Former Liberal rising star's political rehabilitation hasn't quite gone according to plan
It was Tuesday, February 18, the return of the legislature from their more than nine-and-a-half-week holiday break, and most media attention was trained on NDP leader Andrea Horwath and what zingers she’d have ready for Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals after another NDP by-election triumph in Niagara.
Meanwhile, a familiar figure darkened the door of committee room 1.
A bespectacled Michael Bryant, brown hair slicked straight back and greying at the temples, entered the meeting room a few minutes before his scheduled appearance, looking slightly transfixed.
The former Ontario attorney general in Dalton McGuinty’s government, once-rising political star, hasn’t been publicly seen often since he was charged with criminal negligence in the death of cyclist Darcy Allan Sheppard in a 2009. The charges were eventually withdrawn by a special Crown prosecutor called in to handle the case.
Since then, his public rehabilitation – and the political comeback that was supposed to follow – hasn’t quite gone according to plan.
Bryant has kept a hand in issues like gun control and aboriginal affairs in an iPolitics.com column and the occasional op-ed piece for the Toronto Star. But toiling in obscurity as chair of the Public Accountants Council overseeing the province’s accountants, which is the job he was hoping to secure at the Legislature Tuesday, seems like an odd place to start a political resurrection.
Appointments like this one are usually pro forma, but opposition MPPs on the committee wanted to question Bryant before handing it to him. They needn’t have bothered it was obviously a slam dunk.
NDP MPP Rosario Marchese handled the honours for the NDP by welcoming Bryant back to the leg.
“How does it feel to be sitting there as someone who needs to be appointed but was once a minister for a while and an MPP?”
“Uh, terrifying”, replied Bryant, and all the politicians shared a little laugh.
“Well, I’ll be supporting your appointment, so you don’t have to worry about that,” Marchese assured him.
The two PC committee members were only slightly more penetrating in their questioning.
Etobicoke-Lakeshore MPP Doug Holyday asked Bryant how he felt about the fact that the nine members already serving on the council might resent an outsider’s getting the chair’s job.
Bryant responded with what he knew about the process.
Committee members ignored the elephant in the room. That would be the fact that same man who recommended Bryant for the appointment, Attorney General John Gerretsen, continues to deny Sheppard’s father, Roy Allan Sheppard Sr., access to the Ontario government’s voluminous files on his son’s violent death.
Sheppard Sr. has doggedly sought all pertinent official documentation that might explain the horrendous event. Slowly, he’s unearthed much of the raw police report, and last year he posted many of those documents online. Inconsistencies have been flagged.
The general public has been led to believe that Sheppard was killed only after he had attacked Bryant. But the police’s collision reconstruction report states that, “There was no physical evidence, or independent witness statements… to suggest he (Sheppard) physically attacked Mr. Bryant.”
Ideally, the dead man’s father would also like to see a full public inquiry into how the whole “special prosecutor” concept is used by governments to make potentially problem cases just go away.
But Sheppard Sr. will settle for provincial documents that shed light on why the special prosecutor accepted the defence’s arguments that Bryant was attacked as fact.
Sadly, most of the press and politicians have largely moved on as Bryant continues his slow ascent to his accustomed perch of professional entitlement.