run­ning away from the gov­ern­ment” in the first Ques­tion Pe­riod that fol­lowed my re­tire­ment an­nounce­ment.

Although it was an easy nar­ra­tive to con­struct, it sim­ply wasn’t ac­cu­rate. My re­tire­ment had lit­tle to do with pol­i­tics and much more to do with fam­ily. I had an 8-year-old and 3-year-old who barely knew me. My wife had shoul­dered the bur­den of rais­ing our kids alone for far too long. She of­ten joked that she had the worst of all worlds; she had the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of a sin­gle par­ent but wasn’t al­lowed to date (at least I think she was jok­ing). I had ex­pe­ri­enced health prob­lems, hated the com­mute to Toronto and was sim­ply sick and tired of the po­lit­i­cal life. It was time to leave.

I don’t dis­pute the fact that in a tight race in­cum­bency can have its ben­e­fits. Cer­tain mem­bers are so well-known that their name on the bal­lot can hold a seat even when the tide is go­ing the other way. MPPs are not, how­ever, com­modi­ties. They are not chess pieces to be moved around the board. They are hu­man be­ings with com­pli­cated per­sonal lives and have ev­ery right to re­tire with­out be­ing ac­cused of dis­loy­alty.

We need good peo­ple to en­ter pol­i­tics and although we spend much time dis­cussing ways to make it eas­ier to be­come a can­di­date, we rarely speak about the need to help those al­ready elected make a grace­ful exit.

John Milloy is a for­mer On­tario cab­i­net min­is­ter who served as Lib­eral MPP for Kitch­ener Cen­tre. He cur­rently teaches at Water­loo Lutheran Sem­i­nary, Wil­frid Lau­rier Univer­sity, and the Univer­sity of Water­loo. A ver­sion of this com­men­tary was orig­i­nally pub­lished on­line by QP Brief­ing.

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