What you need to know about Doug Ford’s Conservative MPPs

A closer look at some of the representatives of the new government at Queen’s Park
Photo: Andrew Scheer

From sexual misconduct, to connections with extremist groups, to data fraud, scandals have rocked and reshaped the Ontario Progressive Conservative party over the last six months. And despite pointed attention in the final weeks of the campaign, many of the worst offenders got elected. With 76 PC MMPs now headed for Queen’s Park, we’ve got your guide to the biggest skeletons in the new PC caucus’ closet.

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‘Dalliances with extremists’

Hamilton MPP Donna Skelly, widely tipped to become a member of Doug Ford’s cabinet, came under fire in late May when a photograph emerged of her at a Christmas event brandishing a hat that advertised alt-right news platform Free Bird Media.

Skelly is not the only elected PC MPP who needs to address their connections to extremist individuals.

In response to the uproar over the image, Skelly said she was handed the hat on the day and had never heard of the extremist organization. But Free Bird Media founder Alex Van Hamme, who also spoke at the event, refuted her claims. On Facebook, he wrote that “politicians are fake.… Skelly completely threw me under the bus.” By his account, she “stood on stage and declared ‘we need more media like this!’ while holding the hat.”

Bernie Farber, chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, described Free Bird Media as amplifying neo-Nazis and white supremacists — "they give a voice to some of the most dangerous people in Canadian society." He said the issue of two contradictory accounts needs to be addressed. "It’s important that we have explanation from Ms. Skelly as to what exactly happened here."

Skelly is not the only elected PC MPP who needs to address their connections to extremist individuals. Early on in his leadership campaign, Doug Ford received endorsements by pastors Paul Melnichuk and Charles McVety, both of whom have a track record of anti-Muslim and homophobic teachings and statements.

“To give Ford credit, he has denounced endorsements received from neo-Nazis. But he has not said anything about these two, which is very troubling,” said Farber.

Indeed, while Ford did appear at a Rebel Media event in June 2017, he has since distanced himself from the extreme right media group. He also publicly disavowed support from Montreal-based white supremacist Gabriel Sohier Chaput.

Farber said it is important the PCs, who have the support of many Canadian white supremacist groups “prove they are a government that does not have dalliances with extremists.”

This involves explaining the reasons behind Ford’s more controversial candidate nominations, in particular right-wing radio host Andrew Lawton, whom the premier-elect personally appointed to the London West riding. Lawton, who announced his candidacy just 10 days before, ousted a candidate who had run a two-year nomination campaign.

“Lawton should never have been given permission to run. Yet not only did Ford sign off on his papers, he supported and defended him until the end”

Although Lawton did not win, his endorsement by Ford and the PCs should not be “put to the periphery,” said Farber.

Lawton previously hosted a right-wing radio show in London and a podcast on Rebel Media. In the past, he has criticized the hoisting the Pride Flag at London City Hall, justified homophobia by blaming gay men for the spread of HIV, called the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women as a “fake holiday” marked by “feminazis,” suggested that Holocaust denial should be openly debated at universities, condemned “the pussification of the West” and implied German women deserve to sexually assaulted by refugees because of their country’s open immigration policies.

“Lawton should never have been given permission to run. Yet not only did Ford sign off on his papers, he supported and defended him until the end,” said Farber. “I think the question has to be put to Mr. Ford, why did he do that? And did he have full info about his candidate?”

According to Farber, the same goes for Tanya Granic Allen, who was ejected by the party in early May after an old video surfaced of her making homophobic remarks. In a string of social media and blog posts dredged up by the Toronto Star, she questioned gay marriage, linked Muslims to ISIS, took aim at women wearing burkas in public, and drew parallels between abortion and the Holocaust. Prior to her firing, she was tipped for Ford’s cabinet.

Controversy-plagued Conservative MPPs

Connections with hate groups aside, PC MPPs are also embroiled in other controversies.

  • Kinga Surma, who won in Ford heartland, Etobicoke Centre, was embroiled in a bogus party membership scandal alongside the party leader. A Toronto Star investigation captured the pair on tape assuring people that they do not have to pay for their PC party membership. An affidavit by Surma’s main opponent Pina Martino for the party nomination claimed that the pair duped dozens of people into party memberships and covered the fee. Martino also alleged in a letter to the PC party counsel that during her campaign for nomination, Ford had followed her home to intimidate her.

  • Raymond Cho got into a physical altercation with a Grade 7 student at a school the week before the election. Cho apologized for “lightly touch[ing] his head” and won in the new riding of Scarborough North.

  • Monte McNaughton, a staunch opponent of the Liberals sex-ed curriculum update, has been accused of homophobia on various occasions, in particular when told reporters that “it’s not the premier of Ontario’s job, especially Kathleen Wynne, to tell parents what’s age-appropriate for their children.” He has been re-elected in Lambton-Kent-Middlesex.

  • Parm Gill, an old ally of Rob Ford’s, was captured on video saying that he had been compelled to enter politics because the idea of same-sex marriage “pushed [him] over the edge.” The circumstances of Gill’s nomination to the party seat are shady. They include allegations of bribing another PC candidate to withdraw from the race in exchange for a staff position and accusations by lead opponent Mike Cluett that Gill intimidated and bullied party members at a nomination vote — allegedly, volunteers stationed by ballot boxes wore “Gill” buttons and blocked Cluett supporters from casting their bill. A social media post by Gill suggested he had won the nomination vote a full eight months before the official vote.

  • Doug Ford is being sued by his deceased brother’s family for $16.5 million over allegations that he was neglected the family business.

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