CHANGE THE SUBJECT – Cabinet shuffles less than a year out from an election are not uncommon – often precipitated by ministers opting not to seek re-election or a perceived need to boost a backbencher’s profile. But this week’s mini-shuffle was totally unexpected, with Premier Kathleen Wynne suddenly forced to fill a vacancy when Environment and Climate Change Minister Glen Murray announced he’s leaving politics to head up the Pembina Institute. The fallout was swift:
Chris Ballard was named to replace Murray as Environment and Climate Change Minister, creating an opening for Peter Milczyn to be promoted to cabinet. Milczyn assumes what had been Ballard’s portfolio as Minister of Housing, also responsible for the province’s Poverty Reduction Strategy.
Francophone Affairs becomes a stand-alone ministry, helmed by Marie-France Lalonde (who was responsible for it before, but as a sub-ministry alongside her Community Safety and Correctional Services portfolio, which she keeps). This was unrelated to Murray’s departure, but was evidently in the works and the other shuffle presented an opportunity to make the change. Despite the additional ministry, the size of the cabinet remains the same, at 29 ministers.
Milczyn had three Parliamentary Assistant portfolios – Infrastructure, Labour and Francophone Affairs. As such, a second-tier shuffle of PAs is likely imminent.
Naturally, the Opposition parties seized on Murray’s resignation as an “abandon ship” move in the face of gloomy Liberal polls. He categorically denied such motivation, insisting that the position at the Alberta-based environmental organization – a dream job for Murray – just happened to materialize. “If Pembina hadn’t come along, I would be a candidate in the next election, and I’d be continuing on as minister if the Premier would have me,” he was quoted as saying in a phone interview, not coincidentally, from Calgary. “I wasn’t looking to leave. These things never come along at the right time.”
Wynne was equally adamant that she didn’t take Murray’s decision as an affront. “Glen has been a friend … I will be always be grateful for the unwavering support Glen has shown me,” she told reporters at Queen’s Park. “I do not see this as a vote of non-confidence. I see this as an individual having to make a decision about his life, and he’s a friend, and I wish him well.”
Murray will stay on as MPP for Toronto Centre until September 1. After that the seat will remain empty until next June’s provincial election. Technically a by-election is supposed to happen within six months of a resignation, but there is flexibility when a general vote is nigh. Wynne pointed to the cost of a by-election – estimated at around half a million dollars – as her reason for leaving the vacancy, refuting claims she wants to avoid voters even in what is considered a safe Liberal riding.
Within days of Murray’s announcement, speculation was swirling about a possible Liberal successor. One of the first names to pop up was former Deputy Premier George Smitherman, who held Toronto Centre until 2010, when he left Queen’s Park to run (unsuccessfully) for Mayor of Toronto. Smitherman, who has already made some noises about running for city council in 2018 (likely in the ward of the late Pam McConnell), has recently been heard to say he’s “on the horns of a dilemma” about whether to stay on the municipal path or shift to the suddenly beckoning provincial seat.
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WELCOME BACK – As Murray gets ready to leave, one of his caucus colleagues who had been largely sidelined announced a return to duty. Popular Thunder Bay MPP Michael Gravelle, who remained as Northern Development and Mines Minister in recent months but cut back on his workload to deal with depression, took to Facebook to say he’s back on the beam. “I’m pleased to say that, while I have been away, I have made great progress in understanding this illness and how to cope with and treat it,” he posted. “But, like many with depression, I am continuing the hard work it takes to feel better. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not there yet. But I’m standing in front of you here today because I feel that I now have the strength to begin transitioning back to the work that I love to do, for my community, for the North and for Ontario.” Gravelle hasn’t confirmed whether he’ll seek re-election, but he wasted no time in making a policy announcement, unveiling tree-planting plans including distributing 15,000 eastern white pine seed pods at events and schools across the province, as part of Canada and Ontario 150 celebrations. His timing was also a welcome respite in Thunder Bay, which has been besieged by scandal of late, including the city’s mayor and his wife being charged with extortion, bizarre YouTube videos featuring a prominent local lawyer and racial tensions involving police in the wake of the deaths of several Indigenous youth.
GREEN LIGHT – Buoyed by relative success in British Columbia, Ontario’s Green Party is openly enlisting the support of their western cousins in the hopes of finally making a breakthrough in this part of the country. B.C. MLA Adam Olsen was on hand this week as Ontario Green Leader Mike Schreiner formally launched his campaign in Guelph, setting up a rematch with longtime Liberal MPP and cabinet minister Liz Sandals. (Schreiner finished third in 2014, garnering about 20% of the vote – less than a thousand votes behind the second-place PC candidate but well back of Sandals, who won easily with nearly 42% support. He is obviously hoping that sagging Liberal popularity will enable him to close the gap.) Guelph has been a stronghold of sorts for the Greens, which is why Schreiner, who grew up in Kansas before becoming a Canadian citizen in 2007, has chosen it as his base. (In 2011 he ran in Simcoe-Grey, finishing a distant fourth.) With the B.C. Greens using their balance of power – even with only three seats – to topple the Liberals and install an NDP government, the party suddenly has a new optimism. “I came out to Ontario for Mike’s nomination because he is a refreshing change from business-as-usual politicians,” Olsen told the couple of hundred supporters at Schreiner’s launch event. “I look forward to watching his campaign from Victoria, and helping in whatever way I can.”
CAROLINE ON MY MIND – Turns out the rumours were true: Caroline Mulroney is indeed aspiring to provincial politics, announcing that she will be seeking the PC nomination in York-Simcoe, the riding being vacated by the retiring Julia Munro. While she is certainly identified as the daughter of former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, she has to be considered a star candidate in her own right, as a successful lawyer and financier. Hard to imagine anyone challenging her bid – although, given the ongoing controversies around contested PC nominations in at least half a dozen ridings, it could happen – and so far the reactions from local Tories have been positive. York-Simcoe is about as rock-solid a safe PC riding as there is in Ontario, meaning that if/when Mulroney wins the nomination, she is almost a certainty to be elected as MPP. But this could also have wider implications: Party leader Patrick Brown is reportedly close to the Mulroney family – a relationship that could suddenly face more scrutiny about just how much influence the ex-PM has on him.
ANSWERING THE BELL — Elsewhere on the PC nomination front, Brown is known as an avid sports fan and apparently the fandom goes both ways, as another former elite athlete is lining up carry the PC banner in next year’s election. A few weeks after former NHLer Troy Crowder joined the Tory ranks as a candidate in Sudbury, former Olympic boxer Mike Strange has filed papers for the nomination in Niagara Falls. Strange, who won gold at the 1994 and 1998 Commonwealth Games and represented Canada in the 1992, 1996 and 2000 Olympics, had been a pub owner in Niagara Falls since his retirement from the ring, but he sold that venture when he entered the political game as a city councillor in 2014. He has also been very active — figuratively and literally — in the charitable community. He has staged two significant charity runs for cancer — in 2012 picking up where Terry Fox left off and running from Thunder Bay to Victoria; in 2014 he ran 94 marathons in 94 days from St. John’s back to Niagara Falls. A date for the nomination meeting has yet to be set.
RUMOURS & RUMBLINGS
BILL AND COO
While there is little agreement on anything to do with provincial politics these days, a consensus seems to have developed on one matter: Ontarians are having a love affair with their 18th Premier, Bill Davis. Davis is widely lauded as among the province’s greatest Premiers – a unifying figure who presided over an era of growth and optimism. This positive view was not always universal, either when Davis was in office or in much of the decades since. Indeed, in the Mike Harris years some Tories derided the Davis legacy as one of ‘big-spending, quasi-liberalism,’ sneering that Davis wasn’t a ‘true blue’ conservative. But if Davis’s reputation needed rehabilitation (and many would argue it didn’t) it has surely come about in recent years. Theories abound as to the reason behind the Davis renaissance: 1) There really hasn’t been an Ontario Premier since Davis who was broadly liked. You certainly won’t find a consensus across party lines on the merits of Harris or Dalton McGuinty – each has their fans, but they were/are both polarizing figures. 2) People yearn for a time when politics in Ontario wasn’t so divisive and nasty. 3) Toronto’s popular mayor John Tory is the ultimate Davis acolyte, and he never hesitates to tell us that. 4) Steve Paikin’s bestselling biography, Bill Davis: Nation Builder, and Not So Bland After All. Paikin has crisscrossed the province promoting this generally well-reviewed book, and is drawing large crowds wherever he goes.
Enterprise’s Phil Gillies, who served in the Davis caucus in the 1980s, posted Facebook greetings to Davis on July 30, his 88th birthday. Phil’s post quickly generated more than 260 likes and 65 positive comments. What’s remarkable is that these likes and comments come from people across the political spectrum – PC, Liberal and NDP. At a time when you can say ‘the sky is blue’ on social media and somebody will pick a fight with you, a tribute to Brampton Billy draws nothing but praise and fond memories.
FOR THE RECORD
“One of the things that they have pointed out is that they wish, in retrospect, they had moved on the public education significantly before it became legal. They didn’t and so I’m taking that principle to heart. We can’t wait until July 1.”
Health Minister Eric Hoskins, citing experiences in Colorado as a cautionary tale as he promises a major awareness campaign around the dangers of marijuana, especially for young people, before pot is legalized next summer.
“Maybe it’s time both political operatives and the press gave those MPPs considering retirement a break. They need to stop reducing a complex personal decision to one based solely on crass political calculations. A political life is hard enough without having to worry about being accused of treason against your leader and party for simply deciding to leave. In my experience, few decide to retire simply because of poll numbers.”
Former Liberal cabinet minister John Milloy, in a National Newswatch column, pleading for MPPs contemplating retirement to be given more respect.
“Normally, you would not replace a leader in a minority government, but Brown is so disliked by his own members we feel this is an exception.”
Carlo Naldino, organizer of an Ottawa-area group of disgruntled PCs who are promising to campaign against targeted Tory candidates in hopes of electing a Liberal minority government in next June’s provincial election. Their theory is that this would a trigger a move to dump current PC Leader Patrick Brown, resulting in a new leader who could then orchestrate the defeat of the government to stage another general election.
“I said to the Premier today … we’re talking about a business that’s been in business continually since before Ontario was Ontario. It’s frustrating. This is something that’s very important to the community.”
Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens, who is appealing for changes to provincial liquor laws that prohibit the sale of Canadian Club whisky at Windsor’s Canadian Club brand heritage centre. While the whisky is distilled in Windsor, it is done so on contract as the Canadian Club brand is owned by an American-Japanese conglomerate. Ontario liquor laws only allow an owner to sell its spirits on site of the distillery; they cannot sell contracted brands on site. Windsor officials feel this has played a significant factor in the historic facility being closed to the public earlier this year.
“At a time when we are so often subjected to superficial media photo-ops, and ‘selfies’ as the solution to our challenges, Guy Caron is an original thinker who dares to speak the truth, and he does it eloquently in both official languages.”
Former Ontario NDP Leader Howard Hampton, formally endorsing Quebec MP Guy Caron for the federal party leadership. Both Hampton and his wife, former MPP Shelley Martel, are backing Caron, eschewing Northern Ontario MP Charlie Angus and provincial MPP Jagmeet Singh.
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