NO WYNNE SITUATION – Finance Minister Charles Sousa will table the 2017-18 provincial Budget in the Legislature next Thursday, but the person with the most at stake will be sitting beside him. Premier Kathleen Wynne will no doubt be applauding vociferously throughout the Budget speech, hoping the enthusiasm will rub off on voters. If it doesn’t … well, she might not have to worry about voters’ opinions for much longer. A front-page Toronto Star story this week added to the growing mass of conjecture that Wynne’s historically low popularity will force her to step aside. The latest evidence of Liberal discontent cited by the Star includes “public and private polling showing the Liberals languishing in third place,” more than a dozen incumbent MPPs contemplating retirement because they think they can’t get re-elected with Wynne at the helm, the resignation of chief party fundraiser Zak Bailey – who was struggling for donations amid restrictive new fundraising rules the LIBs themselves imposed – and, perhaps most damning, comments overheard at a recent caucus meeting. “[My constituents] just don’t like you, Premier,” the Star reported a veteran MPP gently telling Wynne. “I do, but they don’t and I don’t know why.” This last notion – that Wynne’s supporters are still behind her, but they recognize the broader populace doesn’t share their affection – is at the root of the mounting unease in the Liberal camp. As another insider anonymously quoted in the same story put it, “The Premier won us the last election and we know that. But the dislike toward her now – unfair and undeserved as it is – borders on the irrational.” For Wynne, the way forward is anything but clear. Like all politicians facing popularity challenges, she is being inundated with suggestions from all sides about what to do. As she drolly noted at last week’s meeting with Toronto-area mayors, “I live in a world of heightened advice right now.” (See also Rumours and Rumblings, below).
CHARLES’S CHARGE – The Liberals’ effort to use the Budget to reverse their sagging fortunes got off to a rather inauspicious launch, when a placeholder draft news release was mistakenly sent out, announcing in both the subject line and headline, “Ontario Sets Budget Date for April XX.” The corrected April 27 release followed shortly thereafter. Sousa certainly hopes for a smoother roll-out of the Budget content, which has already started. We know, for instance, that the books will be balanced – the Liberals have been boasting about that for months. Sousa has also promised “a series of important announcements to help you and your family” (read: pre-election pocketbook perks) such as a tax credit for seniors using public transit. He evidently wants those goodies to be the focus of Budget-day coverage, given that another key component, a much-touted package of measures to curb skyrocketing house prices, will have ceased to be news by then. Sousa, Wynne and Housing Minister Chris Ballard publicized details this week, unveiling a 16-point Fair Housing Plan that includes expansion of rent control to newer buildings – previous limits only applied to properties built before 1991 – as well as new levies on speculators, foreign buyers and vacant properties. Education Minister Mitzie Hunter also dropped a preview of her own, announcing that education-related plans for the coming year will include capping class sizes for Full-Day Kindergarten and Grades 4-8, hiring 875 new teachers and adding 1,600 special education support staff.
MARIE’S THE NAME – Often cited as a sign the Liberals are in trouble was their inability to secure a candidate for the pending by-election in Sault Ste. Marie. That quandary appears to be resolved, however, as former Mayor Debbie Amaroso announced she will seek the Liberal nomination to fill the vacancy created when Liberal MPP David Orazietti resigned back in December. Amaroso was the Soo’s first elected female mayor, serving one term from 2010-14. Aside from her political career, she describes herself as “a grandmother, small business owner and a former manager of our local March of Dimes.” A nomination date hasn’t been set, but given the dearth of interest thus far a challenge to Amaroso seems unlikely. Once the Liberals have a candidate in place, a date for the by-election is sure to follow.
LEFTORIUM – In the aforementioned Toronto Star story, a Liberal source was quoted as saying that PC Leader Patrick Brown is not necessarily their biggest threat. “If our vote collapses, there’s a very real possibility Andrea Horwath could be the next Premier of Ontario,” the insider predicted. “Andrea is more dangerous to us than Patrick.” The NDP Leader, who has been criticized for a lacklustre performance for several years now, will be looking to boost her stature this weekend, as she addresses the party’s annual convention in Toronto. She faces a mandatory leadership review – that’s non-negotiable, enshrined in the Ontario NDP’s constitution – and is hoping to better the 77% support she got the last time her leadership was put to a vote following the 2014 election. More importantly, she wants to make a splash in her convention speech. The NDP website gushes that Horwath “will deliver a keynote address on the challenges people are facing across Ontario, and will announce a bold next step in her plan to do something about it.”
THAT’S FAIR – Ontario has a new Fairness Commissioner, with Ottawa-based lawyer Grant Jameson appointed to the post shaped by former MP Jean Augustine. The Office of the Fairness Commissioner is the first agency of its kind, tasked with making sure that licensing for regulated professions, especially for applicants from other countries, is objective and impartial. It was originally inspired a decade ago by engineers-driving-cabs concerns, amid stories of immigrants having trouble getting licensed in Ontario despite their credentials.
RUMOURS & RUMBLINGS
As the should-she-stay-or-should-she-go debate rages around Premier Wynne, more than a few pundits – including no less a luminary than former Finance Minister and Ontario Liberal Party President Greg Sorbara – have concluded that the Liberals can’t get re-elected as long as Wynne is fronting the party. But without an obvious heir apparent, other Liberals fear that with a new leader they’d be at risk of getting “Kim-Cambelled.” That’s the verb coined in reference to one-time federal Conservative Leader Kim Campbell, successor to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney — who, like Wynne, had seen his popularity plummet – presiding over the decimation of the party to just two seats in the 1993 election. There is no way of knowing if things would have been better had Mulroney stayed on, but conventional wisdom is that the destruction wouldn’t have been so total. Applying that logic to present-day Ontario, the thinking is that if the Liberals went with a new leader, whoever it is would – like Campbell – still wear the sins of the previous regime, while adding the baggage of their own inexperience to the mix. This damned-if-they-do-damned-if-they-don’t conundrum is keeping many a Liberal awake at night, with most praying for a post-Budget bump for Wynne in the polls to ease the pressure.
IN THE HOUSE
The House did not sit this week. MPPs return Monday for a four-week stint – including next Thursday’s provincial Budget – with one more constituency week break before the spring session wraps up in early June. Right now there are eight government bills on the Order Paper – two at Third Reading awaiting final passage, and another five at committee, expected to be passed before the House rises for the summer.
FOR THE RECORD
“There are those who go into new developments, buy up a slew of properties, and then flip them, while avoiding paying their fair share of taxes. I call them property scalpers.”
Finance Minister Charles Sousa, teeing up next week’s Budget by targeting real estate speculators as one of the villains in a package of measures to cool off Toronto’s overheated housing market.
“Overall, Ontario has one of the lowest levels of auto accidents and fatalities in Canada and the most expensive auto insurance premiums.”
David Marshall, the former head of the Workplace Safety Insurance Board who was appointed to review auto insurance, concluding in his report that Ontario motorists are being gouged.
“Gordon Carton was part of a breed of politician that doesn’t exist anymore. A true gentleman. You can keep looking and you won’t find anybody that didn’t like him.”
Toronto Mayor John Tory, paying tribute to Davis-era cabinet minister Gordon Carton, an MPP from 1963 to 1975, who passed away this week at age 95.
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