Barrett takes flak over tweet

Haldimand-Norfolk MPP Toby Barrett (left) found himself at the centre of a rare controversy after he posted a comment on social media connecting the D-Day invasion of Europe with the ongoing issue of selling beer in corner stores. At right is Ontario Premier Doug Ford with Barrett at an election campaign event last year in Caledonia. File photo/Postmedia Network

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MPP Toby Barrett came under fire after posting a comment on social media connecting the D-Day invasion of Europe to the ongoing debate in Ontario over alcohol in corner stores.

“With June 6th being the 75th anniversary of D-Day, I would like to say that we have the liberty to debate issues like beer in corner stores thanks to the sacrifice of thousands of brave Canadians who defended our freedom in battle,” the Twitter posting said on June 5.

Barrett began to catch flak soon after. Around 3 p.m. that same day he removed the post and substituted the following:

“It’s disappointing that people misconstrued my Tweet about having the liberty to debate issues big and small thanks to the sacrifices of our veterans,” Barrett said.

Opposition MPPs made hay with Barrett’s comments right away.

NDP MPP Monique Taylor reposted Barrett’s original tweet, calling it “shameful and disrespectful.”

“This government’s obsession with beer is absurd,” Taylor said in a tweet of her own.

Barrett’s tweet was also fodder for major talk-radio stations in Toronto both last Wednesday and Thursday. A report at attracted more than 120 comments.

The next day, Barrett told the Delhi News Record that he withdrew his remark because it had become a political football. He said opposition MPPs were “purposefully” distorting his message.

Barrett added the tweet also came down because it was becoming a “distraction.” He said the controversy was taking the focus off the storming of Europe 75 years ago and veterans today who carry on Canada’s military traditions.

Barrett said he was attempting to reach back in history to demonstrate how the actions of Allied soldiers in Europe make possible today freedoms such as the opportunity to debate the idea of beer in corner stores. Barrett said he could easily have substituted any other issue on the Ford government agenda.

“My goal was to pay tribute to our veterans within the context of the times,” he said.

Barrett says he comes from “a military family” and – as such – he would be the last person to disparage veterans and what they stand for.

Barrett’s late father Harry was a sailor with the Canadian navy during the Second World War. His grandfather Tobe Barrett enlisted as an officer and an instructor.

On his mother’s side, Barrett’s grandfather Russell Browne served in the First World War along with three of Barrett’s uncles. Barrett himself was discharged as a gunner from the 56 Field Regiment in Simcoe.

Reaction to Barrett’s message locally was mixed.

Elaine Williams, president of the Royal Canadian Legion in Delhi, said the seven-term MPP should choose his words more carefully.

“It’s degrading for the veterans,” Williams said on June 6. “You should think before you speak. And I do know Toby.”

For his part, Rev. Bryan Robertson, president of the Royal Canadian Legion in Simcoe, is willing to cut Barrett some slack.

“I would consider it unfortunate what took place,” Robertson said. “I’ve always found Toby to be supportive of Legion events. He comes to a lot of our functions.

“It’s unfortunate that he connected the two events. But I’d be inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.”