SPRING LOADED – It’s only been two months since the Legislature rose for its winter break, but that seems like eons ago in light of the upheaval that has gripped Ontario politics since then. When MPPs again take their seats in the House next Tuesday – after Monday’s Family Day holiday – the Liberal front benches will look somewhat different, thanks to January’s cabinet shuffle. And the PC front bench will look way different, with interim Leader Vic Fedeli leading the Question Period charge in place of the ousted Patrick Brown. There isn’t much of a legislative agenda to start the session, with only two outstanding government bills on the Order Paper, but this spring session isn’t really about lawmaking anyway. For all intents and purposes it is a preamble to the election campaign that will truncate the session, dissolving the parliament in early May for a June 7 vote.
FRAME OF REFERENCE – When and whether Brown himself takes his seat in the House – his desk relegated to the back row – is an intriguing question. Even though he is still the PC MPP for Simcoe North he can’t feel very welcome, as Fedeli is on record as saying Brown should step out of caucus while he attempts to clear his name around sexual misconduct allegations. Regardless of whether he shows his face at Queen’s Park, however, Brown made it clear this week he will not stay quietly on the sidelines. In a series of media interviews and social media posts, he came out swinging, challenging both the veracity of the accusations that brought him down and hinting at dark forces behind them. He has started poking holes in facts around the allegations, accusing CTV News, which broke the original story, of a hatchet job. “Here is my message to CTV News. You lied. You defamed me. I will not allow your brand of trashy journalism to hurt another person in this country,” he posted on Facebook, then announced plans to sue for defamation. CTV, while admitting there were some inaccuracies – such as the age of the accusers and the time-frame of the alleged transgressions – stands by the gist of its reporting. More ominously, Brown suggested he is the victim of a conspiracy – a “fabricated political assassination,” in his words – and vowed to find out who framed him. “This is not over,” he wrote, a message that seemed to indicate his spectre will hang over both the leadership race to replace him and the subsequent provincial election.
LEADING QUESTIONS – After a frenetic few weeks, the PC leadership contest has settled down somewhat, although it remains a powder keg as the contenders vie for the support of party members. Adding a new layer of tension is the entrance of Tanya Granic Allen, who officially became the fourth contender when she met the admission requirements. She is a parent advocate – specifically advocating for the updated sex education curriculum brought in by the Liberals to be scrapped. She arrived just in time to participate in the first of two leadership debates Thursday. As usual for these affairs it was mostly awkward, as the combatants fixated on policy and the hated Liberals, only occasionally jabbing at their rivals – but not so much that they risked damaging the bigger party brand. All are also well aware that public-facing debates are secondary in a leadership race. Wooing partisans – selling memberships and facilitating online votes – is a far bigger priority. To that end, one of the key subtexts is the battle for social conservatives and other right-wing hardliners, who can wield significant influence internally even if their views aren’t shared by the broader electorate. Leadership candidate Doug Ford set the tone early when he opposed the carbon tax at the heart of Brown’s platform, forcing both Christine Elliott and Caroline Mulroney to follow suit. This week Ford was at it again, putting the sex-ed curriculum – a principal bugbear for the SoCons – on the agenda, even before Granic Allen was on the slate. Most Liberals would be delighted to see sex-ed back in the spotlight, given that polling shows the revised curriculum enjoys widespread support among voters. But Ford vowed to revisit it anyway, thundering, “Unlike the Liberals, I know that parents – not government – are our first educators when it comes to our children… Sex-ed curriculum should be about facts, not teaching Liberal ideology.” Ford went so far as to slam Brown for trying to get sex-ed off the radar. “[Brown] stonewalled debate of the issue by forbidding discussion of this policy from reaching the membership during our policy development process,” Ford chided. “This is unacceptable. We cannot expect Ontarians to trust us to consult parents on curriculum when we do not even consult with our own members.”
LET’S TRY THAT AGAIN – Even if Brown does succeed in refuting the sexual misconduct allegations, his legacy as leader is still in tatters. As Ford was denouncing the policy development process, this week the party announced it would overturn nominations in two ridings, with more possibly to follow. Ottawa West-Nepean and Scarborough Centre will redo the process, after allegations of ballot stuffing and other shady practices at the original meetings – which were dismissed by Brown as he signed off on the candidates who had won. More than a dozen PC nominations were clouded by accusations of cheating, and one – Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas – is under a police investigation. Because of that probe, HWAD’s result hasn’t been overturned, but the winner has asked the party to do so. Ben Levitt is advocating for a do-over, saying he would “similarly like to clear the air.”
ADDITION BY SUBTRACTION – As if Brown’s reputation hasn’t been battered enough, polling is adding insult to injury by reporting PC popularity increasing since his resignation. Campaign Research’s first public opinion survey in the wake of the Brown scandal showed the Tories with 43% support, compared to the Liberals at 28% and the NDP at 20%. (Notably, Campaign Research had been the one polling firm that consistently reported a close race, with the Liberals and Tories in a dead heat, in previous polls.) The poll also found the three PC leadership contenders in place at the time of the survey — Ford, Elliott and Mulroney — to be significantly more popular than Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne.
GROPING FOR ANSWERS – Another Queen’s Park casualty of sexual misconduct allegations – albeit indirectly – has left the NDP short a senior strategist. Leader Andrea Horwath banished campaign director Michael Balagus over accusations he ignored complaints about a Manitoba cabinet minister in his previous job. Balagus was a senior advisor to two Manitoba Premiers, during which time cabinet minister Stan Struthers was accused of groping and tickling female staff. Balagus has called the behaviour “appalling” and admitted the lack of response was a “shameful failure.” But for now he’s out of the NDP picture, as Horwath announced Balagus will be “on a leave of absence until I can determine whether or not it’s appropriate for him to continue on our team.”
ONE OF A KIND – Words like “feisty” and “maverick” don’t often show up in obituaries, but they flowed – affectionately – in the wake of former MPP Chris Stockwell’s death from cancer this week. Gone far too young at age 60, Stockwell is fondly remembered by a generation of Queen’s Parkers as one of the most entertaining, and in many ways most effective, Speakers the Legislature has ever seen. A first-rate provocateur, Stockwell was adept at thwarting disruptive shenanigans in the House; as former PC Leader Tim Hudak tweeted, he “couldn’t be fooled because he had broken every rule in the book many times himself.” First elected provincially in 1990, Stockwell was understandably miffed when he was passed over for a cabinet post after the Mike Harris Tories won in 1995, which is why he ran for Speaker, over Harris’s objections. When Harris retired, Stockwell ran for party leader, but lost to Ernie Eves – who lessened the blow by finally appointing Stockwell to cabinet. He was done as an MPP himself in 2003, but had left his mark as one of those unforgettable characters who enliven the scene at Queen’s Park – some would say far too infrequently.
FOR THE RECORD
“Patrick has always stood for the advancement of women’s rights and it’s in the face of this injustice that it’s time for us to stand up for his.”
Open letter signed by a group of women in Simcoe County, defending disgraced former PC Leader Patrick Brown against anonymous accusers of sexual misconduct. The letter decried the MeToo movement has having “crossed into dangerous territory with no line drawn as to when it becomes acceptable to destroy a man’s career, reputation, and life.”
“I said ‘Who wrote that?‘ He said, ‘One of my staff members.’ I said, ‘Did you authorize it, did you consent to it being released?’ He said, ‘No.’”
Nicholas Charitsis, a lawyer and friend of Brown – although he does not represent the fallen leader – suggesting that Brown’s resignation was invalid and that technically he’s still party leader. Brown, for his part, dismissed the idea, tweeting, “I am solely focused on clearing my name, not technicalities.”
“Rather than funding infrastructure through low interest loans the way our parents and grandparents’ generations did, the Wynne government has chosen to make our children and grandchildren pay more. This will cost all of us in the future.”
CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn, whose union is suing the government over the sale of Hydro One, pouncing on a report from the Financial Accountability Officer concluding that the sell-off, while providing a short-term infusion of money for infrastructure projects, will ultimately cost more than traditional debt financing would have.
“My son, Mike Jr. is thinking about running in Waterloo. He’s talking to folks and what not, so that will be kind of exciting for me.”
Former Premier Mike Harris, acknowledging that there may be another Mike Harris running for provincial politics (on top of the Michael Harris who is already the PC MPP for Kitchener-Consestoga). The ex-preem also took the opportunity to weigh in on the PC leadership race, saying he won’t take sides but offering that any of the three main hopefuls “can help lead this province – and help us get rid of Kathleen Wynne, who’s been an unmitigated disaster.”
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