VALUE SIGNALLING – Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk might have as well have been wearing a Santa suit (from an Opposition and media perspective; more like a Grinch outfit for the Liberals) with the bag of critical goodies she doled out this week. A-G reports are always nightmares for those in power, but given the bad blood between Lysyk and Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals – they have openly clashed multiple times over Lysyk’s accounting methods and calculations – the LIBS were especially not looking forward to this one. With good reason, it turns out, as Lysyk’s 1,100-page value-for-money report chronicled a litany of mismanagement that will provide plenty of Opposition fodder heading into next year’s election campaign. Never mind that almost all of the bungling was the work of non-partisan bureaucrats – the maladministration happened on the Liberals’ watch and the Tories and NDP will point blame solely and squarely at the political masters. (PC MPP Lisa MacLeod summed up the sentiment concisely, calling Lysyk’s findings “a disgusting display of Liberal entitlement and waste.”) Among the nits critics will rigorously pick: some $300 million in higher hydro bills thanks to power plant staff expensing things like car washes and racoon traps; $19 million annually for maintenance of vacant government-owned buildings; the province paying disproportionately high prices for prescription drugs and reimbursing medication costs for dead people; and $58 million spent on government advertising – a particular sore spot for Lysyk, whose ad censorship authority was watered down by Wynne’s Liberals. And, oh yes, reiteration of Lysyk’s contention that the budget isn’t really balanced, citing a $4.5-billion shortfall based on her calculations.
INTENTS AND PURPOSES – Time, and pollsters, will tell how the A-G’s report impacts on public opinion – or if it has any impact at all. Lately nothing seems to budge the numbers, which have held steady for many months, including the most recent survey results posted by Forum Research. Forum found the PCs under leader Patrick Brown down five points from a month ago, but still well ahead with 40% of respondents intending to vote for the Tories. Andrea Horwath’s NDP picked up four of those points for a second-place 26%, while Wynne’s Liberals stayed at 24% but dropped to third. None of the leaders fared very well in terms of approval, leading to a sub-head in the Forum report that pretty well summed up the status quo: “Wynne unpopular, Brown unknown, Horwath liked, but also unknown.”
THEY HAVE WORK TO DO – Much to the Liberals’ chagrin, solid economic numbers don’t seem to be inspiring voters either. Monthly employment statistics showed Ontario gaining 43,000 jobs in November, continuing a five-month streak of increases and dropping the provincial unemployment rate to 5.5% – its lowest level since 2000. Recognizing that good economic performance doesn’t necessarily translate to support for the government, Wynne played the feel-your-pain card, offering, “Ontario’s economy is doing well, but we know that those numbers don’t tell the whole story.” This assessment came as she announced another open-mic town hall, in Brampton next Wednesday. Like her previous bear-pit session in Toronto, this will be a non-partisan event (read: paid for by taxpayers and devoid of overt Liberal cheerleading) as Wynne continues her populist thrust.
RUMOURS & RUMBLINGS
As the current legislative session wends toward the winter break scheduled for next Thursday, rumours are starting to percolate that this could be the final time this assembly gathers in earnest. According to the parliamentary schedule, MPPs are due to reconvene on February 20, 2018. But whispers from Queen’s Park suggest Premier Wynne may opt to prorogue. Technically, such a move could keep the House dark right through the spring, but a more likely scenario could see the Liberals starting a new session with a Throne-Speech-cum-election platform, followed by a provincial Budget-cum-election platform, leading into the writ drop in early May. While it’s all hearsay at this point, the notion does have some credence given that there are only six outstanding government bills on the Order Paper, and at least three of them will be on the books when MPPs rise next week.
IN THE HOUSE
No new government legislation was introduced this week.
Bill 142, the Construction Lien Amendment Act improving construction payment rules, unanimously passed Third Reading.
FOR THE RECORD
“The chances of meeting it aren’t low, they’re zero. In the auto sector all roads lead to electric, it just happens to be that the road to serious acceptance of them is probably at least 2030 and more likely 2040, 2050.”
Auto industry expert Dennis DesRosiers, observing that the provincial government is not going to meet its target to have five per cent of cars on the road be electric by 2020.
“There’s a huge, complex system out there operating in the world that has been delivering excellent product to people at reasonable prices for 40 years now. It’s really the degree to which the regulated system can, over a period of years, encroach on as much of that pre-existing market as possible – that is the key question.”
Donald MacPherson, Executive Director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, forecasting that the black market in marijuana will persist after its sale is legalized next summer.
“This has given me even more resolve to call a spade a spade … I haven’t ‘harassed’ anybody. It belittles the term harassment. It becomes meaningless when an unwelcome comment is equated with harassment.”
PC MPP Randy Hillier, scoffing at an independent investigator’s finding that his criticism of Tay Valley Township staff amounted to workplace harassment. Hillier, who doesn’t face any penalties, stands by his view that staff deserved to be disparaged for their handling of housing and planning matters.
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