MASS TRANSITION – After months of unprecedented tumult, Queen’s Park seemed downright serene this week. Maybe it’s just the calm before the storm, as Premier-designate Doug Ford declared, “We intend to act fast” as he announced his transition team. Ford will gather for his first meeting with the full 76-member PC caucus next Tuesday, and has set June 29 for the formal handover of the provincial reins. Ford also mused about convening the Legislative Assembly for a brief summer session, to pass legislation ending the York University strike (if a settlement hasn’t been reached), implement the promised 10-cent gasoline price reduction and move on other immediate priorities.
EXECUTIVE DECISIONS – Officially taking power on June 29 will include the swearing in of Ford’s first cabinet, and until that moment there will be plenty of speculation about who might get Executive Council posts. With 76 MPPs – 26 of whom were re-elected incumbents and might naturally expect to be rewarded for their tenure, plus several high-profile newcomers who are shoo-ins for cabinet – there could be a lot of disappointed backbenchers come Canada Day. Most intriguing will be Ford’s pick for Finance Minister, with long-time PC Finance Critic Vic Fedeli, business ace Rod Phillips and financial sector titan Peter Bethlenfalvy seen as likely candidates. Christine Elliott’s name has also been mentioned in the Finance chatter, but most handicappers believe she’s a lock for Minister of Health and/or Deputy Premier.
An Ontario Legislative Highlights chart listing MPPs and their ridings by caucus is available for download. Click MPP Chart.
LEFT CLICK – Ford isn’t the only one thinking about ways to keep a potentially unwieldy caucus engaged. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath suddenly has twice as many MPPs under her aegis, including a number of proudly zealous social justice activists. Ford’s campaign made much hay of the “radical, extreme” (his words) views of NDP candidates, and these perceptions may have cost the New Democrats some seats. But now that they’re part of the Official Opposition – where over-the-top vitriol is standard fare – they could be useful (and entertaining) assets as the party embraces its new, expanded role. As for Horwath, she appeared to be ecstatic about the election outcome. Some other NDPers saw it as bittersweet – while they doubled their seat count to 40 (exactly half female) and got their most-ever number of votes across the province (1.9 million), they fret that they may have missed their best chance in a generation to form government. Horwath, having presided over two mediocre third-place campaigns in 2011 and 2014, showed no such reservations. “As leader of the Official Opposition, I will keep fighting for change for the better and that work starts today,” she enthused. “The people of Ontario have asked us to hold Doug Ford accountable for every decision he makes.” She also summarily waved off gossip that she’ll step down as leader and run for Mayor of Hamilton in this fall’s municipal election.
EXTREME GAMES – Rima Birms-McGown was one of the NDP candidates branded by Ford as radical, but far from being offended she is embracing the tag. During the campaign Ford targeted her for some comments that could be construed as anti-Israeli, but following her successful run in Beaches-East York, she took to Twitter to celebrate being a “radical” (her use of the word and quotes), going so far as to compare herself to some significant figures in history: “Like Moses or Jesus, say…. Like [anti-apartheid martyr] Steve Biko & like all the unsung women at the core of every progressive social movement that ever happened,” she posted. “To be radical is to re-imagine how our social structures work & in whose interest… because right now they don’t work for everyone — and if they don’t work for everyone they don’t actually work for anyone in any sustainable way.”
NOT-SO-MAGIFICENT SEVEN – As the Tories and New Democrats joyfully geared up for the challenges ahead, the Liberals were in a decidedly more sombre mood. Outgoing Premier Katheen Wynne promised to co-operate in a smooth transition process, but still faced the unpleasantness of meeting with her decimated caucus one last time. Nobody was saying much publicly after Wednesday’s closed-door gathering as the Liberals put on a brave front and talked about rebuilding, but insiders say the mood in the room was understandably bitter. Meanwhile, hundreds of soon-to-be-ex-political staffers started packing up – trying to avoid the prying media cameras looking for the traditional “glum politicos carting boxes out of the building” shots. How many Liberal staffers will remain hinges on Ford, who has said he would at least consider granting the LIBs official party status – and the significant resources that come with it. They don’t have it now, needing eight seats and having only won seven. Horwath is adamantly against lowering the threshold – a bit of revenge for the then-Liberal government declining to be so magnanimous when the NDP were reduced to seven seats in 2003. (It was only with a by-election win – installing none other than Horwath herself – that they got to the magic eight in 2004.) At that time, the Liberals did cede the NDP some extra funding and more of a presence in legislative procedures, which may be the compromise Ford opts to replicate. But the circumstances are different this time – it is in the Tories’ political interest to keep the Liberals breathing, inasmuch as two parties splitting the progressive vote can only help the PCs.
LEADING NOWHERE – Regardless of their official status, the Liberals had to pick an interim leader, with Wynne – although she held on to her Don Valley West seat – having relinquished the job on election night. Ottawa MPP John Fraser will assume this unloved task, having been unanimously endorsed from the surviving septet and approved by riding presidents and the party executive. (Curiously, Fraser is the only one of the remaining Liberal MPPs who was not in Wynne’s cabinet. He’s been a backbencher since winning the August 2013 by-election to replace departed Premier Dalton McGuinty in Ottawa South.) These internal machinations are, of course, small potatoes compared to the task of finding a new permanent boss. Already the rumour mill is churning – even though the party’s constitution allows for two years before the decision has to be made – with the name of Sandra Pupatello, the former Windsor MPP who finished second to Wynne in the 2013 leadership, emerging as an early prospect. Pupatello wouldn’t rule out such a bid, but, with her trademark cheeky humour, told CBC, “Whoever would consider that is going to have to be up for sainthood first, then consider doing it. I’ve been called a lot of things, but I don’t think I’ve been called a saint.” Other possibilities being floated, to varying degrees of credibility, include current caucus members Mitzie Hunter and Michael Coteau, former Attorney General Michael Bryant and at least a couple of the MPPs defeated last week, Steven Del Duca and Yasir Naqvi.
DEMOGRAPHIC IMAGES – As the dust settles from last week’s election, an examination of the new crop of MPPs, including 73 rookies, reveals some interesting demographics among the 124 representatives who will make up Ontario’s 42nd Parliament:
With 49 women elected – the most ever – just under 40% of the Assembly will be female, up from the 35% last term.
The province has its first MPP of Egyptian descent (Tory Sheref El Sabawy in Mississauga-Erin Mills) and first Tibetan (NDPer Bhutila Karpoche in Parkdale-High Park).
Political pedigrees run strong, particularly in the PC caucus. Ford himself is the son of a former MPP. Caroline Mulroney is the daughter of a former Prime Minister, while Mike Harris, Jr. and Norm Miller are the offspring of former Premiers. New Simcoe North MPP Jill Dunlop is the daughter of former MPP Garfield Dunlop and John Yakubuski is the son of former MPP Paul Yakubuski. Also on Ford’s bench is Christine Elliott, widow of the late Jim Flaherty, who served as both a provincial and federal Finance Minister, and Toby Barrett, the grandson of a former MP. Among the new New Democrats, Gurratan Singh is the brother of former MPP and current federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.
Ford’s caucus has strong links to the last federal Conservative government, with four new MPPs who were MPs under Prime Minister Stephen Harper – Paul Calandra, Daryl Kramp, Parm Gill and Greg Rickford – along with six who were staffers in the Harper government – Stephen Lecce, David Piccini, Amanda Simard, Jeremy Roberts, Lindsey Park and Andrea Khanjin.
FOR THE RECORD
“I think we lost for health reasons. People were sick and tired of our party.”
Always affable former Liberal cabinet minister Ted McMeekin, stoical about the election defeat.
“I hope it’s not too long before we have another woman as Premier. I hope it’s not another 150 years.”
Ex-Premier Kathleen Wynne, who has vowed to have her official portrait hanging soon, so when school tours come by, “I want them to see a woman up there. I want to get that done as fast as I can so that becomes part of the narrative at Queen’s Park that there has been a woman in that role.”
“Politicians who were roundly rejected by voters are now getting a golden handshake, paid for by those same voters who rejected them … There are cabinet ministers who were fired by voters or who chose not to run again who are getting six figures in go-away-pay.”
Christine Van Geyn, Ontario director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, steamed at the severance for 50 outgoing Liberal MPPs. Six other former MPPs who didn’t seek re-election – three NDP, three PC – are also entitled to packages, as are hundreds of (mostly Liberal) political staff losing their jobs in the transition.
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