BABY STEPS — Amid griping about electricity prices and pot shots over nomination irregularities is truly life or death situations that are the business of government. Such was the case on Monday when Health Minister Eric Hoskins and his federal counterpart Jane Philpott reached an agreement in principle with the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN — representing 49 reserves in Northern Ontario) that will eventually see the First Nations lead their own health-care system. The landmark deal follows a tragic time for Indigenous communities in Ontario’s far reaches that have been wracked by a spate of youth suicides, including two sisters who took their own lives. “Because of the last 150 years, because of the colonial history of this country, many of (our systems) have been broken,” said Alvin Fiddler, Grand Chief of the NAN. Added Hoskins: “The system as it’s constructed, the colonial health-care system, is not providing the access, equity and positive outcomes we would expect for any of us who are not First Nations, who are not Indigenous.” There have been 24 suicides in NAN territory so far in 2017, with eight of them children between the ages of 10 and 14. While much of the agreement reached on Monday is medium- to long-term solutions that will allow NAN communities more say over the delivery of their health-care services, the deal does include short-term emergency measures to provide more mental health crisis counsellors and supports to the remote Pikangikum community, near the Manitoba border and only accessible by air. While this is just an agreement in principle, it is a significant first step in the right direction. The challenge for all parties involved is to keep this process moving forward.
PEOPLE’S COURT — Two long-simmering issues that have plagued the Liberals will hit the courtrooms after Labour Day, and one of them can now be expected to draw a larger-than-expected amount of media attention. Liberal fundraiser Gerry Lougheed and top aide Pat Sorbara will be in provincial offences court on alleged Election Act violations in relation to recruiting Glenn Thibault — now Ontario’s Energy Minister — to be the party’s candidate in the 2015 Sudbury by-election. The case itself is enough to get the tongues wagging of political observers in Ontario, but it got even juicier when Premier Kathleen Wynne was not only subpoenaed by the Crown to testify, but has said she will waive her parliamentary privilege and take the stand. “I will testify and I will go along with the process and do what I can to clarify as I have in the legislature many, many times,” she said, adding: “I’ve been very clear that I was going to work with the process and I’ve done that and I will continue to do that.” Thibault will also waive his parliamentary privilege when, as is expected, the prosecution calls him to the stand as well. The mere presence of a Premier of Ontario and one her top cabinet ministers in a courtroom — never mind in the witness box — is a rare occurrence and will keep the chattering classes chattering. The other trial is no less a headache for the Liberals as David Livingston, who was former Premier Dalton McGuinty’s chief of staff, and deputy chief Laura Miller are on trial for breach of trust and mischief in relation to deletion of emails in the gas plant scandal.
FOLLOW THE HO CHI MINH TRAIL — After her rare foray into the courtroom, Wynne will make another historic venture in November when she heads east on a trade mission that will include stops in China, Hong Kong and Vietnam, which Wynne says will be the first trade mission to the country by a sitting Ontario premier. In a rapidly shrinking and globalized world, trade missions have become a matter of course for governments of all levels. Ontario’s two-way trade relationship with China is now estimated at $42 billion; this will be Wynne’s third trade-related visit to the country. Trade with Vietnam is much more modest at only $3 billion, but Wynne says that is three times as much as it was just five years ago. When in Vietnam, Wynne will visit Hi Chi Minh City and Hanoi.
MEA CULPA — Another week, another chapter in the nomination woes of PC Leader Patrick Brown. While many of the most contentious matters are already in the rearview mirror — albeit Brown’s political opponents are doing all they can to keep the memories alive on their social media channels — this week Brown issued a written apology to one ousted candidate for claiming he had raised funds for the Liberals in the 2016 by-election that sent PC Lorne Coe to Queen’s Park. “I appear to have misspoken,” Brown wrote to Durham Regional Councillor Joe Neal, who was seeking the PC nomination in the Durham riding. “There is no evidence that you engaged in fundraising against Lorne Coe in respect of the 2016 Whitby-Oshawa byelection. I regret any misunderstanding.” Neal was a Liberal candidate in 1985 and had been fundraising for the party as late as 2015, but during the Whitby-Oshawa byelection he actually worked with Coe to recruit members.
COAL IN YOUR STOCKING – It may not always be of a good nature, but Ontario’s electricity system is adept at making the news. The way the system is managed, how much Ontarians have to pay for it, partial privatization or being turned into a political football, it is one of the leading news generators for the provincial government. The latest is a $6.7-billion purchase of Washington State’s Avista utility — a company that still uses coal-fired generation, which the Liberals phased out in Ontario with much fanfare. Wynne has positioned the acquisition as an opportunity to spread Ontario’s green energy influence, but with the Avista coal plants — the company owns a minority share in two plants located in Montana — slated to be in operation until 2035, the opposition and environmental groups are having none of the Premier’s spin. “Hydro One has slapped us in the face by going shopping for a utility that owns one of the largest polluters in the U.S. northwest,” said Angela Bishoff from the Ontario Clean Air Alliance.
TIMES LIKE THESE — The Ontario Liberals held a rare summer reunion party in Toronto on Tuesday, as former and current Liberal staffers, politicians and volunteers swapped stories of campaigns past at a cash bar on the top two floors of The Pilot in Yorkville (currently co-owned by Liberal MPP Arthur Potts). The reunion was the brainchild of former staffers managing the “Ontario Liberal Alumni & Staff” Facebook Group, which picked up traction this summer. The only complaint of the evening was that the space was too crowded for the amount of people that arrived, and it drew people from across the globe — although the event was hosted in Toronto, attendees made their way from as far as Abu Dhabi, Lebanon and Cape Town. With the 2018 election around the corner the Premier is going to need all the help she can get with fundraising and campaign organization; if the energy in the room was any indication, the Liberals are gearing up for battle.
FOR THE RECORD
“Magna, who has made billions of dollars of profits off the backs of Ontario workers, is worried about a $15 minimum wage. No sympathy coming from this guy.”
Ontario Federation of Labour President Chris Buckley, responding to the proposal that the province will offer business and corporate tax cuts to offset an increase in minimum wage to $15 per hour.
“At election time, (high-speed rail) is to politicians what cat nip is to felines and they go wild for it.”
Toronto-based transportation policy advisor Greg Gormick, in a Toronto Star column taking Ottawa and Queen’s Park to task for spending too much on studies about train service, and not near enough on actually improving service or rolling stock.
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