POLLING PUNCHES – Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals probably won’t be inviting any pollsters up to the cottage this summer – the conversation would be too gloomy. Despite a flurry of major policy announcements in the spring, Liberal popularity remains in the doldrums according to recent polls by Forum Research and Mainstreet Research. In both surveys, Patrick Brown’s PCs are cruising right along, with 44% and 43% support, respectively. After that, Forum found the Liberals with only 23% – a 10-point plunge from a month ago – which put them into third place behind the NDP’s 24%. Extrapolated to seat counts, Forum calculated an 87-seat Tory majority with the Liberals reduced to nine MPPs. Mainstreet also pegged NDP support at 24%, but the LIBs fared a bit better, garnering 29% support among decided voters.
SAY AAH – Whatever the broader electorate may be thinking, the Liberals are making a concerted effort to bring various interest groups onside – or at least mute their hostility. Teachers? Check – contract extensions signed beyond the election. Public servants? Check – four-year contract extensions, with 7.5% wage increases, pending ratification votes. Doctors? Not just yet – but a major hurdle has been overcome, as the two sides agreed to a framework for binding arbitration. Doctors voted 65% to 35% in favour of the agreement, and now the Ontario Medical Association will look to reach an overarching deal covering how physicians get paid. OMA President Shawn Whatley wasn’t exactly magnanimous in announcing the framework deal, asserting, “After three years of unprecedented fee cuts and unilateral government action this agreement now provides for a fair, independent process and prevents the government from taking unilateral actions.” But he did offer some hope that, “Now Ontario’s doctors can finally look to establishing a new, fair and respectful relationship with the government.” Aside from the Liberals de-escalating a nasty battle, the Tories must be breathing a sigh of relief as well. Brown had openly sided with the doctors, but there was no guarantee the public would have similar sentiments. This way, he can reap the support of grateful docs, while the arbitrator takes care of any animosity if negotiations don’t work out.
LIQUOR TICKER – One interest group that most definitely is not happy at the moment is LCBO workers, who could be on the picket lines as early as Monday. Premier Wynne keeps getting asked about the dispute, and she keeps insisting she won’t interfere. But OPSEU, the union representing 8,000 LCBO employees, is determined to draw her into the fray, prominently featuring her on the “LiqiLeaks” website it has launched as a focal point for its views. “She talks about good jobs, but she’s okay with two-hour shifts at the LCBO,” the site intones on its “Ugly Truth” page. “Our Premier has been making a big deal about creating good jobs, but she has nothing to say about the terrible way the LCBO – a company she controls – treats its employees.” OPSEU President Warren “Smokey” Thomas, who had been seemingly relishing a fight with the Liberals until they surprised him with the four-year contract extension for other OPSEU members, didn’t spare the vitriol in the liquor store skirmish. “The LCBO should be setting an example for Ontario employers,” he chided, “not joining a race to the bottom with Walmart.”
E-TAIL WAGGING – At the other end of the employment scale, Premier Wynne was all smiles at the launch of Amazon’s Canadian headquarters in Toronto. Taking credit for the new office – Amazon is here “thanks to the province’s highly skilled workforce, culture of innovation and competitive business climate” gushed a government news release – Wynne disdained critics clinging to old economic strategies. “There is no doubt that some of the uncertainty that we are feeling in the economy, some of the uncertainty that is felt globally, has to do with – at least in part – technology,” Wynne said at the opening of Amazon Canada headquarters near the Rogers Centre. “We have a choice at this point. We can either choose to be concerned and we can retrench and say, ‘Well, we’re not going to take part,’ and then we will have to follow those changes, or we could take the leadership role.” At the same time, she was careful to offer a more inclusive message, praising Amazon for providing new online retail opportunities for small businesses.
BURNING BRIDGE – Not satisfied with hammering away at the current Liberal government, the Ontario PCs have set their sights on a former Liberal minister, demanding that Dwight Duncan resign from his post as Chair of the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority overseeing the $4.8-billion Gordie Howe International Bridge. It’s supposed to be a politically neutral position, but Duncan – who always had a reputation for fierce partisanship, both in Opposition and as Finance Minister under Premier Dalton McGuinty – was flagged for overtly biased social media posts. For example, during the federal Conservative leadership race, Duncan tweeted a photo of three of the candidates with the caption, “The disturbing face of today’s conservatism.” He was similarly disparaging of U.S. President Donald Trump and provincial PCs on many occasions. Following a Globe and Mail report, PC Transportation Critic Michael Harris called for Duncan’s resignation, scolding that he “should be spending all his time and efforts trying to get this bridge delivered on-time and on-budget, not grandstanding with partisan attacks.” Duncan quickly issued an apology, in the form of a letter to federal Infrastructure and Communities Minister Amarjeet Sohi, in which Duncan pleaded, “A number of my postings clearly violated the letter and spirit of Parliament’s direction … respecting partisan involvement while serving [as a public appointee]. Those postings have been or are being deleted today.”
FOR THE RECORD
“Ready, fire, aim. They make a big announcement, but they don’t have the details figured out. They shoot first then figure out the details later.”
Nipissing PC MPP Vic Fedeli, bemoaning the lack of electric vehicle chargers in Northern Ontario, despite promises they’d be mapped out and operational by the end of March.
“When this bill came into effect the Liberals got the headlines but the tenants continue to get the headaches.”
NDP Housing Critic Percy Hatfield, slagging loopholes in new rental laws he claims gives landlords a year to evict tenants and/or inflate their rent.
“These types of decisions can be the subject of judicial review because … parties are now in receipt of substantial public money. … These aren’t just private clubs we’re dealing with that are immune.”
Durham municipal councillor Joe Neal, one of several disgruntled would-be candidates taking the Ontario PC Party to court over the nomination process. In Neal’s case, he was disqualified ostensibly because he ran for the Liberals in 1985.
“To ensure access to the best product selection and to avoid disappointment, customers should shop in advance of Sunday … if possible.”
From an LCBO statement announcing extended shopping hours in preparation for a possible strike on Monday.
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