Talk about a publicity stunt gone wrong! Almost a week after the event, repercussions from the botched announcement of Toronto-Danforth Liberal MP Dennis Mills’s superfluous waterfront plan are still being felt in local political circles.But these aftershocks have little to do with the fact that handful of anti-poverty protestors effectively disrupted the much publicized proceedings at the Westin Harbour Castle last Friday morning, February 27.
Rather, the tremors are the result of some out-of-control Liberals and local MPs who have done very little for this city but still insist on riding the coattails of Mills’s opportunistic bid. No sooner had Mills stepped up to the microphone to start listing some of the proposals he ’d dreamed up for the city’s moribund lakeshore ("immediate deliverables", he called them) than the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) crowd was all over him.Last November,the veteran parliamentarian helped end the occupation of a vacant building in his riding with a pledge to resign his seat in the House of Commons if he couldn’t get the structure converted to affordable housing within 30 days. He didn't and he didn’t. But it wasn’t their chants of "Dennis Mills resign" that ultimately wreaked havoc on the proceedings. It was the bizarre confrontational tactics employed by a few Liberal bystanders - most notably self-described "media consultant" Raymond Heard - that caused things to get ugly, delaying the news conference for 45 minutes.
It was Heard, one-time press secretary to former Liberal prime minister John Turner, who waas seen getting right in protestors' faces as the television camera rolled live to air. He called them Nazis and Bolsheviks and told them to go get jobs.
"He was running around completely out of control, yelling at the protestors and demanding that someone call the police to take them away," said one attending Liberal who was much taken aback by Heard's maniacal antics.
"His behaviour was much worse than anything the OCAP people did," said a cameraman for one local television station. I'd say he was largely responsible for things getting out of hand."
At one point Heard,who has close ties with the Toronto Port Authority and with Robert Deluce –the would-be airline executive who launched a $500-million lawsuit against the city after council killed plans for a bridge to an expanded Toronto Island Airport – started making the rounds of journalists to blast the public relations firm Mills had enlisted to organize the news conference.
That company, Media Profile,happens to be owned by Patrick Gossage, former press secretary to late prime minister Pierre Trudeau and a prominent supporter of David Miller ’s successful mayoralty campaign. When Heard encountered Gossage in the midst of the bedlam, he berated him and blamed Media Profile for the chaos.
When asked by a reporter to identify himself,Heard responded: “George Orwell –O-R-W-E-L-L.”
It was quite the Orwellian performance,all right.By the time Mills returned to the podium, his proposal for the new parks, recreation facilities and water quality improvement projects that have already been under discussion for some time were pretty anticlimactic.
When Mills handed his 18-page report to Minister of Industry Joe Volpe, the Eglinton-Lawrence MP looked rather sheepish.
Volpe noted that in addition to his industrial duties,he’s also “the minister responsible for helping Dennis.” In current political parlance that means Volpe ’s supposed to help Mills keep his seat from falling into the hands of Jack Layton when Prime Minister Paul Martin calls the next federal election. The last thing Martin wants is the NDP firebrand sitting across from him in the House.
The entire Mills waterfront plan exercise was intended to present the Toronto-Danforth MP to voters as the conduit through which much federal largesse would flow to the city. And it was no coincidence that Beaches-East York MP Maria Minna and her Trinity-Spadina colleague, Tony Ianno,were also on hand to bask in Mills ’s reflected glory.
Their waterfront ridings are also considered vulnerable to NDP attack from former city councillor Peter Tabuns and Layton’s high-profile spouse, Councillor Olivia Chow. Like Mills, Minna and Ianno are looking for all the help they can get in what have suddenly become much less predictble electoral times.
But when the worried Grits foolishly started blaming Layton for sending the OCAP protestors to disrupt their waterfront news conference, they only made clear what the plan has been all along.