LOYALIST TOWNSHIP — Candidates from the Trillium Party of Ontario gathered at the Amherstview Community Hall last month to discuss their path to a majority government. The leader concedes the journey could be a long one.
A majority might not come with this election, Trillium leader Bob Yaciuk said. Or the next.
In fact, Yaciuk said Trillium will be lucky to win four seats in 2018 — and most pundits would probably say even that outcome is wildly optimistic. The party’s two candidates garnered 296 votes between them in its first election in 2014.
“I’m not going to be the next premier of Ontario,” Yaciuk said, eliciting gasps. The gathering was ostensibly a meet-and-greet, but most of the 20 or so people on hand had already met: the group consisted mainly of candidates and their family members, which gave the event the feel of a campaign meeting.
A party leader normally wouldn’t — and arguably shouldn’t — concede so definitively a month away from an election. But the shocked silence didn’t last long. Yaciuk is a passionate and talkative leader, the kind of guy who starts to tell a story but interrupts himself to tell three more stories before he finishes the first. Yaciuk would be the first to admit he is prone to “rambling,” especially if the topic is Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne or the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario.
“You know what the political cycle is in Ontario? Vote for the PCs. They screw you over. So you drop them. Then you vote for the Liberals. Then they screw you over. So you vote for the PCs. And the cycles goes on and on,” Yaciuk said. “If you’re voting out Lucifer just to vote another Lucifer in, that’s just dumb.”
Yaciuk caught himself.
“OK, that was probably a bit too dramatic … but what we’ve got to do is break that cycle,”
That the Trillium Party won’t form a majority government is a simple matter of arithmetic: even if all 33 of their candidates got elected, they still wouldn’t have enough seats. But what Trillium does have, in contrast to most so-called fringe parties, is an MPP (who wasn’t elected under the Trillium banner). The party, whose members generally lean to the political right, scored its biggest coup to date when Carleton-Mississippi Mills MPP Jack MacLaren joined the party last year after being expelled from the Tory caucus by then-leader Patrick Brown. (MacLaren had been seen on video making remarks about French-language requirements in Ontario that were seen to be insensitive and disparaging. It was not the first time he was accused of undermining the party.)
And with that, Trillium went from from a party of none at Queen’s Park to a party of one.
MacLaren and Trillium Party representatives say they were planning the move for months. Instead of butting heads with PC leadership with increasing frequency, MacLaren said his new affiliation would allow him to better represent the interests of his riding. “The Trillium Party will give me the opportunity to speak freely on my constituents’ behalf, to vote freely on their behalf, and to have input into all policy-making on their behalf,” MacLaren wrote on Twitter at the time.
MacLaren, who was scheduled to be at the event in Loyalist Township but cancelled because of a scheduling conflict, is something of a rockstar figure within the party and its predominantly rural base. Yaciuk jokes that when MacLaren was first nominated as a PC candidate in 2011, more people showed up to support him than you would find at the average Ottawa Senators game. MacLaren’s willingness to dig in his heels as the PCs cast him aside has quickly become party lore. Indeed, MacLaren is often touted as the Trillium Party’s success story, despite never winning an election as a Trillium candidate.
Let a hundred flowers bloom
What does the Trillium Party stand for? That depends on whom you ask. Policy discussions at the April 28 meeting were a mix of social conservatism, fiscal conservatism and libertarianism. Members spoke against the Green Energy Act and the sex-ed curriculum, and in favour of balanced budgets and privatized cannabis sales.
Other attendees rode in on more arcane hobby horses. John Grant, Trillium’s director of political operations and a candidate in Brampton South, spoke of the virtues of incinerators and the potential cash cow that could be waiting for Ontario if it can harness and sell the energy they create. Andre Imbeault, the candidate for Kingston and the Islands, focused on food security and urban farming.
What unites Trillium’s membership is the belief that the system of whipping party votes — that is, requiring caucus members to vote along party lines — needs to be abolished. Trillium Party MPPs, provided there are any following the election, will be encouraged to vote in the interests of their constituents.
Meanwhile, differences of opinion within the party are encouraged. “We all have our interests,” Yaciuk said. “People ask me all the time, ‘What happens when one of your candidates says the wrong thing?’ You know, I can live with people saying different things. We can learn. This is Canada … Policies don’t mean anything if you don’t have principles.”
High ideals aside, the absence of a central message leaves room for confused discussion to flourish. At the Amherstview Community Hall, several of the candidates picked up on a talking point about the Ontario Liberals spending $650,000 on the design of a cover page for the 2018 budget. This was held up as an example of Liberal mismanagement of taxpayer dollars.
The problem? The talking point was a myth. Someone likely conflated a story that the federal Liberals spent $157,000 on budget artwork last year — which itself wasn’t the whole story — and the revelation earlier this year that the LCBO spent $650,000 on branding and marketing for the Ontario Cannabis Store.
How to win seats and influence policy
As the Trillium Party seeks potential new members, disaffected former Tory loyalists are the most likely source. Take Hastings-Lennox and Addington candidate Lonnie Herrington, for example. “I lost all my trust in the PC Party,” he said. “The Trillium Party is something different. Ontario has been stripped piece by piece of its position in Canada. People, families, farmers, business, industries are suffering because of bad past government. It’s time for a change.”
Tom Black, the president of the Ontario Landowners Association — a group that advocates for private property rights, and often finds itself at odds with the provincial government — sees a path forward for the fledgling party, and it may involve cosying up to a potential PC government.
“I like [PC leader] Doug Ford for his attempt to change things. But Doug Ford cannot change that party. Patrick Brown couldn't change the party,” said Black, who is a member of the Trillium Party. “The only chance he can change that party is if we put 10 Trillium guys in that house. Doug Ford with a minority government would change that party. He’d have to.”
One could almost see the light bulb go off above Yaciuk’s head.
“You’ve given us our mission, Tom.”
This is one in a series of stories about issues affecting eastern Ontario. It's brought to you with the assistance of Queen’s University.
Ontario Hubs are made possible by the Barry and Laurie Green Family Charitable Trust & Goldie Feldman.
May we have a moment of your time?
Our public funding only covers some of the cost of producing high-quality, balanced content. We depend on the generosity of people who believe we all should have access to accurate, fair journalism. Caring people just like you!
Get Current Affairs & Documentaries email updates in your inbox every morning.