He is running for “the only party saying yes,” according to Tory leader Doug Ford, but Haldimand-Norfolk Progressive Conservative candidate Ken Hewitt has thus far spent the campaign saying no.
The Haldimand mayor has been a no-show at three all-candidates meetings and has ducked numerous media requests for interviews.
“It’s a slap in the face to voters,” Green Party candidate Erik Coverdale said of Hewitt’s absence at Thursday’s debate hosted by the Simcoe and District Chamber of Commerce.
Coverdale also took issue with how Hewitt was appointed to replace retiring PC MPP Toby Barrett over objections from the local riding association.
“It’s top-down politics, which is the opposite of grassroots politics,” Coverdale told The Spectator after the debate.
As mayor, Hewitt regularly uses social media to opine on contentious local issues like the proposed Nanticoke subdivision and Indigenous land rights disputes in Caledonia. But since being appointed as the Progressive Conservative candidate, he has said little beyond sharing links to the party platform.
Hewitt did not respond to several messages from The Spectator seeking comment for this story.
Replying to a Facebook post from former federal Liberal candidate Karen Matthews criticizing his debate attendance, Hewitt said he is busy “working hard to win this election” and directed voters to the PC website. “I will be the only conservative voice that can get it done in the majority government that Ford will form,” Hewitt wrote.
Hewitt’s absence on the debate stage mirrors that of Progressive Conservative candidates in Hamilton and Niagara, at least one of whom was reportedly ordered by party brass not to attend all-candidates meetings.
“I was told by a member of the premier’s team just a few weeks ago that they could run a monkey in Haldimand-Norfolk as long as it has a PC logo on its back. I was offended by this,” Independent candidate Bobbi Ann Brady told a crowd of over 100 people at the Simcoe legion on Thursday.
Brady was Barrett’s longtime executive assistant and his chosen successor before the two split ranks with the party over Hewitt’s appointment.
“You must ask yourself, why didn’t you have a say with regard to who the PC candidate would be here in Haldimand-Norfolk?” said Brady, who billed herself as “the true conservative on the ballot.”
“Why was democracy sidelined, and where is that candidate?” she said.
Some of Hewitt’s opponents questioned his Progressive Conservative bona fides and encouraged voters to try something new.
“It’s time to send a message to Doug Ford — he can’t act like a Liberal for four years and appoint a Liberal candidate and expect to have the support of Haldimand-Norfolk,” said Nate Hawkins of the New Blue Party.
Hawkins was referring to Hewitt’s unsuccessful bid to run as the federal Liberal candidate in 2006, though Hewitt has said his current political and fiscal philosophy aligns with the provincial Progressive Conservatives.
But to Hawkins, the two parties have become indistinguishable.
“Make no mistake, the PC party is no longer the party of farmers,” he said. “The PC candidate isn’t even here tonight.”
NDP candidate Sarah Lowe urged voters to look past the politicking and focus on which party’s platform resonated with them.
Editor's note: Story originally published May 20, 2022
J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator