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RE-SET THE STAGE – Having seen the PC leadership race utterly dominate the province’s political agenda since January, Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals have apparently decided they want a fresh start too. Wynne suddenly prorogued the Legislature this week, but with no stoppage in proceedings – the House will reconvene on Monday as scheduled, but instead of picking up where they left off they’ll start with a Speech from the Throne. In terms of how much the average voter will care about this technicality, the answer is somewhere close to nil. But Wynne’s LIBs obviously want to try and re-frame the agenda for the looming spring election, presumably setting out what they see as a new vision. In announcing prorogation, Wynne promised to reintroduce government legislation that was wiped out, and the Budget is expected to go on as planned for March 28.
DOUG DAYS – “Calm” has rarely been a word associated with the Ontario PCs of late, but the first week with newly-minted Leader Doug Ford as party boss felt almost serene compared to what preceded it. It’s all relative of course, but after a period when “chaotic” and “shambolic” were the operative adjectives, Ford’s election as leader brought a sense of normalcy back to provincial politics. Ford himself helped that along by adopting a measured tone in his first round of media interviews, in contrast to the elbows-up persona that has usually defined him in the past. His subdued demeanour must be a welcome relief for the beleaguered Tories, who, even those who didn’t support Ford in the leadership race, are content to have some stability after two months of disheartening tumult.
PLATFORM FITTING – In a raft of interviews, Ford barely mentioned his predecessor Patrick Brown – another refreshing change for the Tories, who want that chapter very much behind them – and made it clear the People’s Guaranteeplatform will follow Brown into political oblivion. Evidently that will apply to both content and density, with Ford intimating his election platform will not in any way resemble the 78-page People’s Guarantee manifesto. “We’re going to keep it very simple,” he told the media. “Five points that we’re hearing from the grassroots people” – focusing on health (particularly hospital wait times), education, job creation, eliminating the cap-and-trade program for carbon emissions and reducing hydro rates. He did offer a few other specifics, musing about privatizing alcohol and marijuana sales and scrapping the foreign buyers tax on homes in the Greater Toronto Area. And he was unequivocal on one controversial issue, confirming that the province’s updated sex-ed curriculum – a bugbear for social conservatives – will, at the very least, be revisited. “We will repeal it and then we’ll make sure we consult with the parents and teachers,” he asserted, although he stopped short of promising a wholesale re-write. “We have to make sure we tweak a few things in there and then we’ll move forward.”
RELIGIOUS FERVOUR – Ford’s sex-ed stance was an undisguised gesture to the social conservative constituency, but managing SoCon expectations may be one of the toughest challenges he faces. Moments after he won the leadership, the Campaign Life Coalition was taking some credit for the victory, posting on its website that it had recruited more than 9,000 PC memberships in support of anti-sex-ed crusader Tanya Granic Allen, and that “we asked supporters to rank Ford #2 [on the preferential ballot]. Their votes clearly played a large part in Doug Ford’s winning campaign.” Ford was impassive about connections to the religious right, telling the Globe and Mail, “I wouldn’t consider myself a social conservative, I just don’t. I respect it. I think we need to respect each other’s values … I’m not a bible thumper, I’ll put it that way.”
LOOKING FOR A PLACE TO HAPPEN – Celebrations of Ford’s victory were delayed by bedlam surrounding the leadership vote count – again in what Tories are hoping was the final episode in a saga of maladroitness – until runner-up Christine Elliott finally conceded that the tally was accurate. Elliott’s eventual support was a signal for the rest of the party establishment to line up behind Ford, which they almost universally have. She also confirmed she will run as a candidate to join Ford’s caucus in the upcoming election. Ford, who like all of the leadership contenders doesn’t have a seat in the Legislature, is expected to run in Etobicoke North – a riding in his home base that hasn’t yet nominated a PC candidate. (It was being held for him and was briefly open when he announced he’d be running for Toronto Mayor. But Brown’s resignation came before anyone was selected, so Etobicoke North is still Ford’s for the taking.) As for where Elliott will run, the rumble in PC circles is that both she and Granic Allen are eying Cambridge – the seat currently held by Liberal Transportation Minister Kathryn McGarry. (Elliott’s team was known to be considering St. Paul’s – the riding vacated by cabinet minister Eric Hoskins when he went to work for the federal government – if she had won the leadership, but it doesn’t look as attractive now.) Obviously, Ford can’t have Elliott and Granic Allen squaring off for the nomination in Cambridge, so that could make for some interesting backroom discussions.
Meanwhile, in other nomination news:
Brampton East is shaping up as one of the ridings to watch in the coming election, with a potential clash of two high-profile Sikhs. Parminder Singh, founding host of the ground-breaking Hockey Night in Canada in Punjabi broadcast, has been named as the Liberal candidate for Brampton East. Gurratan Singh, younger brother of former MPP and current federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, has indicated that he is seriously considering running for the NDP there.
The Liberals are apparently having some trouble luring high-profile candidates away from Toronto City Hall. At least two Toronto Councillors have reportedly declined overtures to run for the LIBs provincially, with Josh Matlow saying no in St. Paul’s, and Kristyn Wong-Tam taking a pass in Toronto Centre.
Brown will not be a candidate in Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte, despite having been nominated there before his world collapsed. That nomination was nullified when he was ousted from the PC caucus, leaving him as an independent MPP (a role he has yet to embrace, having been a no-show in the House since it reconvened). This week the PC nomination committee formally nixed his return to their slate, and he subsequently tweeted that he won’t be running at all. The committee also overturned results in four other ridings marred by allegations of cheating, calling for new nominations in Brampton North, Mississauga Centre, Newmarket-Aurora and Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas, the latter of which is subject to a police investigation.
STILL AHEAD – Pollsters are quickly recalibrating to gauge how Ford’s election as leader will impact on voter thinking. Forum Research was first out of the gate, reporting that PC support remained strong, with 44% of survey respondents backing Ford’s Tories. Forum found the NDP in second place with 27% support, and the LIBs floundering at 23%. Ipsos followed later in the week with poll results showing a closer race, but the Tories still in front: PCs 39%, Liberals 32%, NDP 25%. Word is Premier Wynne and her team held a number of ‘emergency’ meetings this week, strategizing about how to go forward in the Ford-dominated landscape. Proroguing the House was evidently identified as a first step.
OFFICE POLITICS – Should Ford’s support falter, it could be Andrea Horwath’s NDP that benefits most, if voters fed up with the Liberals look their way instead. But even as she is trying to appeal to the broader electorate, Horwath has an internal hassle to manage, thanks to Hamilton’s Bay Observer reporting on harassment and bullying allegations in NDP constituency offices. That would include Horwath’s own Hamilton Centre office, where, according to the news report, a toxic workplace has spurred multiple staff departures. The Bay Observer counted “no less than 11 workers [who] have been either fired, have quit [or] were bought out after filing grievances” in the offices of Horwath and fellow NDP MPPs Paul Miller (Hamilton East-Stoney Creek) and Monique Taylor (Hamilton Mountain). Some of the comments in the story were particularly damning for a party with strong ties to the labour movement. One unnamed staffer was quoted as saying, “These MPPs are delusional. They have no training in managing people. No background in HR. They treat office staff as if they are personal assistants. It was simply expected that staff would run election campaigns. If you said no they would then start looking for other ways of getting you out.” Another ex-staffer offered, “When I left I was physically and mentally broken. They wanted me to sign a non-disclosure agreement — I told them to go to hell.” And perhaps worst of all, “The Union will do what’s best for the Union but also what’s best for the NDP. The union was not representing me properly.”
IN THE HOUSE
The Legislature was dark this week, as MPPs took a March Break hiatus. They’re back Monday – albeit with a blank Order Paper, thanks to prorogation. They will only sit for two weeks before recessing again following the Easter weekend. It will be a pivotal fortnight, however, with the Throne Speech Monday and then the provincial Budget scheduled for March 28. Because the Budget is on a Wednesday, the House will be in session the next day – a rarity. Usually Budgets are on Thursdays, meaning the Opposition has to wait until the following week to get their kick at it. On the downside for the Tories and NDP, they’ll only get one day to voice their displeasure in the House, before the aforementioned Easter break shuts it all down again.
FOR THE RECORD
“To the people of Ontario, I say relief is on the way. To Kathleen Wynne, I say your days are numbered as Premier.”
Doug Ford, moments after winning the PC leadership.
“As somebody who has been a member of this party since ‘74, has represented the legislature for 19 years, has been a cabinet minister, this moment in time is the most embarrassing moment of my life as a member of this party.”
Former MPP Frank Klees, rather unimpressed by the convention to announce the new leader, which saw a seven-hour delay and then delegates told to go home while the votes were re-counted. Klees, who supported Ford in the leadership, is rumoured to be interested in a comeback bid in Newmarket-Aurora.
“Your Liberal government seems to be in competition with Alberta’s NDP to see who the greatest enabler of Prime Minister Dressup’s fumbling, tax raising, debt hiking Ottawa government. Let me just pause for a moment as an Albertan to say how happy I am that all four of your dynamic leadership candidates … will join with me in fighting Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax.”
United Conservative Party of Alberta Leader Jason Kenney, in the opening speech at the Ontario PC Party leadership convention, slagging three non-Conservative governments at once.
“Hey #onpoli nerds, does it get more historic than this? St. Catharines’ Jim Bradley has today become the second longest serving MPP OF ALL TIME at Queen’s Park. 40 years, 9 months, 5 days, passing Farquhar Oliver. That’s 11 straight election wins. Amazing.”
Tweet saluting Jim Bradley’s milestone from Steve Paikin, host of TVO’s The Agenda. Paikin followed that tweet with another noting that if Bradley wins his 12th election this spring (he has yet to declare his candidacy, but notoriously does that last minute), he’s likely to pass the 42 years and two days of former Premier Harry Nixon for the longevity record.
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