KEEP IT TO A MINIMUM – Here’s a shock: Committee hearings this summer didn’t change the Liberals’ minds about raising the province’s minimum wage to $15/hr. In what is clearly an orchestrated roll-out, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act has been the singular legislative focus since the House recessed in June – it was the last bill introduced before the break, and the lone legislation studied by committee over the summer – and will be a centrepiece of the fall session getting underway September 11. The Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs wrapped up clause-by-clause review this week and, despite the Liberal majority agreeing to some tweaks, it will return to the Legislature in much the same form as Labour Minister Kevin Flynn presented it June 1. Once there, it will be subject to still more deliberation – the bill hasn’t even passed Second Reading yet, which is usually the precursor of committee work – before becoming law. Presumably, the Liberals are keen to prolong the discussion as much as possible, given that a) the labour reforms are fundamental to their re-election charge, and b) the issue is causing conniptions for the Opposition parties, who don’t want to be overly critical of popular policies.
A FAMILIAR RING – Having decided to create an extra two ridings in Northern Ontario, the Liberals are now looking to woo votes in that part of the province. Since 2010, any such effort inevitably involves promises around the Ring of Fire – the huge, and potentially hugely lucrative, chromite deposit about 500 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay – and we have seen many, many announcements over those seven years without much actual development. Premier Kathleen Wynne was in Thunder Bay this week for yet another announcement, insisting that this time there will be action to follow it. In this case it was an agreement with three First Nations to build year-round access roads to the proposed mining site – with construction to start in 2019. Naturally, the Opposition parties weren’t about to let the Liberals get credit. “It’s simply election talk,” sniped PC Finance Critic Vic Fedelli, pointing to a similar promise in 2014 that went unfulfilled and noting that jobs have been lost since a height of 250 workers in the area. “Today there are six people left. Those six people are the caretakers who are there to simply protect the investment. It’s sad to watch it dwindle to nothing.” NDP Leader Andrea Horwath took a similar tack, decrying “[The] disappointment [of] 14 years of Liberal government during which not one shovel has hit the ground. Not one kilometre of road has been built.”
REBEL YELL – One of the major offshoots of the Donald Trump presidency in the U.S. has been an escalation of already-bitter media wars – Fox News versus CNN, the rise of Breitbart, stridently partisan talk radio – as journalism reflects (and contributes to) growing polarization. Here in Ontario we have a small-scale version playing out around The Rebel media, the online network built from the debris of the defunct Sun News Network by right-wing provocateur Ezra Lavant. The still-unfolding drama has had several twists and turns in the past week:
Scene 1 – In the wake of global outrage at racially-motivated violence in Charlottesville, Virginia – and a reporter from The Rebel sympathizing with the white supremacists – guilt-by-association is a problem for many former guests on the network. One such politico happens to be the leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives – a point the Liberals chirpily made in missives to reporters and supporters. They even supplied photo evidence, embedding a picture of Brown on-set, shaking hands with Levant. The Liberal agitprop blared, “Ontario Conservative leader Patrick Brown appeared on alt-right media outlet The Rebel multiple times. But he has yet to denounce their hate,” and encouraged supporters to sign a petition demanding said denunciation.
Scene 2 – Brown swiftly took the sting out of Liberal attacks by categorically denouncing The Rebel. It was an easy stance to take, given that The Rebel has disparaged Brown for moving the party toward the political centre, and he hasn’t appeared on the network in more than a year.
Scene 3 – TVO’s John Michael McGrath ridiculed the Liberal strategy for giving Brown such an easy out, posting, “The whole point of the ‘make X disavow Y’ play is to put your enemy between a rock and a hard place. The Liberals put Brown between a pillow and meringue.”
Scene 4 – Undaunted, the LIBs went after other PC caucus members who have guested on and/or been supportive of The Rebel’s views, this time demanding apologies for facilitating “blatant racism, bigotry and hate.”
Expect much more of this, as the Liberals do everything they can to thwart Brown’s push to the centre – which is where everyone knows the most votes are.
THOSE WERE THE DAYS – There may be no election writ, but the 2018 provincial campaign is very much underway – not just in terms of promises and messages, but in on-the-ground activity. Case in point was a Liberal “Day of Action” this past Saturday, which, according to Liberal bumpf, saw 800 volunteers in 71 ridings canvassing some 85,000 residences. This follows a similar province-wide canvass by the Tories earlier this summer, which they say deployed more than 1,200 volunteers in 113 ridings. All of this door-knocking is underpinned by the big-data movement, as each party aims to populate databases that will enable them to pinpoint supportive voters and strategically allot resources to get them to the polls.
OH, CUT IT OUT – Political organizers continue to rack their brains for new ways of engaging donors now that MPPs (and candidates) are forbidden from attending fundraising events. Leeds-Grenville PC MPP Steve Clark came up with a novel, if comical, way to have a presence at a long-standing fundraiser in his riding: A cardboard cutout. The life-size image of a grinning Clark was front and centre at the annual “Afternoon in the Islands” event, with attendees having their pictures taken beside the two-dimensional MPP and the artificial Clark propped against a wall to “watch” the remarks. One such speech was by Bob Runciman, who previously held the riding and has never missed the event he founded 31 years ago. “The fact that Steve can’t attend his own fundraiser is nothing short of nuts,” Runciman told the crowd.
FOR THE RECORD
“If the government does not accept the one per cent as a solution, then I ask them what will they accept?… If we want to build 21st century cities, we need more than 19th century tools.”
Mississauga Mayor – and former Liberal MP – Bonnie Crombie, angry at the provincial Liberals for rejecting a proposed HST hike to fund municipal infrastructure.
“Whether through our province-wide policy consultations, grassroots fundraising initiatives or our campaign to ask women to run for office, we are showing a commitment to creating an open party.”
East Gwillimbury businessman Brian Johns, named as the new President of the Ontario Liberal Party.
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