Note: April 14 is Good Friday, so Ontario Legislative Highlights will be posted on Thursday next week.
HAPPY NEW YEAR – As of last Saturday Ontario is in fiscal 2017-18, but the budget for the year remains a work in progress. Finance Minister Charles Sousa won’t be tabling the pecuniary blueprint next week, and the House isn’t sitting the week after that. Given that budgets are usually released on Thursdays, it looks like April 27th is the most likely date for Budget 2017.
SOAK UP THE SUNSHINE – Fiscal 2016-17 ended with the usual bang, thanks to the now-traditional March 31st release of the “Sunshine List” of public sector salaries, and the now-traditional frenzy of resentment that accompanies it. Like clockwork, the catalogue of $100K+ earners generated a wave of province-wide media coverage (followed by local dissection and umbrage), with most stories noting that there are now 123,410 names on the list, an increase of about 9% from last year. That jump figures to be even more dramatic next year, as a long-time wage freeze is lifted, which could be problematic for the Liberals just months before an election. In the meantime, the Opposition parties are trying to make it a problem for the Liberals right now. To that end, the Tories introduced a motion in the House that would have compelled Treasury Board President Liz Sandals to appear before a legislative committee to justify the high-end payroll. With a majority Liberal government such a motion was a non-starter, and Sandals did her best to turn the tables. “The PCs threatened to fire 100,000 people last election,” Sandals chided, bringing up a 2014 campaign promise that still stings many Tories. “It seems that Patrick Brown and the PCs are once again attacking Ontario’s hard-working public servants.”
BROWN OUT – Someday the Liberals will just as zealously attack Brown’s electricity plan, but that day will apparently have to wait awhile. After vowing to “very soon” release his strategy for addressing soaring consumer costs, Brown has reportedly decided to save it for after a party policy conference in November. He had been under pressure to ante up after the NDP and Liberals unveiled their respective hydro proposals last month, but evidently he doesn’t see the value in a me-too move and has reverted to his original schedule. He will no doubt be slagged for it – any time he raises hydro in Question Period, he will inevitably face a “where’s your plan?” retort – but would rather stick to his pledge to base his platform on grassroots input. Release of his plan, he pronounced, “will not be on the NDP’s timeline or the Liberal timeline; it’ll be based on collecting good ideas, good evidence, analyzing some of the real structural challenges.”
TED TALK – After a couple of weeks of the Liberals seizing on ill-advised utterances by PC MPPs, the Tories got a measure of revenge this week when they pilloried Liberal Ted McMeekin for an anti-doctor comment. McMeekin, who is Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Parliamentary Assistant, was engaged in debate on the Patient Protection Act. When PC MPP John Yakabuski wondered aloud why the province needs access to physicians’ private medical records, McMeekin heckled, “Because some doctors cheat.” Which might have been a clever barb had it not been irrelevant to the subject at hand. A sheepish McMeekin later admitted, “Uncharacteristically, I misunderstood the topic of the debate in the House. My comment was in reference to issues around the OHIP billing system, and not the medical records of any doctor. I apologize to anyone who understandably may have been offended by my remarks.” He pointed out that his wife is a doctor (presumably one who doesn’t cheat OHIP), but the contrition didn’t deter Brown – who has notably sided with physicians in their ongoing contract dispute with the government – from making hay about it. “How can you re-build the relationship when you go around attacking them?” Brown fumed, calling on Wynne to step in and curb what he decried as “a multi-year campaign by this government to attack the province’s doctors.”
SINGH PRAISES – Still no date for a by-election to fill the vacancy in Sault Ste. Marie, and chances are there will be a second open seat shortly if reports are true that NDP MPP Jagmeet Singh is on the verge of running for the federal party leadership. These rumours have been around for months, and Singh continues to insist he has not yet made a decision. But a National Post story this week suggested it’s only a matter of time, quoting sources close to Singh as confirming that a campaign team has been organized and that he “has quietly begun informing others in the political sphere that he plans to run.” As Deputy Leader of the Ontario NDP, losing Singh would be a major blow to Leader Andrea Horwath, but insiders say she’s had plenty of time to get used to the idea, and the party will do everything it can to hang on to the Bramalea-Gore-Malton seat.
SPORT OF KING – A little to the east, another 905 riding is the subject of some nomination intrigue. In King-Vaughan, a PC youth movement has continued with the selection of Stephen Lecce. He’s not a teenager like Sam Oosterhoff, but is still relatively young despite having amassed an impressive résumé as a federal political staffer, spending a couple of years as media relations director for Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He also ran former MP Julian Fantino’s federal campaigns, so he has some formidable machinery to tap into. (This could have created an epic battle if the incumbent MPP, Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca, was running against him – pitting Fantino’s machine against the Liberal machine built by Greg Sorbara and now behind Del Duca. Alas, the latter plans to run next door in Vaughan-Woodbridge as his current riding gets split by redistribution.) Not every Tory was thrilled with Lecce’s nomination, however. A would-be challenger, Konstantin Toubis, claimed the party blocked his application for no good reason. Toubis showed up at the nomination meeting and loudly jeered – to the point police were called in – and posted a diatribe on Facebook: “Congratulations Ontario and welcome to the new world of North Korea! Congratulations party executives and Patrick Brown for your disrespect to your own members and welcome to the new world of dictatorship! Good job!” Hmm, wonder why the party didn’t want him as their candidate.
IN THE HOUSE
No government bills were introduced or passed this week.
FOR THE RECORD
“You want the first thing that comes to my mind: The polls. Just sayin’.”
Premier Kathleen Wynne, with a self-deprecating chuckle about her low popularity, when asked, at a meeting with the Long Term Care Association, what’s the one thing she’d like to change about her job.
“[Places to Grow] imposes a Bloor and Yonge footprint on the rest of the GTA.”
Former PC Leader Tim Hudak, keeping his hand in provincial politics in his new job as head of the Ontario Real Estate Association as he criticizes the Liberals’ land-use policies – with a phrase that some would argue applies to any number of issues.
“To see players competing for their country, sacrificing their bodies night after night for nothing but the honour of representing Canada is a lesson that simply can’t be replaced. This is the moment when NHLers go from professional athletes to role models for our youth.”
PC Leader Patrick Brown, a huge sports fan, using a Sun Media guest column to voice his disdain about the National Hockey League’s decision not to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.
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