PAT ANSWERS – Ontario’s next provincial election is a year-and-a-half away, but don’t kid yourself – the campaign has already started. Case in point is a trio of digital ads launched by the PCs, aiming to “introduce” Leader Patrick Brown to voters. Although they look folksy, even such relatively low key and inexpensive videos require a concerted effort – there was no doubt much discussion around the messaging and tone, as well as production values that come across as professional without feeling too slick. Only time will tell whether they accomplish what they are supposed to, but the Tories are counting on the direct-to-voter connection to create a persona for Brown – to “define” him, in political parlance – before the Liberals do. PC campaign chair Walied Soliman was blunt about the strategy. “We know that the Liberals are going to unleash a campaign of unprecedented ferocity against Patrick,” Soliman told the Toronto Star. “The only path to re-election for them involves waging a highly negative, misleading and personal campaign against Patrick. We all know it’s coming and we are pre-empting it and we are ready for it.” The three digital ads all feature Brown, shirt sleeves rolled up, speaking directly to the camera. One starts with the mother of an autistic child lauding Brown for his advocacy, the second is entirely Brown, against a blank backdrop, railing against soaring hydro rates, and the third, by far the most personal, opens with a close-up of his mouth as he talks about overcoming a stutter as a child. Reviews have been mostly positive, but as always in political parties there is some dissent and not everyone buys into the strategy. “What’s the brand exactly? That our guy is a stutter survivor? The problem is it shows how little we have to work with. He’s 38 years old, not married, no kids and has only ever been a politician,” scoffed one Tory quoted by the Star – anonymously, for obvious reasons.
KEEP ME POSTED – Another sign that Queen’s Park is shifting into full campaign mode is the escalating effort to engage with “real people.” Amherstburg horse farmer Libby Keenan starred in that role this week, as she stopped by for a private visit with Premier Kathleen Wynne. The meeting was spurred by the open letter Keenan posted on Facebook last week, lamenting her struggles to stay afloat amid crippling hydro costs. It went viral, prompting Wynne to call Keenan personally. (Insiders say that kind of direct outreach was Wynne’s style before she got engulfed by the minutiae of being Premier – and she is evidently trying to get back outside the political bubble.) That 40-minute chat led to an invitation to meet in person, and Keenan took the offer. Although Wynne is due to be in Windsor next month, Keenan wanted to meet sooner so she borrowed a car and drove to Toronto. Emerging from Wednesday’s face-to-face, Keenan seemed satisfied with Wynne’s reassurances that something will be done to ease the hydro strain, while Liberal operatives quickly spread the word that reducing electricity costs will be the centrepiece of the provincial budget this spring.
LEFT SIDE – When the Legislature resumes a month from now, the NDP will have a new-look shadow cabinet, as party leader Andrea Horwath shuffled her caucus critic portfolios just before Christmas. The most notable changes have John Vanthof taking on Finance and Treasury Board, on top of his role as Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Critic, and Peggy Sattler now the NDP’s watchdog for Education. Also interesting are the extraneous titles added to some critic portfolios, presumably to indicate NDP priorities: Jennifer French is Critic for “Youth Engagement”; France Gélinas adds “Pharmacare” to her Health monitoring; Cindy Forster is still Critic for Labour, but for her it’s “Labour, Fairness and Work,” Lisa Gretzky is not just Critic for ComSoc, but also for “Homelessness”; and Cheri DiNovo keeps her three critic portfolios of “GTA Issues,” “Urban Transit” and “LGBTQ Issues” – none of which has a corresponding government ministry. Over in the PC caucus, meanwhile, Brown is expected to shuffle his shadow cabinet before the House reconvenes. His two newest MPPs, Raymond Cho and Sam Oosterhoof – both elected in 2016 by-elections – don’t have any critic duties. Neither does Jack MacLaren, still serving penance for bad behaviour last spring.
IT AIN’T SO, JOE – Here’s a name that won’t be joining Patrick Brown’s caucus anytime soon: Joe Oliver. The former federal Finance Minister lost his bid for the provincial PC nomination in York Centre – the riding held for eons by Liberal Monte Kwinter, Ontario’s oldest-ever MPP who is reportedly ailing and may not run again, creating an opening the Tories think they can capitalize on. Oliver lost the nomination to local lawyer and activist Roman Baber, and sources say this is no social conservative coup – Baber simply outworked Oliver to secure the needed support. It’s a similar storyline to that of ex-MP Bob Dechert, another of Brown’s former Parliament Hill caucus mates, who pulled out of the Mississauga-Erin Mills PC nomination amid reports he was trailing badly. Meanwhile, another potential high-profile candidate has also come off the board, for different reasons. Glen Gretzky, brother of hockey legend Wayne Gretzky – an ally of Brown who publicly endorsed his leadership bid – was said to be mulling a run for the PC nomination in Brantford-Brant (currently held by Speaker and Liberal MPP Dave Levac). A Gretzky on the ballot in Brantford, the family’s hometown, would be formidable, but word is Glen has decided to take a pass, at least partly because of illnesses in the family.
IT’LL GROW ON YOU – How maddening it must be for Wynne’s Liberals that Ontario keeps generating positive economic numbers, but their own polling numbers stay anemic. After monthly employment figures showed the province’s jobless rate at 6.4% – continuing a streak of being below the national average for more than a year and a half – the latest good economic data was a report of 0.7% growth in the third quarter (July – September) of last year. That’s up from 0.2% in the second quarter, and better than many other jurisdictions, thanks largely to a low Canadian dollar improving Ontario exports. Although they don’t seem to be getting much PR value out of it, the growing economy has a more practical importance for Wynne’s Liberals, in that the added tax revenue is a crucial factor in their vow to balance the budget before the 2018 election.
NORTH WIND – While province-wide economic figures may be on the upswing, things are less rosy in the North, a state of affairs that continues to give political hope to the upstart Northern Ontario Party. NOP Leader Trevor Holliday is taking steps to give his party legitimacy, hosting a series of public meetings starting later this month in various northern locales. He’s already learned the art of the visually relevant backdrop, announcing the tour in front of the Atlantic Power Corporation plant in North Bay – which, as of last week, is slated to shutter its doors. “The closing down of more Northern industries shows the lack of care or concern for the well-being of Northerners and the future generations,” Holliday intoned, tarring the three major parties for a collective “lack of concern or a private member’s bill to reform, redevelop or even have Northern Ontario protected.”
FOR THE RECORD
“It will be up to the government of Ontario to ensure that you are not penalized, folks like you. I am trusting they will do that responsibly and not penalize you further.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, on his cross-country town hall tour, pointing the finger squarely at Queen’s Park for managing energy costs in the wake of federal carbon pricing policies.
“They just demonized it up and down – made it impossible to even have the conversation. They turned it into a really dirty word and that had the effect of shutting down the whole discussion even before it began which, of course, led to a lot of really bad decision making.”
University of Guelph economics professor Ross McKitrick, co-author of a Fraser Institute study concluding that the Liberal policy of closing coal-fired electricity plants did little to improve Ontario’s air quality.
“It’s really no surprise to see the right-wing Fraser Institute and well-known climate change skeptic Ross McKitrick argue against reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But the overwhelming consensus is clear … that the closure of coal plants in Ontario has resulted in significant reductions in air pollution and improved the lives of Ontarians.”
Dan Moulton, a spokesman for Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault, arguing that the Fraser Institute report is so much hot air.
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