THE BIG E – Never mind the date on the calendar, for Queen’s Park politicos, today is E-minus-154. That’s how many days until Ontario voters go to the polls, and between now and then influencing those ballots will be the singular focus for political parties. The provincial election will pretty much bisect 2018, creating two distinct halves, and the outcome will determine just how differently things look in Part 2. In any case, some significant changes are a certainty, as at least a quarter of Ontario’s MPPs will be new faces. For sure there will be 27 first-time MPPs. NDP MPP Cindy Forster announced this week that she will not seek re-election – citing “family circumstances that require my attention” – bringing the total of retiring incumbents to nine. Three seats are currently vacant, and there are 15 newly created ridings to be filled. Add to that at least one and probably two of the party leaders whose resignation will be at hand should they not fare well in June. Premier Kathleen Wynne is very likely a goner if her Liberals cede power, and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, who is leading her party into an election for the third time, needs a better showing to hang on to her job. Only PC Leader Patrick Brown stands to survive an election loss, given that this is his first shot at the helm – although with high expectations for a Tory victory, he too could be on thin ice should he have a disappointing campaign.
ROLE PLAY – One of the now-empty seats is Toronto’s Parkdale-High Park, left open by the departure of New Democrat Cheri DiNovo. Horwath’s caucus is now depleted by two, with Bramalea-Gore-Malton also vacant thanks to Jagmeet Singh’s ascension to the federal NDP leadership. This has led to an expectation that Horwath will shuffle her shadow cabinet – which is a common practice anyway in the lead-up to an election, as party leaders try to give key MPPs a higher profile. DiNovo had three critic portfolios – LGBTQ Issues, GTA Issues and Urban Transportation – but all were sub-posts in larger ministries, so Horwath could opt to leave things as-is with little overall impact. Meanwhile, Wynne’s last cabinet shuffle was back in July (necessitated by the resignation of Environment Minister Glenn Murray, whose Toronto Centre riding is the third seat that won’t be filled before the general election) but that was relatively minor, and most of her cabinet has been intact since June of 2016. However, three of her senior ministers – Deb Matthews, Liz Sandals and Brad Duguid – are on the list of retiring MPPs, fuelling speculation Wynne could re-jig her Executive Council before the House resumes in February.
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INDIA INK – If Brown is thinking about changes to his team of critics – his 29-member caucus remains whole, with only Julia Munro announcing she won’t be back post-election – they will have to wait at least a few weeks. Brown is on the other side of the world at the moment, on his annual visit to India. According to his own posts on Twitter, this is his 18th trip to the subcontinent. While technically unofficial, Brown is meeting with Indian dignitaries and celebrities, and providing a steady stream of social media play-by-play and pictures. Ontarians of South Asian descent were a key demographic in his surprising leadership victory in 2015, and Brown is obviously keen on continuing to cultivate their support. Among those accompanying him on the junket is Amarjot Sandhu, the PC candidate in Brampton West.
HAPPY NEW RULES – With the turn of the calendar comes a whack of regulatory changes, one of two occasions each year that such laws take effect (July 1 is the other). Most will be old news come election time, but Wynne’s Liberals are hoping some residual goodwill will linger and they will promote the heck of out of them – at least until the spring Budget sets out a new plate of goodies. Among the laws that went into effect last Monday are a $14/hr minimum wage, free prescription drugs for anyone under 25, mandated three weeks of paid vacation for employees with five years of service to the same employer, a drop in the corporate income tax rate to 3.5%, linkage of Ontario’s carbon market with Quebec and California, municipalities being allowed to restrict payday loan shops and a requirement that electric vehicle charging stations be installed in all new commercial office buildings.
AMAZON WARRIORS – Speaking of office buildings – campuses, actually – one key happening in 2018 will be the selection of Amazon’s second North American headquarters. No fewer than five Ontario communities are among the 238 bids: Toronto, Ottawa (partnered with Gatineau), Windsor (partnered with Detroit), Sault Ste. Marie (partnered with Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan) and Simcoe County. Amazon has not indicated exactly when it will unveil the winner, only that the “Final Site Selection and Announcement” will take place in 2018. Depending on the timing, the success/failure of the Ontario bids could have an impact on the election here. Premier Wynne has staked her place in the contest, having written a personal note to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, “to share Ontario’s enthusiasm about this opportunity and outline why our province is such a great fit for HQ2.”
FOR THE RECORD
“Asking minimum wage workers to sign a pledge acknowledging that their breaks will now go unpaid or agreeing to only receive eight hours pay for a nine hour day is not decent and it’s not fair. It is the act of a bully. If Mr. Joyce wants to pick a fight, I urge him to pick it with me and not those working the pick-up window and service counter of his stores.”
Premier Kathleen Wynne, with a scathing statement aimed at Ron Joyce Jr. – whose family founded the multi-billion-dollar Tim Hortons donut chain. Joyce imposed clawbacks on employees at the Cobourg franchise he owns, to counter the Wynne government’s minimum wage increase.
“It’s ass backward and incompetent … While other countries have strengthened public safety since [the tsunami-induced disaster at] Fukushima, it’s taken the Ontario government six years to maintain the status quo.”
Shawn-Patrick Stensil of Greenpeace, ridiculing Ontario’s updated response plan for an accident at a nuclear plant.
“Serving the community from the frontlines for more than four decades as a public servant in many different roles, and over these last seven years as an MPP, I have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with workers and families in our struggle for a better tomorrow … I look back at everything we have already achieved with immense pride, I have great confidence in Andrea Horwath, and I feel hopeful and optimistic about the future of this great province.”
Welland NDP MPP Cindy Forster, announcing she won’t be on the ballot in June.
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