Worthington provokes election controversy
By Ulli Diemer
Seven News, August 1984
Canadian federal elections are predominantly affairs of genteel and decorous politeness. Unsurprisingly, given that the three Parliamentary parties share almost identical views of what politics are about, and how they should be conducted.
This time, in Broadview-Greenwood, it’s a little different. The candidate of the Progressive Conservatives (with the emphasis definitely on the second half of the party name) is newspaperman Peter Worthington, a man who is ideological, outspoken, and proud of it.
As an editor and columnist with the Toronto Sun, Peter Worthington has displayed a gift for translating stridently right-wing views into populist rhetoric. His writing deftly exploits a widespread feeling of alienation from a society that is widely felt to be bureaucratic and unresponsive. The Worthington approach may offer scapegoats rather than explanations, and slogans rather than solutions, but it has a gut level appeal.
The emergence of Peter Worthington as a candidate has caught the attention of at least some of the citizenry who normally don’t bother much with elections. Some of them think they see in Worthington a non-politician who will stand up for the common man and woman.
There are also others, who see him as an exceptionally dangerous and objectionable political phenomenon. Some of them have banded together to form the Committee to Defeat Peter Worthington (CDPW). Members of the Committee are uninspired by and unwilling to work directly for the NDP, whose candidate, MP Lynn MacDonald, narrowly defeated Worthington last time, when he ran as an independent after losing the Tory nomination. Tackling the dilemma of wanting to work against Worthington but not wanting to work for the NDP (or the Liberals), Committee members have gone to the streets and the subway stations to hand out anti-Worthington leaflets and picket his campaign headquarters.
Their leaflet seeks to expose what they see as Worthington’s real agenda:“ Hardship for the Poor; The Military for the Unemployed; ... Discrimination.”
They quote from Worthington’s articles in the Sun to back their contention that the man is bad news for the poor, the unemployed, people on welfare or social assistance, immigrants, union members, and even Conservatives.
Their intervention seems to have at least had the effect of getting under their opponent’s skin. There have been shouting confrontations with the candidate, and Worthington – less prepared to take hostility than to dish it out – has demanded that charges be laid under federal hate-literature legislation. (Police have not acted on this request.)
The Broadview-Greenwood NDP meanwhile has charged that the Worthington campaign has itself reproduced the anti-Worthington leaflet after adding an NDP phone number to the bottom of it to make it seem as if the NDP is sponsoring it. Worthington denies personal knowledge of this, but allows that he can’t answer for what his campaign staff may have done.
Worthington and his campaign co-chairperson John Gunning both lay responsibility for the Committee to Defeat Peter Worthington at the door of the NDP. “You put two and two together,” says Gunning.
The NDP, meanwhile, is clearly annoyed by the CDPW, and at pains to distance itself from this unseemly departure from the etiquette of electoral politics.
Their disavowal serves to confirm the lack of enthusiasm the anti-Worthington people have for the NDP. They note that the NDP isn’t bringing up Worthington’s past record in this campaign. “They have a sense of propriety,” says Jane Wingate, “which we frankly don't share.”
This article was published in Seven News, Volume X, Number X, August 1984