TRYING THEIR PATIENTS – What appears to be an unavoidable escalation of hostilities in the health-care sector took another ominous turn this week, as the entire executive of the Ontario Medical Association resigned en masse. Although they survived a recent non-confidence vote, more than half of the association’s governing council wanted them out (a two-thirds majority was needed for the motion to pass), leaving them as lame ducks. Now, it’s entirely possible the void will be filled by the militant faction of doctors who think the OMA has been too limp in its fight for a contract with the government, and who have openly talked about job action – i.e., taking steps that would directly impact patient care – to force the government’s hand. As if the situation wasn’t politically volatile enough, former NDP Premier and ex-federal Liberal Leader Bob Rae chimed in. Angered by a CBC interview in which Dr. Nadia Alam, who has been spearheading the effort to overthrow the OMA executive, positioned their fight as about improving health-care services, Rae tweeted, “OMA is a union fighting for higher incomes for docs. Period.” He backed that up with a media interview, asserting, “She’s not asking for money for health care, but for members. That’s fine, but don’t dress it up as something it isn’t.” Health Minister Eric Hoskins, for his part, has stayed away from such invective. He has studiously avoided commenting on the OMA tumult, sticking to platitudes like, “I invite the OMA, without any preconditions on either side, to work with us towards and agreement for the physician services budget.” But even that was not as innocuous as it might seem. Given that the disgruntled docs have insisted on binding arbitration as table stakes for a return to negotiations, Hoskins’ “no preconditions” proviso was a loaded statement.
TOLL STORY – Premier Kathleen Wynne continues to feel the fallout from her recent decision to kibosh the City of Toronto’s plan to toll major expressways. Some in her party are applauding the move as crucial to preserving suburban votes, but critics worry she has opened a can of worms by raising the ire of municipalities who have long resented being under the province’s thumb. (Some pundits also see a strategic pitfall, inasmuch as Wynne’s reversal on tolls effectively hamstrings her in criticizing flip-flops from the other party leaders.) Meanwhile, ever-shrewd Toronto Mayor John Tory is looking to leverage his very public umbrage about tolls into concessions on other issues. In addition to recent discussions about the need for a cash infusion on social housing, Tory has added extra daycare funding to his demands. He wrote a letter to Wynne this week volleying her own rationale for nixing tolls – affordability for consumers – back at her. “Given your recent comments and concerns about affordability for Ontario residents, I want to draw to your attention the child care affordability crisis unfolding in Toronto and the need for Queen’s Park to address the issue,” he wrote. Tory also repeated his stance that his relationship with Wynne has irrevocably changed, asserting, “I firmly believe that when it comes to issues like child care and housing, it can no longer be business as usual because the status quo leaves Toronto taxpayers footing the bills that the province should be paying.”
EVERYBODY’S A CRITIC – Shuffling of caucus decks is now complete, with PC Leader Patrick Brown having re-jigged his shadow cabinet for the upcoming spring session of the Legislature. Brown found places for newcomers Raymond Cho (Citizenship and Immigration, City of Toronto Issues) and Sam Oosterhoff (Digital Government and Associate Critic for Research, Innovation and Science – an interesting choice given Oosterhoff’s social conservative, home-schooling background). Brown also reinstated Jack MacLaren, who had his critic duties stripped for questionable behaviour last year, but is back in the fold as Critic for Natural Resources and Forestry. As always, extra portfolios not corresponding with government ministries provide a window into the Opposition’s political priorities. Deputy Leader Steve Clark is now Critic for “Ethics and Accountability,” a sign that Brown will continue to make hay about perceived government scandals. Cho’s “City of Toronto Issues” and Lisa MacLeod’s “City of Ottawa Issues” portfolios suggest Brown wants a concerted effort to woo urban voters in the province’s two largest municipalities. And the addition of “Horse Racing” to Randy Pettapiece’s files (along with Tourism, Culture and Sport) indicates the Tories plan to exploit the ongoing rural discontent over the LIBs’ treatment of the horseracing industry. In a couple of cases, extra words in critic titles also point to philosophical leanings, with John Yakabuski responsible for Labour and Training, and Gila Martow taking on Children, Youth and Families.
HALF TIME – True majority mandates – support from more than half of the electorate – are the stuff of political dreams, and it may well turn out to be just a dream for Brown. But at least one poll has him at that magical line, with a recent Campaign Research survey pegging exactly 50% of Ontario voters choosing the Tories as their preference, compared to the Liberals at a distant 28% and the NDP even further back with just 15% support. Individually, the poll found Brown as the top choice for making the best premier (28%), with “none of the above” in second (25%), NDP Leader Andrea Horwath at 24% and Wynne way behind at 16%. Bear in mind that Campaign Research was co-founded by former Ontario PC Party President Richard Ciano and lists Nick Kouvalis, another unabashed Tory, as a Principal, so it clearly has Conservative roots. But the polling methodology is considered sound and is consistent with other polls showing Brown with a substantial lead. The Liberals, of course, are doing their own polling, and word is their numbers show a much tighter race. Even if that’s true, however, the LIBs are unlikely to say so publicly. Strategically, they’re better off if the Tories believe an election victory is a slam dunk.
PLATFORM AND FUNCTION – Just how Brown’s Tories feel about their election chances will be apparent in late November, when they gather for a policy conference in Toronto. The November 25-26 conference will take place at the Toronto Congress Centre, described in Brown’s announcement to supporters as “on the border of Mississauga and Toronto” – a nod to the suburban demographic crucial to his election hopes. This will be the culmination of a province-wide policy development process currently underway, and will flow into the party platform. At least, that’s the idea. It’s not clear whether the conference will directly set the platform, or if Brown and his senior campaign team will cherry-pick the policies they want. He has repeatedly pledged a grassroots approach, renouncing past campaigns that saw platform decisions dictated by a central cabal. But devotion to the grassroots also has its drawbacks, and he will need checks in place to keep potentially damaging planks from making the cut – especially if radical SoCons rally enough support to get their wish list into the mix. Polls could also have an impact on the platform strategy. If the Tories still have a big lead six months before the writ-drop, there will be a strong temptation to play it safe, policy-wise, rather than risk alienating voters leaning their way with anything too bold.
CHIEF IMPORT – In still more news from the Brown camp, he’s in the market for a new Chief of Staff, with NickPappalardo resigning as of today. Pappalardo is reportedly leaving for family reasons, including a need to run the family business because of illnesses. Naturally, the Liberals are whispering that his departure is a sign of internal discontent in Brown’s office, but insiders categorically dismiss such conspiracy theories. Papallardo has said he will continue to work with the party as a volunteer.
FOR THE RECORD
“The system is broken. You have to understand that cities’ budgets aren’t designed to build large infrastructure, transit projects … Why is it that we can’t control our own destiny and we can’t raise the revenue we need to better run, better manage, and invest in our city?”
Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie, during an Empire Club panel discussion titled, ‘For Whom the Road Tolls,’ pointing to the provincial decision to nix tolls on Toronto expressways as symptomatic of a bigger problem of municipalities lacking the autonomy to fund their own priorities.
“The Opposition were all over us on this issue and didn’t want us to make these investments … Frankly, it’s time our government got a little bit of credit for some of the challenging decisions we’ve taken on and the bold decisions we’ve made to make this happen.”
Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid, gloating over the success of the MaRS innovation hub now that the building is full. During the 2014 election, the Tories and NDP ridiculed the Liberals’ bail-out of the then-two-thirds empty space as a boondoggle.
“London-area kids are just as deserving as Toronto kids when it comes to receiving publicly funded educational programming.”
NDP MPP Teresa Armstrong (London-Fanshawe), miffed that TVO is shutting down eight transmitters across the province, leaving only Toronto with over-the-air broadcasts, although the publicly funded network insists 99% of Ontarians will still have access through cable, satellite and online.
Former Sun Media columnist Christina Blizzard, retired from journalism but still bashing the Liberals – in this case after a recent ice storm caused power blackouts.
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