GOING STRONG – What had been an increasingly vitriolic pre-election campaign was decidedly muted this week, in the sombre aftermath of Monday’s horrific van attack in North York. Political hostilities will no doubt ramp up again as the writ-drop looms, but for the moment nobody feels much like fighting – and the Toronto Strong campaign has usurped the election campaign. Case in point: At the beginning of Question Period on Tuesday, rather than launch into his first question interim Opposition Leader Vic Fedeli broke with protocol and invited Premier Kathleen Wynne to speak about the tragedy. He then followed suit, as did NDP House Leader Gilles Bisson. Wynne summed up the sentiments: “The lives of the families and friends of the victims are changed forever. But our collective job now is to find a way to grieve, to acknowledge that pain and stand with those who have lost so much, and then to make sure that the life of this vibrant, good city and province goes on,” she said.
APPOINT OF CONTENTION – When electioneering does resume in earnest, PC Leader Doug Ford will have a bit of internal strife to deal with, after he appointed 11 candidates in ridings that had not scheduled nomination meetings. Given the discord his predecessor Patrick Brown endured over nomination battles – in his case, accusations of ballot-stuffing and party brass surreptitiously orchestrating outcomes – Ford knew he was taking a risk by unilaterally naming candidates. But in his own way he blunted the criticism, at least among his core supporters, by positioning it as a last-resort measure in ridings running out of time. “I want to emphasize, I hate, hate, appointing people,” Ford pleaded. “Unfortunately, the mess that was handed to us from the previous leadership, was quite the disaster to be frank with you there.” While that may appease most of Ford Nation, there was some grumbling – albeit mostly from those bumped aside:
Wannabe candidates in Kitchener-Conestoga hoping to replace Michael Harris – who announced he wasn’t seeking re-election just before he was ousted from the PC caucus over allegations of sexting an intern – were miffed to learn that Mike Harris, Jr. (no relation – but very much related to the former Premier) was given the nod. Michael Harris’s wife, who was reportedly considering running, quietly opted out after the scandal erupted, and Ford inserted Harris, Jr. – who had lost his own bid in neighbouring Waterloo two weeks ago. For his part, Harris, Jr. was impassive about it all, offering, “It’s not maybe ideal for everybody, and there may be some broken hearts and some wounds to heal. But my focus going forward is rebuilding those bridges.” He also took great exception to rumblings that the whole Michael Harris kerfuffle was designed to create an opening for him. “Absolutely, unequivocably, not true,” he insisted. “I can understand why people say that … but I have no insight into what the party’s plan was, or how they handled it … I had absolutely nothing to do with what happened to Michael Harris.”
Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte, where Brown was going to run before his own spectacular downfall, is also a hot-spot of dissension. Ford appointed local lawyer and former local television host (of a show called Politically Speaking) Doug Downey. That left a handful of other hopefuls on the sidelines, including ex-MPP Garfield Dunlop. Dunlop, who gave up his Simcoe North seat for Brown when the latter became party leader and became an advisor, did not take this thwarting of his comeback hopes kindly. “It’s like the bloody gong show here,” he told local media after hearing of Downey’s appointment. “They basically told me, ‘You were with the wrong leader.’” But, ever the team player, Dunlop is still on side. “Doug Ford called me this morning and told me he hoped that I would get behind [Downey], and that I was considered a top player and all that kind of thing … I’ll do what I can to help him,” he said.
Not appointed but nonetheless something of a lightning rod is former PC leadership candidate Tanya Granic Allen. The social conservative, anti-sex-ed curriculum crusader won the nomination in Mississauga Centre – a victory that was immediately met by a Liberal news release decrying her for “an addiction to hateful rhetoric.”
RETIRE PRESSURE – Granic Allen’s Liberal opponent in Mississauga Centre is suddenly a newcomer, after veteran MPP Harinder Takhar announced this week he won’t be seeking re-election. Takhar reportedly wanted to retire from politics four years ago, but was talked into running in the 2014 election because he was seen as the best chance for the LIBs to hang on to the seat (currently known as Mississauga-Erindale). He has largely been absent from Queen’s Park throughout this term, and now becomes the 12th Liberal MPP to pack it in before June’s vote. Wynne has appointed business owner Bobbie Daid as the Liberal candidate in Mississauga Centre.
To download an updated Ontario Legislative Highlights chart listing MPP responsibilities and status, click MPP Chart.
LIBEL THUMPER – Although he is basically persona non grata in provincial politics, Brown’s presence continues to be felt. Aside from being blamed by Ford for the “mess/disaster” necessitating candidate appointments, Brown made the news this week by launching a lawsuit against CTV seeking $8-million in damages. It was a CTV story that started his abrupt spiral out of the leader’s office – and ultimately out of politics altogether – and the 35-page lawsuit claims he has been “emotionally devastated” by the inaccurate reporting. Not surprisingly, the statement of claim draws a big picture impact, not just on Brown but on politics writ large. “The swift demolition of his personal and professional reputation on national television left Mr. Brown in a complete state of shock and disbelief. Mr. Brown did not want to leave his home. He felt his world was crashing in on him,” it reads, adding that the story “subverted” democracy and “has altered, for the foreseeable future, the political landscape and governance of Ontario.”
Brown was in the spotlight again later in the week, when Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake reprimanded him for failing to disclose rental income from a property Brown owns. Wake cleared him of accusations of failing to disclose “gifts of travel” as claimed by PC MPP Randy Hillier, who filed the original complaint. Brown said he is glad this is behind him, but took a parting shot at Hillier: “I accept the reprimand and I would just note the fact that this integrity commission complaint was initiated by a fellow caucus member in the midst of a leadership race after my resignation speaks to the very nature that it was very political.” Hillier was unmoved, calling Wake’s ruling a “pretty condemning report overall.”
CALL ME RICHARD – Ford isn’t likely to launch a lawsuit, but his team certainly made hay out of some unflattering language from a senior Liberal advisor during a TV panel discussion last week. On CP24, Liberal campaign co-chair David Herle was comparing Ford to his late brother, one-term Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. “I think people liked Rob Ford and I think people think Doug Ford‘s a bit of a dick, to be honest,” Herle mused, igniting a social media firestorm. He subsequently issued an apology “without qualification,” although he qualified it by noting, “Doug Ford has a long history of using derogatory and insulting terms to refer to a wide range of people with whom he disagrees – including female journalists, parents of autistic children and many others. No matter how commonplace such conduct might be for Mr. Ford, it is no justification to follow suit.” Ford issued a statement of his own jabbing, “We knew this was going to be a dirty campaign, but I’m going to take the high road,” and called for Herle’s resignation. Wynne said the apology was good enough.
PUBLIC DISPLAY – For years now, OPSEU President Warren “Smokey” Thomas has been a vocal critic of the Wynne government, and now his union has played its hand with overt support for NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. The Ontario Public Service Employees Union, representing about 155,000 civil servants, took out full-page newspaper ads, ostensibly to bash public-private partnerships (often referred to as P3s) but openly praising the NDP for joining that opposition. Thomas pointed to a pledge in the recently released NDP platform to bring an end to private participation in public projects. “It’s good to hear a party leader join me in calling BS on these P3s. I’ve always called them the ‘Pay More Get Less Plan,’” he wrote in the ads. The ad copy gets even more partisan, stating, “From the Liberals, we’re hearing a lot of tired old half-measures. From the Conservatives, a lot of full-on nonsense.” It concludes with, “So congratulations to Andrea Horwath and the NDP for coming on board this issue with us.”
DAVE RAVE – When Ontario’s parliament is dissolved in a couple of weeks, it will mark the end of an historic run: Dave Levac, who is not seeking re-election after 19 years as the MPP for Brant, will leave as the longest-serving Speaker of Ontario’s Legislature ever. (At least, he has the record for the most sessional days. He is still a few months shy of the longest stint in terms of calendar days. But he could get that too. Technically, Levac will remain as Speaker until the new parliament convenes. If it doesn’t happen until October he will have been Speaker for longer than anyone else.) Recognizing that this milestone will probably go unnoticed in the cacophony of the election launch, Levac was feted at a tribute last weekend. It was an all-party affair attended by MPPs of all stripes, and included a rare appearance at a political event by former Clerk of the Legislative Assembly Deb Deller. Former PC Leader Tim Hudak introduced Levac at the dinner – which is telling, given that Levac is a Liberal and Opposition parties tend to be at odds with the Speaker.
IN THE HOUSE
No new government bills were introduced this week.
Bill 3, addressing pay inequities, passed Third Reading.
Bill 31, to implement this spring’s provincial Budget, passed Second Reading – by a vote of 49-38 thanks to the Liberal majority, forestalling the election starting two weeks early if it had been voted down. The legislation is now at committee.
“When expenses are understated, the perception is created that government has more money available than it actually does.”
Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk, writing the latest chapter in her long-running feud with the Liberals over Budget accounting. Lysyk’s pre-election review – a process ironically brought in by the Liberals – pegs the provincial deficit at $11.7 billion for 2018/19, 75% more than the $6.7 billion projected in the Budget documents.
“Trust KPMG. Trust Deloitte. Trust E&Y. Trust the professional accountants and the professional civil service that have provided for these initiatives.”
Finance Minister Charles Sousa, insisting that Lysyk arbitrarily changed the accounting rules, and that big accounting firms have confirmed the Liberal approach as legitimate.
“You start to encounter any type of … health problems, due to noise or vibration or suddenly your well goes bad, because of pile driving or so on, the non-disclosure agreement says to people you can’t complain to anybody other than you take it back to the wind turbine company.”
PC MPP Rick Nicholls, aiming to make long-standing disputes over wind turbines an election issue. Nicholls introduced a private member’s bill that would prohibit non-disclosure agreements, and while he admitted the bill has almost no chance of passing, he sees it as an opportunity to position the PCs as “the only party that will stop the further development of industrial wind turbines.”
“[The legislation] could fall prey to a political versus public safety lens.”
Joe Couto, spokesman for the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, concerned that legislation overhauling police oversight, which the Tories have vowed to revisit, might become a “political football” – a sentiment that could apply to any number of issues heading into the election.
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