It is not unusual to see organizations taking sides in an election campaign. But the position of one organization in the Ontario election has unearthed a controversial question: Should the OPP officers union be involved in the provincial election?
The Ontario Provincial Police Association (OPPA) has released two advertisements attacking Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak.
The ads claim Hudak has plucked his policies from the "Tea Party world" of the United States.
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The union representing 6,000 uniformed officers and nearly 3,000 civilian members began airing two 15-second ads Monday. The ads end with the line: "Every day we work hard for you. Who's Tim Hudak working for?"
Jim Christie, the president of the OPPA, defended the ads Tuesday on CBC Radio's Metro Morning. He said it was a matter of collective bargaining.
"In the absence of the ability to strike, you need to be able to freely collective bargain. The PC leader's plan is to say, 'regardless of whether you have a contract or not, I'm going to arbitrarily impose salary freezes on you going forward' and that's fundamentally unfair," he said.
The OPPA, said Christie, does not believe the ads are partisan. It has donated to all three parties, he pointed out.
Hudak and the OPPA have had numerous conversations, and the PC leader has been "very straightforward and very honest with us," said Christie. "I just disagree."
Pensions a sore point
Hudak raised the ire of the OPPA when he spoke about pensions.
"We're in a situation now where the PC leader is planning to fundamentally change pension systems for newly hired police officers," said Christie. "Why go to this far right extreme when there's no need for it?"
Several lawyers have suggested the ads contravene the Public Service of Ontario Act, which states civil servants cannot "comment publicly, outside the scope of his or her duties as a public servant, on matters that are directly related to those duties and that are addressed in the policies of a federal or provincial party or in the policies of a candidate in a federal, provincial or municipal election."
But Christie argued that the act "does not apply" to his work with the union. He called it "a privately funded corporation paid for by member dues."
And while Christie is openly warning against Hudak as premier, he said he is careful not to endorse any one party.
"I've told [officers] the risks of having Tim Hudak as the premier of Ontario and that is it. I'm not endorsing the Liberals, I'm not endorsing the NDP," he stated.
"This is about the fundamental issue of moving the treatment of my members to a place I'm not comfortable with."
What would happen, Metro Morning host Matt Galloway asked, if an OPP officer pulled over a driver with a Tim Hudak bumper sticker on her car? Would politics come into play?
Christie called that scenario a "ridiculous notion."
"The members I represent are all professionals," he insisted. "My members are too professional for that."
The OPP Association says it's the first time in its 60-year history that it is undertaking a publicity campaign during an election. The ads are to air across Ontario and will continue airing in some markets until June 10.