- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 3, 2002

TORONTO Ontario's incoming prime minister, a tax-cutting, budget-slashing former provincial treasurer, breaks the conservative mold in just one respect: He is living openly with a former Cabinet minister and the couple say they have no plans to marry.
Ernie Eves, 55, the new leader of Ontario's Progressive Conservative Party, has been living with Isabel Bassett, a former journalist and politician, for the past year, even while involved in a protracted divorce from Vicki, his wife of 34 years.
Yet, for those in his own party and in the opposition, more has been made over Mr. Eves' slicked-back hairstyle than his alternative lifestyle.
"Whatever else Ernie Eves accomplishes" as Ontario's prime minister, columnist Murray Campbell wrote in Toronto's Globe and Mail newspaper, he will have made his mark by living together, unmarried, with Mrs. Bassett, for "no other premier has ever acted this way. But what's even more remarkable, if not uplifting, is that very few eyebrows are being raised about the arrangement."
Mr. Eves describes Mrs. Bassett, 62, the widow of media baron John Bassett, as "my partner in life" and "a pillar of strength for me."
Mr. Eves said he does not feel any pressure to get married, even though he is now the standard-bearer for the party.
"Isabel and I have a very good, decent relationship, and we haven't really thought about" marriage, Mr. Eves said, adding that they take their relationship "one day at a time."
The "lifestyle that we really do have and the one that people perceive we have are two totally different things," he said. "I've always subscribed to the theory, in 20 years of political life, that what people do in their own personal time is up to them" as long as it's not illegal, immoral and doesn't interfere with their business duties.
Indeed, Mr. Eves is best remembered as the finance minister who, under outgoing Prime Minister Mike Harris, eliminated the province's $7 billion debt and instituted 166 tax cuts.
Even fellow Conservative Bob Wood a "right-wing Republican" and an activist in the party's family-values caucus shrugged off Mr. Eves' living arrangements.
Mr. Wood, who backed Mr. Eves in the leadership race to succeed Mr. Harris, told the National Post newspaper that his constituents have been silent on the marriage question.
"I think that each individual has to decide what's right for them," Mr. Wood said, adding that the people in his conservative district "recognize not all their personal views are going to be the same as theirs."
Mr. Eves had two children, Natalie and Justin. In 1995, when he was 23, Justin was killed in a car crash. Afterward, Mr. Eves set up a foundation in honor of his son, to help youth with learning disabilities.


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