THREE OUTS – As always, MPPs announcing they won’t seek re-election insisted the decision was for personal and not political reasons. And as always, their opponents scoffed at the moves as abandoning ship. Regardless of which narrative you accept, Liberal supporters winced at the news that three veteran MPPs – cabinet ministers Michael Chan and Tracy MacCharles, along with Eastern Ontario backbencher Grant Crack – have opted to bail from politics before June’s election. Chan and MacCharles cited health issues, while Crack talked of being tired of a five-hour commute. This trio of retirements brings the total to nine current Liberal MPPs whose names won’t be on the ballot, on top of two other Liberal seats vacated by their former incumbents.
To download an updated chart listing MPP status and responsibilities, click MPP Chart.
RACE RELATIONS – Polling in recent years has been about as useful in predicting election results as the proverbial monkeys throwing darts, but it sure does make for interesting chatter. Especially so when the results appear to show a tightening race, as the latest from Forum Research would suggest. In a survey done just after the provincial Budget was tabled, Forum found the Tories still out in front, but by a smaller margin than in previous months, with 36% support compared to 29% for the Liberals and 26% for the NDP. Extrapolated to seat counts, Forum calculated that the PCs would win a minority government with 57 seats, less than the combined totals of 36 for the LIBs and 31 for the NDP. While there’s obviously still a long way to go before voting day, the possibility of a Doug Ford minority will no doubt trigger much conjecture about whether the other parties would actually let him govern or join forces to take control of the parliament.
NO GUARANTEES – Polling numbers really won’t mean much until a) voters are more engaged as we get closer to the actual election, and b) voters know the policy proposals they are voting on. Further to point b), the Ford camp continues to drop broad hints that the PC platform will not be an in-depth guide to governing the province – i.e., will be nothing like the People’s Guarantee offered by his predecessor Patrick Brown. According to a senior Ford advisor quoted (anonymously) in the National Post, there won’t be a sweeping platform launch at all, but rather a series of planks rolled out during the campaign. And not many planks at that. “If you have 1,000 priorities, you have none,” the source said, indicating that there will only be five key points in Ford’s platform. “You have to focus.” In the meantime, Ford is making some stand-alone promises as he visits various communities. In London, for instance, he vowed that if he’s Premier, his Agriculture Minister will be a farmer. Depending on whether and how many farmers get elected, he specifically named current PC caucus members Lisa Thompson (Huron-Bruce) and Toby Barrett (Haldimand-Norfolk) as possibilities. Notably, Ford didn’t mention Ernie Hardeman (Oxford), who was Ag Minister in the Mike Harris administration, but only held the post for a year-and-a-half before Harris demoted him to the backbenches.
BORDER PATROL – One of the last government bills passed before Premier Kathleen Wynne prorogued the Legislature was the Fairness in Procurement Act, and this week the urgency became apparent. The bill established a legislative framework for Ontario to retaliate against discriminatory, “Buy American” policies, particularly from New York State. When exactly that kind of legislation – limiting structural iron ore for construction projects – went into effect across the border at the beginning of April, Wynne responded in kind, creating a new Ontario regulation restricting procurement contracts coming the other way. Despite some of the rhetoric, it’s not exactly a trade war (no reports of missile launchers deployed along the Niagara River) but in the heightened intensity of these pre-election days, Wynne was talking tough. “I will not let New York, or any other state, tilt the field in their favour without taking appropriate action,” she declared. Not surprisingly, the Opposition parties were equally adamant, but their vitriol was aimed at Wynne. “No amount of grandstanding is going to be able to distract from [the Liberals’] disastrous record over the last 15 years,” fumed PC Finance Critic Vic Fedeli.
LOUD AND PROUD – Speaking of tough language, Liberal MPP Bob Delaney created a media storm this week with his defence of the provincial Budget. Normally, such musings wouldn’t warrant much attention, but again this is pre-election time, amplifying even the most mundane of comments. Surely it can’t be a surprise to hear a Liberal MPP fervently defending a Liberal Budget, but Delaney’s choice of words – and testy demeanour – made his local media sit up. The Mississauga News reported that when, during a post-Budget event, Delaney was pressed by reporters on why the Liberals had waited so long before acting on certain concerns, he responded, “With respect, bullshit.” He then went further, not just defending but championing deficit financing. “For the past 15 years, I’ve been part of a government that has built this province. We have tripled [the debt] and we’re proud of it, because we can afford it,” he thundered. “It’s the responsible thing to do. It’s the correct thing to do, it’s what people have asked us to do and I would do it again and I would do it proudly.” Naturally, critics savaged the “proud” boast, and Delaney subsequently argued he’d been misquoted. But that backfired when an audio recording was produced, showing he was in fact quoted verbatim.
NOM DE GUERRE – Hundreds of candidates are now registered for June’s election, representing the 21 political parties officially recognized in Ontario (including the None of the Above Direct Democracy Party, the Ontario Moderate Party, the Cultural Action Party, the Stop the New Sex-Ed Agenda Party and the Vegan Environmental Party). In some cases, the absence of particular names is just as intriguing, but those blanks are rapidly being filled in. In nomination news this week:
Christine Elliott, who finished second to Ford in the PC leadership race, confirmed she’ll be running in Newmarket-Aurora. She is likely to be uncontested, despite a tumultuous recent history for the Tories in that riding. Charity McGrath was the PC candidate, but she was disqualified and barred from running amid allegations of cheating. Would-be candidate Bill Hogg, who had lost to McGrath, announced he will not take another shot, instead throwing his support behind Elliott, while former riding association president Derek Murray – who, along with the rest of the executive, quit when Brown’s team ignored the cheating allegations – also said he supports Elliott’s bid.
Lawyer Gurratan Singh, younger brother of federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, has been nominated as the NDP candidate in Brampton East.
Giorgio Mammoliti will not be a PC candidate in Brampton, backtracking on his very public pledge to run provincially. Mammoliti announced this week that he will instead seek another term as a Toronto City Councillor. He claimed the decision was based on pleas from his current constituents to stay, but there is plenty of speculation that he didn’t get the green light from the PC candidate vetting process.
IN THE HOUSE
The House did not sit this week. MPPs will be back on Monday to start the final five-week stretch before the writ-drop dissolves parliament May 9, officially launching a general election campaign leading up to the June 7 vote.
FOR THE RECORD
“This election will come down to the clearest, starkest choice in this province’s history … Care is not a weakness; it isn’t government overstepping. It’s who we are. It’s what we do … We have to choose between cuts and care; we have to decide whether we want a government that fights for the basic foundation of fairness and caring that built this province or the alternative … Doug Ford wants to take a bulldozer to a province that has worked so hard to get to this place.”
Premier Kathleen Wynne, at the Economic Club for her first major speech since last week’s Budget, test-driving messages that will surely be the foundation of her re-election bid.
“Neither New York nor Ontario has ever promised to completely open up government procurement, so there’s a bunch of kabuki theatre going on.”
Trade lawyer Mark Warner, a former senior Ontario bureaucrat, suggesting to the Globe and Mail that the cross-border purchasing restrictions announced this week are largely political posturing on both sides.
“Most media outlets have shifted to covering events from their office and relying on live feeds. It is in our interest to have as much media coverage as possible and will do everything we can to ensure our events are streamed online to assist in that.”
Ford campaign spokesperson Melissa Lantsman, confirming that there will be no media bus following the PC Leader around during the campaign – a move seized on by critics as an effort to limit access to Ford and keep him on-script.
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