ONTARIO LEGISLATIVE HIGHLIGHTS

July 14, 2017


WEEKLY ROUNDUP

QUITTING TIME – This is a summer of contemplation for more than a few veteran Liberal MPPs, who will have to decide soon whether to run for re-election next year. This week saw one MPP say yes and one say no, while a couple of dozen others are still on the bubble. Lou Rinaldi – who first won in 2003, lost in 2011 and was back in 2014 – has re-upped, announcing he’ll be the Liberal candidate in Northumberland-Peterborough South. Meanwhile Mario Sergio – to no-one’s surprise, given that he stepped down from cabinet last year – confirmed that he’s done as an MPP as of next spring. It didn’t take long to find a potential successor, however, as Deanna Sgro – daughter of long-time federal MP Judy Sgro – was acclaimed as the Liberal candidate in the newly-named riding of Black Creek-Humber River.

Of the current 57-member caucus, more than half have been at Queen’s Park for more than a decade, and may be looking to do something else:

  • Thirteen Liberal MPPs will be nearing the 15-year milestone by next June’s campaign. Premier Kathleen Wynne is among those first elected in the Liberal sweep of 2003, but we know she’s running again – she’s answered that question many, many times.
  • Another eight were first elected in 2007, while eight more go all the way back to the party’s Opposition days – and in a handful of cases even before that.
  • Speaker Dave Levac, who was the lone Liberal newcomer in 1999, has already announced he won’t seek re-election. From the class of ’95, Sergio is packing it in, Michael Gravelle is on a leave of absence for mental health reasons so his future is a question mark, and Mike Colle is expected to run again. Ted McMeekin, who won a by-election in 2000, also voluntarily resigned from cabinet and probably won’t run again.
  • Two MPPs trace their roots all the way back to the previous Liberal government. Bob Chiarelli was first elected in 1987, left for awhile to be Mayor of Ottawa, and returned in 2010. Monte Kwinter, an octogenarian first elected in 1985, is already the oldest-ever MPP in Ontario history and has had health issues of late.
  • The ageless Jim Bradley, who has been at Queen’s Park since 1977, is expected to have one more go. If he does and he wins again, in a couple of years he would break the record for longest-serving MPP, which currently stands at 42 years.

AT A MINIMUM – Labour reform is shaping up to be a key issue in the impending campaign, and we got a taste of it this week as a legislative committee dug into hearings on Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act. Central to the legislation is an increase in the provincial minimum wage to $15/hr, which is vehemently opposed by some business groups and just as passionately championed by many social justice advocates. Beyond the fine points of the legislation – which the Liberal majority is expected to pass in the fall – this issue could have far-reaching political ramifications, and may even be the key wedge in the election. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath surely doesn’t want to cede left-wing territory to the Liberals, so she’s decrying the measures as tepid, writing in a Toronto Star op-ed column that the bill is “riddled with inconsistencies, giving some rights to some, not to others,” and that it “fails” workers.  Horwath vowed to table a “full package of meaningful amendments” – presumably to force Liberal committee members to vote against them, giving the NDP some space on the left. PC Leader Patrick Brown is, obviously, coming at the issue from the other direction, but he has to determine just how much he wants to align himself with opponents of the reforms. He will be under pressure to promise to repeal the laws, a stance that could make him sound further right-wing than he wants. In the meantime, this jockeying will continue amidst scores of delegations at the hearings.  After stops in Thunder Bay, North Bay, Ottawa, Kingston and Windsor this week, the committee heads to London, Kitchener, Niagara Falls, Hamilton and Toronto next week.

SUMMER CAMP(AIGN) – Brown is letting his caucus members on the committee handle the legislative hearings, while he’s on a tour of his own. In what has now become something of a tradition for Opposition parties with a rookie leader, the Tories are staging a practice campaign to get Brown used to the rigours, complete with a tour bus adorned with his image and the party logo. He’s scheduled to visit some 20 different ridings, aiming to build support and reinforce messages – primarily, “Life is harder under the Liberals,” an oft-repeated phrase from Brown at tour events.  This weekend, the PCs are organizing a province-wide canvass, and major rallies are in the works as well, all designed to replicate what will happen for real next spring.

PICK A FIGHT – Brown doesn’t talk about it at partisan events, but he continues to be dogged by allegations of wrongdoing in the PC nomination process. In the latest twist uncovered by the CBC, party President Rick Dykstra is quoted as arguing that nomination meetings are “not determinative of who will ultimately be listed on the ballot” – that basically they’re a “concept” or guide for the party leader, who singularly chooses the candidate in any given riding. The CBC pulled that from court documents around a lawsuit in Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas, where federal political staffer Ben Levitt got the nod over Vikram Singh – underhandedly, according to Singh. He is appealing for a judicial review, and Dykstra’s formal response was to explain that the nomination meeting has no legal force anyway, and that Brown has the authority to pick whoever he wants. In this case, the court documents show party brass thought of Singh as “unreliable.” In an affidavit, Dykstra pointed to “political and demographic analysis” as the grounds for choosing Levitt, noting that the 25-year-old is seen as “a largely risk-free candidate whose candidacy is unlikely to detract from the provincial campaign.” Liberal strategists undoubtedly took note of Dykstra characterizing nomination meetings as just for show, adding it to their arsenal as they try to keep the spotlight on alleged voting irregularities. If nothing else, the ongoing controversy could neutralize some of the Tory attacks as the LIBs’ deal with their own nomination scandal this fall, in the trial over bribery allegations in Sudbury.

FOR THE RECORD

“I was struck by how much they knew about Ontario – and they all have great respect for agriculture here.”

  • Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Minister Jeff Leal, at the end of U.S. tour, where he met with government and business reps in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Illinois and Missouri – soliciting support in the fight against “changes to NAFTA that would thicken the border” as floated by U.S. President Donald Trump.

“Life experience should be brought to bear on political decisions. I don’t think people should try right out of university or college. [Brown] has learned how to win; he doesn’t know a hell of a lot more than that.”

  • Former Barrie Mayor Janice Laking, who held the post for 12 years until 2000, which was when current PC Leader Patrick Brown started his political career as a 22-year-old Barrie councillor. (Tory insiders rolled their eyes at this quote, pointing out that Laking was once a federal Liberal candidate, and that her own “life experience” includes 40+ years as a politician.)

“The transition is going very well. Some people might think this would be a traumatic period. Stressful and all that. But it’s the exact opposite … Our website is so busy with people wanting to know who the candidate is in their riding because they want to vote for us. I’m thoroughly enjoying myself with my new job. I feel happier and people say I look happier. Some see this as an uphill battle, but I’m looking forward to climbing that hill.”

  • Former PC MPP Jack MacLaren, excited about representing the upstart Trillium Party.
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