Hamilton’s sole member of the Liberal party in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, Ted McMeekin, announced Monday that he is resigning from Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Cabinet.
Earlier today I spoke with the Premier and let her know that I would not be continuing as a member of her Cabinet. I will continue to discharge my duties as Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing until the Premier names a replacement.
My decision was focussed by the Premier’s intention to achieve gender parity in her next Cabinet.
[S]ometimes the best way for a man to advance the equality of women may be to step back and make room at the table.
For me, this is such a time.
I won’t tell you this was an easy decision. Even with all of my privilege and advantages, there’s a part of me that still wants to cry out “this isn’t fair.” It has caused me some soul searching.
McMeekin remains MPP for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale, and there’s no doubt in my mind that McMeekin will remain a strong representative of his riding and of Hamilton as a whole.
His influence with the Premier is increased because he’s clearing a cabinet seat for the lead-up to the reelection campaign and he’ll be able to focus on implementing the many reforms he’s started in the past two years as Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.
Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown knows McMeekin isn’t going to rest, writing in a statement “On behalf of the Ontario PC Party, I thank Ted for his years of service in Cabinet. Ted will remain a strong representative for his Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale constituents.”
McMeekin’s political career is far from over. He’s not going into retirement on the backbenches of the Wynne government.
McMeekin, The Activist Minister
He achieved his primary goals as Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.
He’s brought in municipal political reform with amendments to the Municipal Elections Act which will diminish the disproportionate advantages of incumbency, decrease the influence of money, allow municipalities to adopt ranked ballots, and a variety of housekeeping reforms.
McMeekin wrote his Masters’ Thesis in the late 1970s on affordable housing. As Minister, McMeekin brought in inclusionary zoning, updated the provincial long-term affordable housing strategy, and secured millions to renovate and refit social housing.
McMeekin’s statement refers to his “three daughters, all confident and accomplished young women. With my wonderful wife, they are the joy of my life”.
On the Greenbelt, McMeekin moved to strengthen the protections of the plan. This over the objections of greenfield developers and Council’s like Hamilton City Council.
His daughters influence him, they’ve adopted urban lifestyles. Two of his daughters operate small businesses in Hamilton’s Central Business District. They take their father walking along James Street and in the International Village. Afterwards, they enjoy drinks at Hamilton’s most famous “hipster bar” The Brain.
This is a big reason why the former Mayor of Flamborough implemented a series of changes which urbanists are cheering and a big reason he is the champion of Hamilton’s Light Rail Transit project.
McMeekin Very Active On The Backbench Prior to Cabinet
In 2007, started covering higher education and was often at Queen’s Park. At the time, McMeekin was Minister of Consumer Services. Previous to being named to Cabinet, he was Parliamentary Secretary for Education. I often conversed with senior civil servants in the Ministry of Education. They remarked frequently on the level of preparation required for meetings with McMeekin, and how he managed a wide range of issues in the Ministry for his Minister, Gerald Kennedy. He was not a drone just deflecting questions when the Minister was absent.
My contacts never revealed what McMeekin was leading on, and I didn’t care to ask as primary education wasn’t my beat, but it was clear he was more than just a regular do-little backbencher with a slight pay bump and title.
McMeekin’s “At Least One More Term” at Queen’s Park
When McMeekin and I conversed in the halls of Queen’s Park, his favourite topic of conversation were his girls, then post secondary students. He was living in Toronto with one of his daughters who was attending York University.
In 2008, McMeekin underwent surgery for cancer, which was detected very early and he fully recovered. He started taking better care of his health, and his wife, a medical doctor himself, assisted him with a diet plan. (When I visited Ted in 2011 to talk open data at his office, he suggested we meet at the Brown Dog, saying his wife liked me and this would be good cover for him having an apple fritter.)
In 2012, McMeekin’s political future was subject of much speculation. As the Liberal leadership race started, he was one of the first sitting MPPs to endorse Kathleen Wynne. Shortly after she became Premier, McMeekin was back on all cylinders working hard for re-election.
He often spoke of writing his thesis and how he wanted “at least one more term” to improve social housing and affordability in Ontario.
Housing, housing, housing, this was his goal, his focus during the last election.
His wife, Barbara, fully supported his decision to run again. During a relaxed moment at the McMaster University student pub, McMeekin talked about the trade-off of running for another term, and the likelihood of one last term in the Cabinet. He said his wife and him enjoyed his short time as a backbencher during 2010/11. They were able to spend more time together at their vacation home in Arizona.
McMeekin wanted to make a difference, the chance to implement changes. There was a trade-off. As a Cabinet member, he implemented change. As a Cabinet member, he gave up weekends, vacation during recesses of the Legislature, and time with his family to move those changes forward.
Arguably, he achieved the goals of his “at least one more term” and there are still two years to spare.
McMeekin Goes Into Implementation Mode To Secure Final Term Achievements
Let’s go back to his statement:
We refreshed our affordable housing strategy with a revolutionary new, portable housing benefit. We’re giving municipalities the authority to adopt inclusionary zoning. And we secured over a billion dollars of new funding for housing, because we believe that everyone in Ontario should have “an affordable, suitable and adequate home to provide the foundation to secure employment, raise a family and build strong communities.”
I know the cynics and critics will say none of it was enough, and I’ll let you in on a little secret. Most of the time, I agree with them. There’s always more to be done. That’s what has driven me so far, so long.
But I will not let the excellent become the enemy of the good. We’ve done some very good work… and I’m proud of it.
Leaving Cabinet now, on his own terms and not in a pre-election cabinet shuffle or in the lead up to the next election, affords him the opportunity to write words which resonate and are widely read. This statement is his final major act in provincial politics, and by choosing his timing, he gets to leave words which he hopes will influence and inspire future politicians and civic leaders.
But make no mistake, he isn’t done. I’m sure he’ll spend more time in Arizona with his wife. More time in Hamilton with his daughters, and more time sitting in the public gallery at City Hall watching City Council.
Hamilton City Council’s Embarrassing Behaviour
McMeekin can, and I expect will, be more open in his criticism of Hamilton City Council’s shenanigans. As Minister of Municipal Affairs, it considered inappropriate for the Minister to comment on specific affairs of any municipal government.
The Minister holds significant reserve powers over local municipalities. The municipalities are creatures of the province with no constitutional protection from the Minister’s power. This convention restrained McMeekin from speaking too strongly on the latest Council fiasco.
McMeekin fought hard behind the scenes to secure Hamilton’s $1-billion in LRT funding.
It’s been suggested, as a suburban representative, that McMeekin wasn’t in favour of LRT and didn’t do much to secure the funding. This fails to account for the influence of his daughters and that he is focused on what does Ontario look like in 10 years, 20 years, and 25 years.
When, in January 2015, the Premier privately laid out the LRT 100% capital funding plan to Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger and then the Mayor usurped the Premier by announcing the funding – triggering an embarrassing game of political wordsmithing, McMeekin had to do damage control at Queen’s Park. (When did a Premier ever have a local Mayor announce a $1-billion capital spending program?)
In March 2015, McMeekin – as Minister of Municipal Affairs – called all the Mayors of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area to a meeting that included a session with the Premier. Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger didn’t attend and sent a City Councillor and his Chief of Staff instead. This embarrassment – the Mayor of the Minister’s hometown not attending – was on McMeekin at Queen’s Park.
November 2015, Hamilton City Council arrives late to meetings at Queen’s Park. Scheduled to meet with the Deputy Premier at 9:30 a.m. Hamilton City Council, travelling for a lobby day at Queen’s Park, didn’t leave Hamilton City Hall until after 8:00 a.m. by bus on a Tuesday morning. Municipal councils from across Ontario regularly travel to Queen’s Park, and are regularly early – not leaving things to the last minute. Everyone looks at the regional minister when they roll their eyes at the continuing amateurish behaviour of Hamilton City Council.
And there is the present LRT fiasco. McMeekin was silent on the above cited embarrassments. He finally had enough, despite being Minister, McMeekin spoke out against Council on the Bill Kelly Show. Remembering the restraints of his position, McMeekin’s words are potent:
McMeekin: You know, we need to understand a couple basic facts here. It’s not the city that’s building the LRT, it’s the province. We won’t build it if-
Kelly: But on that point, is one of the reasons there seems to be some knuckle-dragging and foot-dragging here is because there’s so much misinformation out there? There are still some people that think that you gave this government a billion and said, We’d like you to spend it on LRT but if there’s something else, go ahead. That was never stated.
McMeekin: No, it’s a light rail transit specific investment. It’s been budgeted for, I think, in whatever the calendar year is. It’s interesting that one of the councillors argued that the province should cut a cheque for the billion dollars just in case the government changed.
Well, you can make that case for every project that gets scheduled. Maybe the council of the day should set money aside for council decisions in 2028, that they want to see the 2028 council make. So you need to move ahead with it. It’s an LRT specific investment.
The City of Brampton, as you may know, made a decision after a lot of debate to not approve their own scheme and they lost about $1.6 billion that went elsewhere. And I get a little concerned after all the hullaballoo of: The council is unanimous, we want to move forward with this, this is our number one priority. The mayor put a citizen group together to even make recommendations around route changes and what have you.
And there was a lot of reason – good reason, I suspect – for the Province to say no, given some of the shenanigans that went on. But the Premier and I fought very hard to get that funding allocated, and – I don’t know, Bill, I don’t know how I can reasonably look my cabinet colleagues in the eye after fighting for this transformational funding for the city we all know and love, you know, if after all of what we’ve been through, the Council in its infinite wisdom or folly turns down light rail transit.
Influence With the Premier Increased, Next Two Years Will Be Busy
He’ll also spend the next two years before the provincial election time seeing to the implementation of the legislation he shepherded into first and second readings. He’ll call the Premier when needed, and the Premier will pick up the phone.
It’s the midpoint of this term of government, cabinet shuffles happen as members who plan to retire step aside to make room for new Ministers who will stand for re-election. The Cabinet goes into fundraising mode for their political party. The years proceeding the election are the busiest.
If McMeekin stayed in Cabinet, he wouldn’t be able to ensure the implementation of his social housing changes, he wouldn’t have much time for his family, and he placed his Premier in a difficult position.
McMeekin’s decision to step aside now is a master move by a politician whose always remained focus on goals and never let power get to his head.
This isn’t the final chapter for McMeekin. Hamilton desperately needs an elder statesman – will McMeekin fulfill that role? Maybe even run for Mayor in 2018?