STAY THE COURSE – “My job is not finished … I’m going to run in the election in 2018.” How ironic that the more Premier Kathleen Wynne says that – and she keeps getting asked questions that force her to – the less she is able to make rumours of her stepping down go away. Moreover, the speculation is being perpetuated by media usually seen as sympathetic to the Liberals. In this case it was in response to CBC Radio’s Matt Galloway, and then Toronto Star reporter Rob Benzie went one further by naming names of possible successors should Wynne bid adieu. Benzie listed current cabinet ministers Yasir Naqvi, Charles Sousa, Eric Hoskins, Steven Del Duca, Mitzie Hunter and Michael Coteau, along with former MPP and one-time leadership candidate Sandra Pupatello, as prospective contestants – although the story emphasized that nobody is overtly campaigning, just that they “are mentioned – quietly – in the corridors of power.” Wynne was adamant she’s not worried about a palace coup, insisting that she and her ministers are “a strong, loyal team. We’re a cohesive, cohesive group.” She even said it’s okay for them to aspire to her job, offering, “If some of them are thinking one day they may want to be the leaders, excellent.” Others in the party, however, appear less cohesive. The Star piece included quotes from several unnamed senior Liberals warning that if Wynne’s popularity doesn’t improve, it might not be up to her whether she sticks around. “Look, we can’t let the Premier take the party down with her,” and, “The window for making a change is narrowing – fast,” were among the anonymous warnings.
TEEN FRIENDLY – Sam Oosterhoff will certainly be running in the 2018 election, having easily brushed aside an effort to oust him from the PC slate. Oosterhoff crushed challenger Tony Quirk in this week’s nomination meeting for Niagara West by almost 3-to-1, getting 903 votes to Quirk’s 313. Thus ends the latest drama around Oosterhoff, the 19-year-old, home-schooled, Brock University political science student who confounded convention by outracing party luminaries (including Quirk and former MP Rick Dykstra) to win the nomination – and the seat – in a by-election last fall. Vindicated though he might feel having fended off Quirk (who was reportedly backed by Dykstra) again, Oosterhoff is still likely to be a lightning rod for party moderates worried that his social conservative views could be damaging on the big-picture provincial level. The teenager, for his part, handled the controversy with aplomb beyond his years. “I have been very clear that I am pro-life and have certain values and a certain world view in the way I approach issues,” Oosterhoff affirmed after securing the nomination. “I think the PC is a big tent party that has room for a wide variety of beliefs. I have been clear about my beliefs. I think people respect that. Some may disagree, but that is the beauty of living in a democracy.” Party leader Patrick Brown played it right by publicly endorsing Oosterhoff prior to the nomination vote, so he doesn’t have any egg on his face. “Sam is … the youngest member of provincial parliament in Ontario’s history, and I am glad to have his perspective on our team,” Brown enthused in his statement congratulating Oosterhoff on the nomination victory.
DOWN TO THE WIRE – Brown is up against a much tougher challenge in the coming weeks, as pressure mounts for him to unveil his plan to ease hydro costs for consumers. Both Wynne and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath have announced their respective strategies, and this week Brown – who initially wanted to wait until a PC policy convention in November – confirmed, “Very shortly we will be having our own hydro announcement and we’re going to detail some of the fixes we see in the system.” Brown faces even more scrutiny after what was ridiculed as a botched radio interview on the subject late last week. On Toronto’s CFRB NewsTalk 1010, Brown sounded unprepared and muddled – and those are reviews from Tory supporters! Michael Taube, a right-leaning commentator who used to work for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, called it “an unmitigated disaster … That was just a bad performance over all. He should have been ready for something like that. He should have been able to answer,” while National Post columnist Christie Blatchford quipped that Brown “sounded like you got him out of the shower, like he didn’t know the call was coming.” All of this negativity will, of course, be wiped away if Brown can deliver a hard-hitting hydro plan. But anything short of that will only intensify anxiety for Tories tormented by a decade of leaders blowing what they saw as winnable elections.
CLOSE CALL – While not as tricky as the hydro file, Brown dove headlong into another potential policy quagmire this week, positioning himself as the champion of keeping schools open. Brown called for a moratorium on school closures, to enable a review of the rules around such decisions. Notably, those decisions are made by other elected officials, namely local school board trustees, and Brown is taking a risk by assuming ownership at the provincial level. Few issues cause political headaches like school closures – given the emotional attachment residents often feel. Even changing a school’s catchment boundaries can set off pitchfork-wielding mobs, which is why closures usually require years of anguish before they actually happen. But Brown evidently sees mileage, particularly in the rural areas that form much of his party’s base, in advocating for angry parents. “School closures have a devastating impact on our communities,” he thundered, while at the same time pointing blame away from school boards and directly at the Liberals by arguing the current process “recklessly reduces the amount of consultation required before closing a school.” Wynne conceded that the Ministry of Education recently sent letters to school boards reminding them of the need for proper community consultation, but shot back that “it behooves school trustees, school boards, municipalities and community groups to work together for the best of the community. That’s a much more productive process than the blunt instrument of a moratorium that does not recognize the individual opportunities in every community.” She also threw in a dig at Brown’s Tories (notwithstanding that it contradicts the above), recalling that when the Liberals took office, “we actually put a moratorium on school closures because of the ravages of the previous government on school closures around the province.”
WHAT’S YOUR SIGN –Here are more signs – literally – that the election campaign is ostensibly underway. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation is putting up billboards across the province to protest high energy costs. Billboards are now up in Kingston, Mississauga, Barrie and Toronto (which has the biggest, across from the Rogers Centre) with plans for many more, as well as signs in bus shelters and on transit vehicles. While the CTF campaign was put into play before Wynne announced her hydro plan, Christine Van Geyn, the CTF’s Ontario director, scoffed that it won’t make any difference. “It’s just another one of Kathleen Wynne‘s shell games. It’s kicking the can down the road,” she said – using, not-coincidentally, the exact same phrases as Tory MPPs.
WHO’S SOO? – Long before the provincial campaign officially starts there will have to be at least one by-election, but the timing for that vote is as in limbo as ever. It’s up to Premier Wynne to set a date to fill the vacancy in Sault Ste. Marie, and she has until the end of June to do so. Obviously that won’t happen until her Liberals have a candidate in place and right now they’re still looking. At least one they were wooing has opted to take a pass, with Matthew Shoemaker, a first-term city councillor, preferring to stay put municipally. Shoemaker said there were a variety of reasons for his decision, but insisted recent polling showing the Liberals as unpopular was not among them. Meanwhile, the candidates who are in place, the NDP’s Joe Krmpotich and PC Ross Romano, are taking advantage of their head start, door-knocking around the riding – frequently with their respective party leaders alongside.
IN THE HOUSE
No new government bills were introduced this week.
The House will not sit during March Break next week. MPPs will be back in the Assembly on March 20.
FOR THE RECORD
“I’m working very hard to get rid of Kathleen Wynne. It’s one of my personal goals. … I’m trying to [achieve] one of two things: The Liberals to swap her out or we get rid of the whole Liberal party here. One of those two things is going to happen, but she’s not staying running this place. That’s the most important thing I can do.”
Federal Conservative leadership candidate Kevin O’Leary, at a meet-and-greet in Burlington, overtly branching his campaign into provincial politics.
“I don’t think you have to cater to populism. I really believe that there is a place for substance, there’s a place for being decent in our political system … There’s Conservatives that might have been upset with me for the strong stance I took supporting the [anti-] Islamophobia motion, and there are some people who sent me hate mail. But I can tell you the vast majority of people I have run into outside of the bubble of partisan politics are telling me ‘thank you for being decent’.”
Ontario PC Leader Patrick Brown, distancing himself from the Donald Trump – and Kevin O’Leary – sledgehammer style of politics.
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