USE IT IN A SENTENCE – Those who worked with former senior Liberal aide David Livingston, who almost universally describe him as a good guy, felt deep sympathy for him this week when he was sentenced to four months in jail for his role in deleting government files when he was Chief of Staff to then-Premier Dalton McGuinty. But from a political perspective there will be little compassion, as the Livingston sentence adds crushing talking points to the arsenal of the Liberals’ opponents. Now, when the other parties decry Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals as corrupt, they can point to an actual criminal conviction, and a Liberal staffer led away in handcuffs, to back it up. (Case in point: When Wynne challenged the other leaders to three debates before June’s election, PC Leader Doug Ford tweeted, “Let’s do the first one outside the jail where the senior Liberal operative will be spending 4-months.”) Livingston’s sentence – in addition to the four months behind bars, he faces a year of probation and has to complete 100 hours of community service – will also send a chill through the ranks of political staffers everywhere. Sidestepping the rules has often been tacitly condoned in the hyper-competitive world of political offices, but having a staffer locked up for it will surely temper such proclivities.
SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY – When former PC Leader Patrick Brown spurned hardline social conservatives they essentially declared war on him, feeling betrayed as they believed they had played a significant role in him winning the party leadership in the first place. Such are the dynamics now for his successor Ford, who must carefully navigate a similar minefield around the musings of Tanya Granic Allen. She was ostensibly a rival of Ford’s in the recent leadership race, but ultimately became the kingmaker when her supporters flocked to him as their second choice. At least, that’s the narrative of the Campaign Life Coalition, which claimed credit for signing up 9,000 PC members on behalf of Granic Allen and encouraging them to support Ford on the second ballot. Ford has expressed his gratitude but made it clear in media interviews that he’s “not a bible thumper.” So he faces a conundrum, after some problematic social media posts from Granic Allen – albeit from four years ago – surfaced. Commenting on niqabs and burkas, Granic Allen wrote, “I don’t believe people should dress like ninjas when going for an afternoon stroll. I don’t believe that people should dress like bank robbers when going to vote. My daughter loves wearing a spider-man mask, but I forbid her from wearing it out in public.” This was alongside posts critical of gay marriage and disparaging Muslim countries. This week, Granic Allen claimed her words have been taken out of context – “I advocate for women’s rights,” she pleaded, arguing she considers the headwear a “tool of oppression” – while Ford’s office put out statements declaring, “These comments do not reflect the position of Ontario PC Leader Doug Ford or the party,” and “Our base is growing, and we want all Ontarians to feel like they have a place in our party.” The big question, however, is whether the party will green-light Granic Allen to run as their candidate in Mississauga Centre. If she’s allowed, Ford will have to withstand allegations of pandering to the religious right. Deny her bid, and the SoCons will once again be on the warpath.
KEEP ON TRACKIN’ – Regardless of how Ford handles the Granic Allen controversy – or any other issue for that matter – polling suggests he’s going to win the election anyway. Poll after poll shows a PC victory, and the CBC, which has launched a poll tracker aggregating all available public opinion data, currently calculates the probability of a Ford majority government as 93.6%. That’s based on polls averaging 44% for the Tories, 27% for the Liberals and 22% for the NDP. The one caveat – and perhaps the Liberals’ only hope for a comeback – is some stark discrepancies among different demographics, particularly between men and women. A recent Ekos Research came up with similar overall numbers as other pollsters (PCs 43, LIBs 29, NDP 21) but dug a little deeper and discovered a gender divide. Among men, more than half were planning to vote for the Tories, compared to 27% leaning toward the Liberals and 16% favouring the NDP. For women the numbers were quite different, with 35% in the PC camp, 32% leaning Liberal and 26% planning to vote NDP. In light of these divergences, who comes out to vote – gender, age, income bracket – could be a significant factor in the end result.
MIKE DROP – Ontario now has three independent MPPs, with Michael Harris joining Brown and Jack MacLaren in legislative purgatory. Harris was turfed from the PC caucus on Monday because of inappropriate texts “of a sexual nature” he sent to a former intern back in 2013. But his ouster came after he announced on Saturday that he wouldn’t be seeking re-election, citing health issues (he needs eye surgery). This sequence of events led to another public relations challenge for the Tories – as is always the case in these situations, the perceived “cover up” (NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, among others, used that phrase) was more damaging than the original offence. As it stands, Harris will most assuredly not be the PC candidate in Kitchener-Conestoga. When he announced his retirement (forced or otherwise) the plan was for his wife to run in his stead, but that’s up in the air at the moment.
By our count, Harris leaving brings the total number of incumbents not seeking re-election to 14 (nine Liberals, one PC, two New Democrats and two independents). Add to that four vacant seats (two LIB, two NDP) and 17 new ridings, and at least 35 ridings – more than a quarter of the 124 in the province – won’t have an incumbent MPP on the ballot.
Updated Ontario Legislative Highlights charts listing MPP responsibilities and government contacts are now available. Click on the following links to download:
SETTING SON – Another Harris also won’t be on the ballot come June. In the neighouring riding of Waterloo, Mike Harris Jr., son of the former Premier, narrowly lost the nomination to local management consultant Dan Weber, who will take on NDP incumbent Catherine Fife. Harris the elder was on hand for the nomination vote, but didn’t comment publicly afterward. His son was magnanimous in defeat, tweeting, “While things didn’t turn out the way I had hoped, I know we are in good hands and I look forward to my continual involvement to make Doug Ford the next Premier of Ontario.”
TIGHT HWAD – One other fraught PC nomination battle is almost settled, and a controversial figure who had been at the centre of it won’t be a factor. Dundas lawyer Vikram Singh, who sued the party after losing the PC nomination in Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas, has been denied another shot at it. In the face of accusations of voting “irregularities” and a subsequent police investigation, the party set aside the result that had installed Ben Levitt as the candidate. A re-nomination in HWAD will take place next week, with Levitt – who himself called for the first result to be annulled, to “clear the air” – versus Vincent Samuels, a Hamilton-area coordinator on Ford’s leadership team. Singh was not allowed to run again, and despite his earlier anger appears to be okay with that decision. “We gave it our best shot and I look forward to continue volunteering in the community,” he said in a statement.
IN THE HOUSE
No new government legislation was introduced this week.
FOR THE RECORD
“It is morally indefensible that at this time when seniors are fearful of heating their homes, when businesses are closing down and jobs are leaving the province, when taxpayers are suffering all due to skyrocketing hydro bills that this board and the CEO of Hydro One are laughing themselves to the bank. … My first act as Premier, we will use every tool at the disposal of the Ontario government to remove the $6-million man and the entire board of Hydro One. … You can take this to the bank – the CEO’s gone and the board’s gone. The party’s over.”
PC Leader Doug Ford, with his first platform plank, promising to axe Hydro One decision-makers over exorbitant executive salaries. That last line – “the party’s over” – may also prove to be Ford’s campaign slogan, riffing on the “stop the gravy train” mantra that helped his brother Rob Ford get elected as Toronto Mayor.
“We’ve already seen the chaos created by a man in the White House who’s governing by firing people all the time.”
Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault, offering a now-ubiquitous comparison to Donald Trump to discredit Ford’s hydro promise.
“I can tell you I’ve talked to tens of thousands of people and not one person has ever come up and said ‘you’re like Donald Trump’ … I don’t give two hoots about Donald Trump. I care about the people of Ontario. … And as much as the media’s trying to play on this, people realize the Fords have been in public service for 25 years helping people … There’s not even a comparison.”
Ford, during a radio interview in Belleville, addressing — and dismissing — those who would liken him to the U.S. President.
“You can’t be the peek-a-boo Premier. You actually have to stand up and say, ‘this is what I believe in.’ So for us it’s about care, not cuts. It’s about courage, not cowardice.”
Economic Development Minister Steven Del Duca, trying a little consonance to criticize Ford’s decision to have no media bus on his campaign.
“That’s going to be Andrea’s theme. I get that, Andrea.”
Premier Kathleen Wynne, shushing NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, who had interjected “15 years” while Wynne was defending anti-racism policies she admitted still need more work despite the Liberals being in power since 2003. The testy exchange came during a leaders’ debate organized by Black Vote Canada that Ford skipped — a decision met by repeated booing from the audience at the Jamaican Canadian Association hall in Toronto.
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