Canny Jackson targets mid-pen

Carmela Fragomeni - The Hamilton Spectator - Jun. 23, 2003
Accused of posturing, MPP says he's just 'doing my job'

Burlington MPP Cam Jackson burned some bridges with his own party last week, although he may have strengthened links with his riding.

The former cabinet minister, forced to resign in October over expenses claims, had a run-in with Transportation Minister Frank Klees on Wednesday after speaking out in the Legislature against the party's push to build the mid-peninsula highway through Burlington.

A day earlier, Jackson said Premier Ernie Eves' office dealt with him in an arbitrary manner over the expense issue that forced him to resign.

What's going on? This is a solid Tory, one of only 16 Conservatives to emerge from the 1987 Liberal sweep, Burlington's MPP since 1985 who has enjoyed some of the largest margins of re-election anywhere in the province. Jackson has held the jobs of minister responsible for seniors, long-term care, tourism, and citizenship.

Some see a surprising betrayal of the government. Others see an MPP standing up for a key local issue. Still others think the pending election may be behind this week's moves.

Jackson ran afoul of the premier last fall and was forced to resign as tourism minister after spending $103,722 in taxpayer dollars for expenses that included high-end steak dinners, fancy hotels and in-room movies. He was forced to repay some of those expenses.

Klees succeeded Jackson in tourism before becoming transportation minister in March.

Wednesday, Jackson told the House that he and the city of Burlington think "the province is breaking environmental law" by moving forward with its planned, limited assessment of the mid-peninsula highway.

Thursday, Klees said he was taken off guard by Jackson's "posturing." He said the Burlington MPP didn't give him a heads-up as a courtesy about what he intended to do.

"In some ways, I feel betrayed on a personal level."

Klees said he has already gone "quite a distance" to answer Jackson and Burlington's concerns and at one point, went against his staff's advice to accommodate Jackson's request for a public-comment deadline extension.

He doesn't understand Jackson's move, but said, "That type of gamesmanship is not in the interest of a good working relationship ... It doesn't garner trust."

Stoney Creek MPP and Labour Minister Brad Clark said, "I cannot explain Mr. Jackson's comments. I think he's wrong."

Clark was the transportation minister who announced the needs study for the highway and says, "Mr. Jackson raised no concerns at that time."

Tony Skarica is a former Conservative MPP who was demoted for his own fights with the Mike Harris government.

He said Jackson has nothing to lose if he comes out swinging. And a firm stand against the unpopular highway will endear him with voters at election time.

"Cam's a pretty shrewd politician. He has a pretty good pulse of what residents want."

Jackson doesn't appear concerned about his fortunes.

"I'm doing my job," he says. "I'm putting the interests of my community forward."

He's admitted there was some tension between him and former Premier Harris. But he said the people of Burlington, not a premier, sent him to Queen's Park.

He insists he's speaking out against a government, not a political party.

Dave Eckersley, of Citizens Opposed to Paving the Escarpment, couldn't be happier with Jackson for taking a stand for the Niagara Escarpment and for Burlington.

"I think it's great ... It can't be easy to stand up and get berated by your own party."

Eckersley said although Jackson was quiet on the mid-peninsula issue initially, he has for some time now been supporting and working with COPE and the city, and was instrumental in getting the ministry to extend public comment deadlines.

Spectator columnist and Burlington resident Joan Little said, "It's the first time I remember him standing up and questioning his own government. Good for him ... I'm glad he's standing up for the city."

Little is sure the coming election is driving Jackson to come out so strongly, but adds that if it benefits Burlington, nobody in Burlington will care about his reasons.

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