Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott will not run in the province’s June election, ending a 16-year political career in which she ran for the Progressive Conservative Party leadership three times before overseeing the health system and serving as deputy premier to Doug Ford in an unprecedented pandemic.
Ms. Elliott, 66, will stay on in cabinet and as MPP for Newmarket-Aurora until the spring vote. She made her announcement on Friday, just days after her government lifted most of its public-health restrictions and as the COVID-19 crisis appears to be receding. She acknowledged the past two years had taken their toll on her personally.
“I can’t complain because people [in health care] were working around-the-clock shifts. But it’s tiring, of course. But you keep going. And there were many ups and downs as you know,” she said at an event outside a Toronto hospital, the Premier at her side.
Mr. Ford praised Ms. Elliott for her role in fighting the pandemic, noting that their two families have been close ever since her late husband, Jim Flaherty, was a seatmate of Mr. Ford’s father when both were PC MPPs in the 1990s. (Mr. Flaherty went on to serve as federal finance minister under prime minister Stephen Harper.)
“I couldn’t ask for a better person, a better friend, a leader, someone with integrity and just an honest, honest person,” Mr. Ford said of Ms. Elliott, whom he narrowly defeated for the PC leadership in 2018.
Seen as a moderate, centrist alternative to Mr. Ford in that race, Ms. Elliott won more votes than he did, but lost owing to the party’s complex weighted-voting system. After at first threatening a court challenge over what her team called “serious irregularities” in a marathon vote count, she conceded.
Ms. Elliot first won a provincial seat as an Opposition PC MPP in 2006. She placed third in the 2009 leadership contest won by Tim Hudak, but was appointed deputy leader. She lost the party’s 2015 leadership race to Patrick Brown, barely a year after her husband’s 2014 death from a heart attack. She left politics, and the then-Liberal government appointed her as the province’s first patient ombudsman for the health care system. She returned for the 2018 leadership race, winning a seat in the election that year.
A lawyer and community volunteer, her passion for politics was rooted in a desire to help those with disabilities, a mission that came from experience: One of her triplet sons, born in 1991, has special needs.
Her son Galen Flaherty, a Toronto lawyer who has worked on Ms. Elliott’s campaigns, said his mother has faced an enormous amount of stress in the pandemic, with decisions over lockdowns amid the death toll of COVID-19.
“There’s no comparison to those who lost their lives, or the families of those who lost their lives,” he said in an interview. “But I can say there were many sleepless nights. And she took the impact on every other individual very personally.”
Ms. Elliott said on Friday she intends to pursue opportunities in the private sector after the election.
While it has in recent months said it was taking a cautious approach, the Ford government has faced widespread criticism for its actions in the pandemic, particularly when it ignored scientific advice against lifting public-health measures in the face of a COVID-19 surge last year. Over the past two years, Ontario has had more than 12,000 deaths related to COVID-19.
But former deputy minister of health Bob Bell said Ms. Elliott deserves praise for Ontario’s response, comparing its death toll to those of Quebec, the United States and Britain.
“Ontario’s done pretty well. Our hospitals haven’t melted down, with the exception of long-term care, which has been a problem across Canada,” said Dr. Bell, a cancer surgeon and former hospital chief executive officer.
However, he said the jury is still out on whether the massive reorganization of the health system she launched, which created a superagency called Ontario Health, will succeed.
Ms. Elliott is the latest of 11 Progressive Conservative MPPs to announce they are not running again. Among them are former finance and long-term care minister Rod Phillips, whose career was tainted by a trip to St. Bart’s during the height of the pandemic. Former cabinet ministers Jeff Yurek and Bill Walker have also bowed out.
Ontario Opposition NDP Leader Andrea Horwath suggested PC MPPs were “jumping ship.” While she acknowledged Ms. Elliott served in a difficult time, she took her to task for failing to do more to fight the pandemic and for cutting health programs before it began.
“I believe that choices were made not to spend money instead of supporting families and patients and people through COVID,” Ms. Horwath said on Friday.
On Twitter, Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca thanked Ms. Elliott for her service: “I know how hard she has worked through these difficult times and wish her all the best.”
Meanwhile, former PC MPP Randy Hillier, who was ejected from the caucus in 2019 over comments he made during a debate about autism, said he would not run again in his Eastern Ontario riding of Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston. MPPs voted last week to allow the Speaker to block the independent MPP from speaking in the Legislature until he apologized for comments about a federal cabinet minister and for a social media post about the Ottawa trucker protests.
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