OTTAWA - Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak suggested Thursday that the Liberals may have made a deal with the Ontario Provincial Police Association in exchange for its support during the election — an allegation the union president called "baseless and irresponsible."
President Jim Christie has said that ads his association took out against the PC party were not an endorsement of the Liberals nor of the NDP — they just don't want Hudak as premier.
Speaking in Ottawa, Hudak pointed to a National Post report suggesting Christie is pushing for a Liberal victory in the June 12 election.
"I do have concerns about the OPP union meeting with the Liberals during the campaign and what was promised by (Premier) Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals in return for advertising," Hudak said.
"These government unions are spending millions and millions of dollars on ads to re-elect the Liberals...What they're trying to do with all that money is they're trying to elect a legislature of the compliant, politicians who will bend to wage and benefit increases and try to intimidate their opponents. Not me."
Hudak said when he met with the OPPA they wanted him to exempt its members from his proposed wage-freeze policy and he said no.
"My question is: What did Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals say yes to?" Hudak said.
In Toronto, Wynne didn't respond directly when asked if there was anything offered to the OPPA in return for the ads, but she said as far as she knew the association hadn't made any endorsements.
"I had no idea — we had no idea — what the OPPA was going to do in terms of their judgment on our policies or the Conservative policies," she said.
Wynne said at another event later in the day that she has not met with the OPPA recently and "there is no interaction between me and them in terms of their decisions."
Christie did not return a request for an interview, but issued a statement saying he meets with senior officials from all three parties to advocate for his members.
"Tim Hudak's concerns about the OPP Association securing any promise whatsoever with the Liberal Party of Ontario in return for advertising are baseless and irresponsible," he wrote.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath suggested there is nothing inappropriate about the OPPA's ads, though she declined to comment on what may have gone on in the meeting between the association and the Liberals.
"It's important that various voices get engaged in the political process," she said in Port Colborne.
"I think it's legitimate for organizations and for individuals to engage in the political debate and to talk freely about their concerns as well as their hopes for this province. So I have no problem with the fact that the OPPA or any other organization for that matter gets involved, gets engaged in political discussion."
The Ontario Provincial Police force has said it does not, in any way, support the union campaign and released a letter Thursday that Commissioner Vince Hawkes sent to members, saying as public service members they are restricted from political activity.
"A public servant engages in political activity when he or she does anything in support of or in opposition to a federal or provincial political party," Hawkes wrote in the letter dated Wednesday.
Under the Public Service of Ontario Act, members can't associate their position with political activity during an election, Hawkes wrote. One exception is if the member is on a leave of absence, for example to serve as OPPA president, he wrote.
The Tories raised their concerns in an early-morning conference call with reporters, saying the police union's actions undermine impartiality. Tory candidate Steve Clark pointed to the OPP's ongoing investigation of the Liberal government over the alleged destruction of documents related to the cancellation of two gas plants and another probe at Ornge, the province's air ambulance service.
"I think both the premier and OPPA need to come clean with what was part of those discussions," Clark said. "Was there a discussion about the gas plant investigation? Was there a discussion about Ornge? I think people want to know."
Absolutely not, Christie wrote in his statement.
"I want to be crystal clear on this," he wrote. "Any meeting held with Liberal party officials or with officials from any party never involved any ongoing investigations being conducted by the OPP. These investigations are clearly under the purview of Commissioner Hawkes and the OPP."
Hudak was asked if it was appropriate to be going after police just hours after three RCMP officers were killed and two others wounded in Moncton, N.B. He said his wage freeze would help protect the jobs of front-line officers and ensure the province can afford necessary equipment for them.
"The extraordinary tragedy in Moncton reminds us of the incredibly unique job that our police officers do," he said. "There is no other job like it. They put their lives on the line and sadly three more are not going to come home now to see their families."