Bob Yaciuk, leader of the Trillium Party of Ontario, is on the war path.
“We have a battle coming ahead of us right now,” says the backroom strategist who has served as a campaign manager for former Conservative MP Lois Brown and retired Progressive Conservative MPP Frank Klees.
With an election six months away and an MPP at Queen’s Park for the first time in the party's three-year history, Yaciuk is stoking his candidates’ fire.
A dozen of them, more than half the Trillium slate so far, have gathered under century-old floorboards in the basement of the legislature along with a few party volunteers to nibble on potato croquettes and talk shop, a stubborn chorus of discontent wafting up from the bowels of the building.
Trillium is the fringe party MPP Jack MacLaren joined when he split from the PCs last May after a video surfaced in which he appears to belittle French-language rights. The clip came in the wake of other incidents when he told sexist jokes about a female MP at a community dinner and posted testimonials from apparently fake constituents on his website.
Whether MacLaren was kicked out of the Tory house or filed the divorce papers himself remains a matter of debate.
Yaciuk's strategy, roughly translated: Don’t stump until you see the whites of their eyes.
“You can tell more about a person by shaking their hand, looking them in the eye and not saying two words than you can by all this filtered media,” Yaciuk tells his team, dismissing social media as a viable route to win hearts and minds. One candidate, who flew to Toronto from Thunder Bay on her own dime, has already handed out more than 15,000 flyers, he says. “That’s how you really go to town."
For Yaciuk, a former Reform party volunteer, it’s all about the grassroots and speaking your conscience. “Is it good for the people in my riding? I’m voting for it. Is it bad for the people in my riding? I’m not voting for it. It’s that simple,” he says, in a takedown of whipped voting.
Although, on the path to victory, every party needs a pilot. “The route to failure is trying to please everyone. You pick your path, you start walking on it,” he says. “All of a sudden, the people started to follow behind.”
MacLaren, meanwhile, has his mustachioed game face on. “Obviously, we have to work hard because we’re fighting against established larger parties. We know that, and we’re not a bit afraid of that,” says the six-year MPP, his grey hair a dusty blond under the pot lighting of a partitioned wing of the legislative dining room on Tuesday afternoon.
MacLaren, who represents Carleton-Mississippi Mills, lays out the typical Trillium talking points for his troops.
“We’re losing our manufacturing. Our hydro prices are going through the roof. We’re going to get a carbon tax [a PC pledge], which we need like a hole in the head,” he tells the would-be MPPs. “The sex education is just too much education on a delicate field. It is the business of parents.”
The party is targeting groups that “the other parties won’t touch with a 10-foot pole,” MacLaren continues, pointing to illegal pot retailers as an example. “They’re very well organized, so they’re a powerful support body,” he notes, stressing his preference for a private retail model – “like they’re doing in Alberta” – rather than Ontario’s plan for a Crown corporation monopoly.
Like him, many of Trillium’s 21 official candidates – 18 men and three women – arrived on the party doorstep as disaffected Tories. Coming from rural and GTA ridings, they were fed up with the “absolute loyalty” demanded by PC Leader Patrick Brown, who expects supporters and MPPs to “just be a good puppy and follow along,” MacLaren says.
Meet the Trillium believers
Derek Sharp, a stay-at-home dad and community volunteer from Colborne, east of Cobourg, who plans to run in Northumberland-Peterborough South, uses barbed language to voice his dissatisfaction with government and his faith in grassroots democracy.
“To me, whipped voting is taxation without representation. Revolutions and wars have been fought defending against taxation without representation,” he says.
“To me, it’s time for Ontario’s revolution,” he tells his colleagues – qualifying that it will be fought with “pencil and paper,” not muskets and bayonets. Sharp avoids mentioning that Ontario was founded by staunch Loyalists fleeing the rebellion against Crown rule.
Lonnie Herrington, a small business owner in construction with farm-boy roots, resents the forthcoming hike to the minimum wage, which will hit $14 on Jan. 1 and $15 in 2019 under the newly passed Liberal labour bill. “Everyone else that we have is expecting the same 30-per-cent, 40-per-cent raise,” he says. “The government should not be involved.”
Lionel Wayne Poizner, an engineer and former manufacturing executive who will face off against three other non-incumbents in Humber River-Black Creek on June 7, makes light of his “three weeks” of experience in politics. But he’s dead serious about commercial property taxes. The current best-use model would tax a downtown Toronto parking lot as if it were a 20-storey condo tower, he says. “It’s utterly ridiculous.”
He also laments the plight of industry in Ontario. With Poizner, it’s personal. “At one time we had 24 people working for us. By the time we sold off the assets we had about 12,” he says of the family’s industrial fastener operation.
Louise Ewen, an entrepreneur from the Thunder Bay area who has owned both a corner store and an H&R Block franchise, flew down to Toronto for the basement rendezvous this week. She still remembers casting her first ballot – for two-time federal Conservative leader Joe Clark – at age 18.
A sense of lethargy and indifference emanating from the Pink Palace prompted her to jump ship and run for Trillium in the northwest, she says. “Toronto, you guys get all the money – this is how we feel – for all your infrastructure and all this stuff. We get nothing there because we don’t have enough population.”
George Garvida, an immigration and family lawyer who hopes to give Education Minister Mitzie Hunter a run for her money in Scarborough-Guildwood, places a strong emphasis on community. “I went through all those immigration stories, coming from down there to up here. I even owned three restaurants. I was a DJ. I was everything,” he says.
“I’m telling all the Filipino-Canadians, we are here, the Trillium party. The other parties, they don’t listen to us. They just like us because we pay and we don’t complain.”
Insurance broker Chris Mellor’s new life with the Trillium caucus was born of disillusionment. He was part of the Tory riding association board that resigned en masse after the PCs’ chaotic and controversial Scarborough Centre nomination last June. Now, Mellor sees the Liberals and PCs as two notches on the same spectrum, calling the Tory chief “Patrick Wynne.”
Though MacLaren cast the sole opposing vote to the Liberals’ abortion clinic buffer zone bill in October, and though Trillium is anti-sex ed in the classroom, Mellor tries to embody the party’s inclusive side on social issues.
“The ocean liner and cargo passenger ships I worked on had large gay, lesbian and transvestite crew components in the hotel and restaurant departments. This helped me recognize and accept each person as an individual,” Mellor, a former merchant navy seaman, says on his Trillium site profile.
He also harbours less progressive views: “People want cops in schools, and I think that should be a policy.”