WHO’S SOO – “There is no riding in the province that Kathleen Wynne can take for granted.” So spoke a jubilant PC Leader Patrick Brown as he celebrated his party’s stunning by-election win last night in Sault Ste. Marie. Brown could have added that any riding is now potentially Tory, as conventional wisdom going into the by-election was that if the Liberals were going to lose in The Soo it would be to the NDP (who finished second). Yesterday’s victory means Brown has won five straight by-elections, including seats in the city of Toronto and now the North – regions that have been pretty barren for the Tories for a long time. Ross Romano becomes the first Ontario PC to win Sault Ste. Marie since 1981 – Brown was a toddler at the time – keeping their caucus at 29 (having lost Jack MacLaren earlier in the week – see below). Wynne still has a majority government with a caucus of 57, but now the margin is just seven seats, while Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats stay at 20 MPPs.
Updated wall charts listing MPP responsibilities and key government contacts are now available. Click here to download:
SPRING INTO SUMMER – Romano won’t actually get to sit in his Legislature seat until the fall, with the Assembly having risen for its summer recess yesterday. Before packing up, seven government bills were passed, leaving just three on the Order Paper (all of which were just introduced this week). This virtual blank slate will no doubt give rise to speculation about prorogation, with Wynne and company starting anew with a Speech from the Throne to launch the campaign leading up to next June’s provincial election. Whether or not the current session continues, to get the ball rolling the Liberals have already teed up a handful of key thrusts for the fall:
In response to the recent Changing Workplaces Review, Labour Minister Kevin Flynn introduced legislation (see In The House) to act on some of the report’s 173 recommendations to improve working conditions. At the top of the list is increasing the province’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2019. This has ‘wedge’ written all over it, with the Liberals knowing full well the Tories can’t support it. Browndidn’t want to cede the issue entirely, so his stance was that the increase is coming “too fast.” Horwath, whose party has long advocated for a $15 minimum wage, could only challenge the Liberals’ motivation, scoffing that they are taking the step for cynical re-election reasons.
At the other end of the political spectrum – and aiming to mitigate the inevitable outcry from business over the proposed labour reforms – Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid and Jeff Leal, the Minister responsible for Small Business, promised legislation in the fall to cut red tape. Among the proposals are a requirement for all ministries to offset every dollar of new administrative costs to business by removing $1.25 of “old and unnecessary costs,” and “rewarding good actors” (actual wording in the Liberal news release) by lowering admin requirements, such as inspections, for businesses that have a good compliance record.
Attorney General Yasir Naqvi served notice that the government will be putting abortion – a hugely sensitive and volatile issue pitting social conservatives against progressives – in the spotlight. Not abortion per se, but abortion clinics, in the form of legislation creating “safe access zones” around the facilities to protect the safety of visitors and health-care workers. “Over the last month or so, I’ve seen some serious instances of intimidation, harassment and even assault toward women who are trying to access abortion services and other reproductive health services at a clinic in Ottawa. That is unacceptable,” Naqvi told reporters. “In our province, we need to make sure that we have protections in place for women to be able to choose, in a safe manner, health-care services – not only the women who need those very important services, but also the staff who work at these clinics.”
JUMPING JACK – In a classic “You can’t fire me, I quit” altercation, now-former PC MPP Jack MacLaren and his ex-party’s leadership have very different accounts of how he came to sit as an independent. On Sunday, Brown released a scathing statement announcing he had turfed MacLaren from the caucus, ostensibly because a five-year-old video had surfaced of the Carleton-Mississippi Mills MPP disparaging French-language laws and hinting a PC government would water them down. The most damaging comment in the video is MacLaren declaring, “We have lots of things that we’re going to do that we won’t say to people before the election, because we won’t get elected” – a serious red flag for Brown, in that it lends credence to ‘hidden agenda’ accusations rivals like to point at the Tories. Citing this as a “pattern of behaviour” and the “last straw,” Brown unleashed his harshest statement to date: “Each time Jack MacLaren is caught making disparaging or insensitive remarks about others he asks for forgiveness and a second chance. And a third chance. And a fourth. And each and every time, he has disappointed those who have put their trust in him.” MacLaren had a somewhat different narrative, insisting that a) the party knew about the 2012 video years ago and did not react; and b) he was about to announce that he was leaving the PCs to join the upstart Trillium Party, suggesting Brown expelled him beforehand to save face. MacLaren backed up his timeline by distributing a glossy Trillium Party brochure with his name on it, which had to have been in production before Brown’s statement. Because the right-wing Trillium Party does not officially exist in the Legislature, MacLaren is technically an independent MPP. (His desk in the House was symbolically moved away from the PC benches on Monday.) But that’s not good enough for the Tories, who are demanding that he resign from the seat altogether. “He wasn’t elected as a Trillium Party MPP,” fumed neighbouring MPP Lisa MacLeod. “He was elected in a seat we [the PCs] have held for 40 years.”
THAT’S JUST DUCKY – With Queen’s Park now firmly in pre-election mentality – aggressive partisanship, but with little substance to back it up – no issue is safe from hyperbole. Including, evidently, giant inflatable ducks. PC MPP Rick Nicholls set off a farcical exchange by haranguing the government over a $120,000 grant toward a six-storey tall, 13,000 kilogram yellow duck as part of Canada 150 celebrations at the Redpath Waterfront Festival. Supporters (including Horwath, who declared herself “pro-duck”) defended the expense as good for tourism, while critics decried it as a frivolous waste of taxpayers’ money. Alas, the debate degenerated into an excruciating pun-fest in the Legislature, with Tourism, Culture and Sport Minister Eleanor McMahon deadpanning, “We’re not ducking any of these questions.” To which Nicholls retorted, “That answer is really quacking me up … It is an absolute cluster duck.” He had to withdraw that last line as unparliamentary.
IN THE HOUSE
For the status of government legislation at the summer recess, clickGovernment Bills.
Municipal Affairs Minister Bill Mauro introduced Bill 139, the Building Better Communities and Conserving Watersheds Act, to create the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal to replace the Ontario Municipal Board and modernize legislation around conservation authorities.
Attorney General Yasir Naqvi introduced Bill 142, the Construction Lien Amendment Act, to improve construction payment rules, including modernizing the lien and holdback process and streamlining dispute resolution.
Labour Minister Kevin Flynn introduced Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, to revamp Ontario labour laws, including raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour; ensuring that part-time workers are paid the same hourly wages as full-timers; making three weeks of paid vacation the standard instead of two; and mandating paid sick days for all workers.
Seven government bills passed Third Reading this week: Bill 65, allowing photo radar in school zones; Bill 68, updating municipal legislation; Bill 87, strengthening protection for patients against sexual abuse; Bill 89, modernizing children and youth services; Bill 114, enshrining the Anti-Racism Directorate into law; Bill 132, lowering hydro rates; and Bill 134, imposing a 15% speculation tax on foreign home buyers and enacting a transit tax credit for seniors.
In a couple of the votes the count was 92-1, with now-independent MPP Jack MacLaren the lone dissenter.
MPPs marked the 40th anniversary of Liberal Jim Bradley’s election to Queen’s Park. Speaker Dave Levac noted, “The one thing I will relay to you is that Harry Nixon from Brant is the record holder, with 42 years. That’s all I’m saying.” Bradley has not yet confirmed whether he will seek re-election – for the 12th time – next year.
FOR THE RECORD
“It’s our party’s best year ever … In my entire career, I’ve never seen anything like this.”
PC Ontario Fund Chairman Tony Miele, delighted that the party raised a record $16.1 million in 2016, far more than the Liberals’ $6.5 million and the NDP’s $4.1 million.
“Not a team player. Bye bye.”
Tweet from PC MPP Lisa MacLeod, who butted heads with neighbouring MPP Jack MacLaren over nomination battles, evidently not sorry to see him leave the caucus.
“A lot of the rhetoric around these provisions are very compelling for Americans, but they don’t necessarily make sense from a trade perspective.”
Former Liberal MPP Monique Smith, now Ontario’s representative in Washington, D.C., working to persuade Texas from enacting a ‘Buy American’ policy that would require iron and steel to be bought only from U.S.-based suppliers.
“We’re excited that a man of his conviction is leading the party, and we don’t expect him to pull a Patrick Brown on us … [Brown] betrayed us of course, and went against us and announced that we’re not even welcome in the party when we’re the ones who put him in the party.”
Charles McVety, head of Canada Christian College and the Institute for Canadian Values, claiming social conservatives were behind Andrew Scheer winning the federal Conservative leadership – dynamics he says mirror what happened in Ontario.
“There is no solution to the conundrum the Liberals have put us in. It’s as simple as that. We are basically screwed. No way out. Which is why the Liberals deserve the boot in the next election.”
Former Ontario Ombudsman (and PC candidate) André Marin, using his Postmedia column to suggest how the other parties should answer the vexing question about what they would do on the energy file.
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