PR photo of the family Hudak.
Oh, the outrage. Last week's meeting of the justice policy committee at Queen's Park - you know, the one that has been looking into the Liberals' cancellation of the Mississauga and Oakville gas plants? - provided a valuable lesson about the personal in politics. Sometimes it just adds up to sour grapes.
The affairs of our affairs of state have never been so partisan, or personal.
The PCs are particularly good at crawling into that gutter. The prevailing nastiness can be traced right back to their adoption of American-style politicking pioneered by their godfather, Mike Harris. He was bringing in Yankee spin-doctors to show us how to bloody political opponents before it became cool. There has been an incremental loss in civility ever since.
In good ol' Ontario, however, it seems there's still a measure of decorum afforded the family members of politicians. They're supposed to be off-limits. It's an unwritten rule.
Which brings me back to last week's meeting of the justice policy committee. You know that story. The Libs fucked up, moved gas plants to save them two important 905 seats in the last election. And in the process, flushed somewhere in the order of $500 million (and rising) of taxpayers' money down the drain.
The committee has been hearing from a number of witnesses. As political embarrassments go, this is one the PCs have staked their election fortunes on, the example of Liberal malfeasance they plan to take to voters as proof it's time for a change.
So there were the predictable howls from PC members when Liberal Bob Delaney tried to pull a fast one and asked the committee to order any and all correspondence related to the closure of the Oakville plant involving one Deb Hutton.
Hutton happens to be PC leader Tim Hudak's wife. She's also former senior adviser to the aforementioned Harris, who comes with a colourful reputation of her own for bareknuckle politics. She was under contract to TransCanada, the company hired to build the Oakville plant, reportedly performing media monitoring work, at the time the shit was hitting the fan.
It's unclear whether her duties with TransCanada involved offering high-level advice. She reportedly sought clearance from the province's integrity commissioner before she took up her duties with the company.
Could she help shed more light on who knew what when? Or, were the Libs just trying to embarrass the PC leader? The answer is probably the latter. The NDP members of the justice committee would join the PCs in voting down Delaney's request. NDP committee member Peter Tabuns charged the Libs with "playing games."
But others might argue that Hutton's fair game. From where some Liberals are standing, she doesn't get an exemption just because she's Hudak's wife. Other staffers involved in the gas plant mess have been called to testify. Why should she get a get out of jail free card? She's not exactly the run of the mill political spouse.
Clearly the Libs were trying to embarrass Hudak. But the PCs also supported closing the gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga (ad the NDP, too). And if the Libs can draw some blood playing up that fact, that Hudak also benefited financially (however indirectly) from his wife's gig, well then... let's not pretend to be so outraged.
Chalk it up to political choreography. At Queen's Park, it's hard to avoid, especially as we may be headed into an election.
Besides, the PCs shouldn't be so self-righteous. They've been in attack mode since before the Legislature reconvened. Kathleen Wynne wasn't even sworn in when attack ads started rolling. The onslaught has also verged on the personal.
On the day her cabinet was introduced, for example, it was the Premier's partner's consulting firm, and the that fact it enjoys contracts with the province, on the PCs' media spin hit list. Nothing nefarious was going on there. But the innuendo was enough to manufacture the desired whiff. Where does that rank in the "getting too personal" continuum?
There was one especially prominent Liberal among those taking umbrage at the attempted outing of Hutton. Warren Kinsella, a key strategist for Dalton McGuinty, the guy who caused the gas plant chaos in the first place (irony?), took to his blog and Twitter to register his wrath.
"Spouses and families are always off-limits," Kinsella said. He added: "If I was still involved, this wouldn't be happening. I can guarantee you that."
The Sun, which loves to play up internecine crap among Liberals whenever it gets a chance, (and for which Kinsella also writes a column) was quick on the uptake.
Kinsella's remarks caught some fellow Liberals by surprise, partly because it's fair to say that he's a fight-fire-with-fire kind of guy. He's not referred to as the modern-day Machiavelli for nothing.
In another life, directing McGuinty's election "war room," all bets were off, especially where the PCs were concerned. It got ugly at times, so ugly that there would be a meeting between Hudak and McGuinty before the 2011 election - and a loose agreement - to call off the dogs.
(For the record, I tried to ask Kinsella about all that. Let's just say the texting back and forth, a preferred mode of communication of his when he thinks he needs to keep a record of such things, did not end well.)
These days it's Liberals he's fighting. What's changed? Kinsella's relationship with the Ontario wing of the party, mostly. Some speculate that he's moving to the NDP. His name has been associated with a possible Olivia Chow run for mayor. We all wish him well on his journey.
But back to the business of the personal in politics... Kinsella very publicly severed ties with the Libs shortly after the leadership race where his candidate, Sandra Pupatello, lost to Wynne. Insiders say Eric Hoskins' move to the Wynne camp after he reportedly committed to supporting Pupatello, is what's stuck in Kinsella's craw. There were a lot of regrettable things said during the leadership so, for many Liberals, where Kinsella's concerned, the bad feelings are mutual. He's been waging a not-so-subtle campaign against Wynne & Co. ever since.
If it's not the Premier's overstated Harvard credentials he's pointing out, it's pumping polls showing the Liberals behind, and shitting all over the ones showing them ahead. My guess is he'd like to see the Libs toppled just so he can say, "I told you so."
Seems an offensive reversal for Kinsella, given how Wynne supported his guy, McGuinty, through thick and thin. Talk about getting personal. In politics, these days, it's hard not to.