This is the final edition of Ontario Legislative Highlights for 2017. Our next edition will be posted on January 5, 2018.
From all of us at Enterprise, we wish you the best for a safe and happy holiday season!
ONTARIO LEGISLATIVE HIGHLIGHTS
December 22, 2017
’18 WITH A BULLET – The current calendar year may not be over yet, but politicos at Queen’s Park have long since turned their attention to 2018 which, as you may have heard, is an ELECTION YEAR. As they made the rounds of year-end media interviews, the party leaders set the stage for how they plan to position themselves over the coming months:
Premier Kathleen Wynne rarely has a conversation these days, let alone making an official statement, without the F-word – “fairness.” Despite criticisms her government has been too left-leaning, Wynne is doubling down on her “social justice” (another common Wynne catchphrase) agenda. She is evidently aiming to champion those feeling downtrodden – with a particular focus on precarious employment – with comments like this: “I have a deep belief that we don’t play on a level field. And so, what can I do to level that playing field?” Interestingly, Wynne evaded media questions about her long-term future, changing the subject when asked how long she would stay in the Premier’s Office if her Liberals retain power next June. (It is widely speculated Wynne would step down and trigger a leadership race roughly two years into a new mandate. But even if that is her plan, no politician would ever admit such a thing before an election campaign.)
PC Leader Patrick Brown obviously feels more secure now that he’s released his election platform, and he takes every opportunity to tout his proposals. But he hasn’t abandoned his previous messages tracks, which include dispelling perceptions he’s a social conservative (read: anti-gay) with lines like “Love is love is love. It’s none of government’s business who you love. I just want people to be happy.” He has also not strayed from disparaging the Liberals, telling the Toronto Sun, “We’re going to end the endless political corruption we see in Ontario,” and “the biggest difference is you can trust what the PC Party is saying.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath continues to be rather enigmatic, claiming credit for many Liberal policies but not saying how she might fill the hole they leave in her own platform. After months of harping on electricity costs and the privatization of Hydro One, lately Horwath has zeroed in on health care as another key line of attack. “This is about patients waiting in agony, treatments being delayed and people having their health and dignity impacted by hallway medicine,” she railed about hospital wait times. “This is about people’s lives.” Horwath has also started laying the groundwork for a “real change” stance, lumping Wynne and Brown together and positioning the NDP as the true alternative. “Kathleen Wynne let us down … Patrick Brown is proving that he’s not the answer,” she asserted.
REID ‘EM AND WEEP – Much of the chatter around Wynne stepping aside has stemmed from polls continually showing her to be unpopular – which happened again this week when the Angus Reid Institute released its monthly ranking of provincial premiers. Wynne’s approval rating was 20% – a three point improvement from the last poll but still worst in the country. By contrast, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, who is retiring, garnered 71% approval, making him Canada’s most popular premier – as he has been in every such poll since 2010.
THANK YOU FOR CHERI – Largely lost in the last-minute flurry of bill passing before the Legislature broke for the winter was the final bow as an MPP for New Democrat Cheri DiNovo. DiNovo is vacating her Parkdale-High Park seat at the end of December to return to her church work. She didn’t make a farewell speech in the House, but was praised by members of each party. Horwath singled out DiNovo’s efforts on LGBTQ issues – including passage of a law commemorating Trans Day of Remembrance last week – and concluded, “It has been an amazing, amazing journey.” DiNovo’s departure means that when the Assembly resumes two seats will be empty. Both Parkdale-High Park and Toronto Centre will stay that way until the general election in June, while at least eight other MPPs who aren’t seeking re-election keep their seats warm until the writ drops.
NAMES IN THE NEWS – It used to be months into a new year before we knew Ontario’s most popular baby names, but technology has enabled the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services to post the list even before the calendar turns over. (Never missing an opportunity to plug an initiative, MGCS Minister Tracy MacCharles used the list announcement to crow about how “ServiceOntario is making it easier for new parents to access the services they need, through the 4-in-1 Bundle” which provides a one-stop window to register a birth and apply for a birth certificate, social insurance number and child benefits.) In 2018, Olivia was once again the top girls’ name – as it has been every year since 2008 – followed by other perennial favourites Emma, Charlotte, Ava and Sophia. For boys, Benjamin was the most popular, followed by Liam (dropping to second after a five-year streak at the top), Noah, Ethan and Lucas. The ministry also notes that Lincoln made Ontario’s top 20 for the first time ever, and credits the launch of the TV series The Crown with an upsurge in Elizabeths, Margarets and Winstons. Notably, none of Kathleen, Patrick or Andrea are on the list.
RUMOURS & RUMBLINGS
As noted above, the party leaders are diligently establishing the personas they want to take into the election. But even those carefully crafted images are subject to change, as strategists gauge the perceived whims of the electorate and adjust accordingly. Traces of market research and focus testing have been apparent in a few recent developments:
Premier Wynne has ditched the pointy, cat-eye glasses, appearing in videos and public engagements sans spectacles. As party researchers tried to get to the bottom of her enduring unpopularity, the old-school glasses were undoubtedly raised as an image people didn’t like – similar to Brown’s slicked back hair, also now gone. Look for close-ups to highlight Wynne’s piercing blue eyes, which were largely hidden before.
Much as Wynne uses the word “fairness” constantly, “corrupt” has been a staple of the Tories’ lexicon, increasingly so in recent months. Insiders say it was a word that kept coming up in focus groups to describe the Liberal government, so the Tories started using it ad infinitum.
Even the name of the PC platform has a focus group ring to it. The People’s Guarantee title didn’t come out of nowhere – it’s a hybrid of prevalent sentiments about government being too far removed from day-to-day struggles, and skepticism about promises being broken. This harkens back to the last successful Ontario PC platform, Mike Harris’s famous (or infamous, depending on your political bent) Common Sense Revolution. Back in early 1990s, two themes simmered around an unpopular NDP government: dismay at what were seen as ideological decisions crying out for some basic common sense, and outright anger leading to calls for a revolution. Rather than choose one theme over the other, the Harris braintrust combined them and the CSR was born.
FOR THE RECORD
“If you look at the definition of constituency MP, I was that example. One of the greatest sources of support on this journey has been the people of Barrie and [Simcoe] County. A bunch of my staff at Queen’s Park are folks that come from Barrie. I don’t think Barrie’s ever had this much presence at Queen’s Park.”
PC Leader Patrick Brown, on a swing through his hometown, touting his contributions to the community as a federal MP and since becoming provincial leader.
“We want our suppliers to succeed. The new agreement provides compelling incentives for Bombardier to allocate the right resources and attention to the production of our Eglinton vehicles.”
Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster, announcing a new contract with Bombardier that includes much higher damages if the beleaguered light rail vehicle manufacturer misses its delivery deadlines for the massive Eglinton Crosstown LRT project.
“I’ve said to the mayor, I’m bringing it in on revised time. I believe it can be on revised budget.”
Outgoing TTC CEO Andy Byford, celebrating the opening of the Spadina subway extension with a quote that could become a new buzz phrase for politicians everywhere.
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