Disagreements among Ontario Progressive Conservatives about a controversial labour proposal blew out into the open on Tuesday, leading to the firing of a Windsor-area candidate just months before a likely spring election.
Dave Brister said in an interview that he has long been vocal behind the scenes about his opposition to "right-to-work" legislation, which would ban compulsory union membership, and was unrepentant for suddenly going public with those criticisms on Twitter.
"There is a growing number of people who acknowledge that this doesn't work," Mr. Brister said of a policy that he argued would lead to lower wages. Other MPPs, he said, have told him they feel the same way, but the "unfortunate reality in Ontario politics" is that "elected officials and candidates are required to check their opinions and in a lot of cases their intelligence at the door."
It was the third time in less than five months that Mr. Hudak made a caucus member or candidate pay for perceived insubordination, with MPPs Randy Hillier and Peter Shurman – the latter of whom has since resigned from the legislature – dumped from their shadow cabinet positions in September. It also happened on the same day that veteran PC MPP Frank Klees, who at times has clashed with Mr. Hudak publicly, announced that he has decided not to seek re-election.
And it came as welcome news to the governing Liberals, who held it up as evidence that Mr. Hudak's positions are too "extreme" even for some members of his own party.
PC officials countered that Mr. Brister was ousted not for letting his own policy views be known, but for violating the confidentiality of a "super-caucus" in which candidates meet alongside incumbent MPPs, and for attacks on fellow Tories.
The flare-up began with Mr. Brister approvingly tweeting a Globe and Mail column from this past weekend that noted Mr. Hudak appears to be reconsidering his endorsement of right-to-work because of pushback from within his party.
After tweeting "kudos to @timhudak; a leader who listens," Mr. Brister became more emphatic – calling on Mr. Hudak to "expel" the issue once and for all, and claiming he is "not the loudest" opponent within his party of right-to-work, "just 1st to say it."
His comments then took a more personal turn, with Mr. Brister accusing labour critic Monte McNaughton of running a "behind scenes leadership campaign."
Mr. Brister denied revealing what was said in caucus, noting that plenty of fellow Tories – including at least one MPP – spoke out against right-to-work before a closely contested vote on the policy at the party's convention last fall.
In addition to their contrasting accounts as to what prompted the firing, Mr. Brister and his party also offered different versions of how it transpired. While the former candidate said that two party representatives who drove from Toronto to his office on Tuesday afternoon told him to either recant his opposition to right-to-work or step aside, PC officials denied any such choice was given.
Mr. Brister was slated to run for the Tories for the second time, having come within fewer than 1,400 votes of winning Essex in 2011. In the coming election, he would have been competing primarily with first-term NDP incumbent Taras Natyshak, in a riding known for having a large contingent of union members – a consideration that some PCs suggested was the motivation behind his outspokenness.
Nevertheless, sources say that a significant number of caucus members and candidates have voiced concerns about right-to-work behind closed doors, albeit in most cases less strongly than Mr. Brister.