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HEALTHY SCRATCH – And then there were 55. That’s the number of Liberal MPPs left in their caucus – just one above the threshold for a majority government – after Health Minister Eric Hoskins abruptly resigned this week. (Hoskins’ departure leaves four empty seats – two Liberal and two NDP. With only 103 MPPs now at Queen’s Park, the Liberal majority is safe until June’s election.) Hoskins gave up both his cabinet post and his St. Paul’s seat to head up a national pharmacare program, as announced in Tuesday’s federal Budget. If Premier Kathleen Wynne was upset (or surprised) about Hoskins leaving she didn’t show it, praising him as “one of the most vocal advocates for our universal health care system” and a driving force in OHIP+, the province’s free drugs program Hoskins will now be looking to expand nationally. Wynne named Helena Jaczek to replace him as Health Minister, with Michael Coteau taking over the Community and Social Services portfolio on top of his existing Children and Youth Services and Anti-Racism duties.
Updated Ontario Legislative Highlights charts listing MPP responsibilities and government contacts are now available. Click here to download:
FLAVOUR OF THE WEEK – There’s an old saying that a week can be a lifetime in politics, which very much applies to Ontario as PC members vote for their new leader over the next seven days. Voting will run until next Thursday, with the results announced two days later on March 10. The four candidates (less Patrick Brown, who bailed this week – see below) will frantically push their known supporters to cast online votes, as well as providing instructions on whom they should favour as second and third choices on the ranked ballots. “Voting parties” are being organized in various ridings, with the candidates supplying computers, scanners and assistance to help navigate through what is a multi-step process of uploading ID, obtaining individual PINs and then submitting votes. (Vote-counting also requires an advanced mathematics degree, with results from each of the province’s 124 ridings being weighted so they have equal value, and the last-place finisher on each ballot having their second- and third-choice votes distributed to the other candidates until one has a majority of support.) As if this wasn’t convoluted enough, former MPP Frank Klees – who is supporting Doug Ford in the leadership – upped the pressure by publicly complaining about the online registration process. Klees told the National Post about problems with the secret codes sent to registered voters – which had Os appearing as zeros, Zs as twos and Ls as ones – surmising it could stymie 75% of members. “If they think they’ve had problems in the last four weeks, they’ve seen nothing yet,” Klees growled, suggesting that the party executive should resign if the glitches interfere with the final vote tally.
FADE TO BROWN – “You simply cannot shoot on two nets at the same time.” With those words, fittingly from someone known as a rabid sports fan, Patrick Brown’s strange odyssey in provincial politics seemingly came to its end. Brown may someday be back, and his trail of questionable behaviour will continue to generate news, but for now he is permanently the ex-PC Leader. Brown abandoned his bid to regain the party leadership, the latest in a series of dizzying swerves that saw him abdicate the party helm amid sexual misconduct allegations then join the leadership race to succeed himself. Ultimately Brown shut it all down again, citing the difficulty of running a campaign while simultaneously working to clear his name. Hence the “two nets” analogy, although in truth it was five or six nets, with Brown also facing an investigation by the Integrity Commissioner over his personal finances, ongoing disputes about the state of the party’s membership lists and fundraising, and implications he interfered with riding nominations. Publicly, Brown bowed out because his ongoing candidacy was admittedly a “distraction” in both the leadership race and the coming provincial election, and because the criticism was affecting people close to him. “My political adversaries, collaborating with the media through an endless supply of rumours and innuendo, will stop at nothing to preserve their own self interests as long as I am in the race,” Brown wrote in a long resignation letter. “They are no longer just targeting me. They are now targeting my friends and family. I can take a punch but it stings when it is unfairly directed at the people I love instead of at me.” Darker whispers suggest Brown actually called it quits more because he wanted to curtail the increasing scrutiny into his personal affairs.
CRANK CALL – It’s bad enough for Brown that he had to bail from the leadership, but adding to the indignity is that much of the dirty laundry is being aired publicly. On the January night when CTV ran its story of two anonymous women accusing Brown of sexual impropriety, at least 20 members of the Tory caucus gathered by conference call to discuss the future of their leader. It wasn’t pretty. Macleans this week published an in-depth summary of the call, and it is a fascinating read, including such gems as PC Whip John Yakubuski offering, “We would be facing 1993 for the federal Conservatives [when the party was reduced to two seats] if Patrick leads us in this campaign,” and an impatient Jeff Yurek insisting, “we’re just mollycoddling around trying to make the right decision. We need to act now.” What they didn’t know, until partway through the call, was that Brown himself was on the line. That got awkward in a hurry, with Brown pleading to wait until morning to make a decision. Randy Hillier quashes the idea with a terse, “Your team has vacated you, Patrick.” Read the entire Macleans story here.
LEFT LANE – With Brown’s departure comes the hope of some semblance of normalcy around Queen’s Park, but the PC leadership race continues to dwarf all other issues. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has opted to break away from it all, eschewing the Legislature for a two-week tour across the province. “Let’s face it, you get drawn to things like a train wreck, it doesn’t necessarily mean you want to be in it,” she quipped of her decision to leave the scene. It was one of her most memorable quotes in a long time, giving New Democrats hope Horwath is finding her voice after an often lacklustre performance. Adding to that new boldness, Horwath kicked off the pre-campaign tour with a description of how she wants to be perceived: “I’m the scrappy third party leader and I’ve been around for a while.” Horwath also announced this week that her Chief of Staff and campaign director Michael Balagus has been reinstated. He was sidelined by accusations of negligence around sexual harassment allegations when he was a senior advisor in the Manitoba government, but Horwath issued a statement this week that she is satisfied he recognizes his errors and is now “confident in Michael’s ability to lead our team.”
MORNEAU OR LESS – With Liberals in power both in Ottawa and Queen’s Park, Budget Day isn’t the slugfest it used to be. Aside from the national pharmacare program that pried Hoskins from Queen’s Park, this week’s fiscal report from federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau didn’t contain much that would send Ontarians into a tizzy one way or another. What it does do, however, is start the clock ticking for the Ontario Budget. Provincial Finance Minister Charles Sousa hasn’t dropped any hints about a date, although he has been booked to speak to the Economic Club of Canada on March 7, fuelling speculation his Budget – the unofficial launch of the Liberals’ re-election campaign – will be delivered before the end of the month. This week the Legislature checked off another box in the process, receiving the report of the Finance and Economic Affairs Committee on pre-Budget consultations, which included public hearings in six cities, 123 presentations and more than 80 written submissions.
A FOND ADIEU – A generation of Queen’s Parkers are mourning the loss of long-serving PC MPP Noble Villeneuve, who passed away this week at the age of 79. Villeneuve represented the riding of Stormount-Dundas-Glengarry from 1983 to 1999, and served as a cabinet minister in the Miller and Harris governments. He was regarded as a true gentleman – an old school politician who was well-regarded by members of all three parties. His daughter Roxane continues the family’s political tradition, and was the PC candidate in his old riding in 2014.
RUMOURS AND RUMBLINGS
ST. PAUL’S CALLS
With the departure of St. Paul’s MPP Eric Hoskins, the rumour mill immediately revved up about who might run in the now-incumbentless riding. Inevitably, speculation is ramping up that PC leadership candidate Christine Elliott will run there. Elliott was previously an MPP in Whitby, but now lives downtown and will need to find a seat. Insiders say a nomination sheet for Elliott in St. Paul’s is being circulated for signatures – although it’s still not clear whether she will run in June’s election if she is unsuccessful in her leadership bid. Meanwhile at Toronto City Hall, reliable sources say Premier Kathleen Wynne has asked City Councillor Josh Matlow to run for the Liberals. (Matlow has been a LIB candidate in the past, running as a sacrificial lamb against then-Premier Ernie Eves in the Dufferin-Peel-Wellington-Grey by-election when Eves came out of retirement in 2002. Matlow was 26 at the time.) The potential of a PC Leader running against a popular City Councillor would make St. Paul’s one of the most watched battles in the province.
IN THE HOUSE
No new government bills were introduced this week.
FOR THE RECORD
“Knowing what I know today, I would have acted differently as chief of staff. I apologize to my friends and family for the anguish I have put them through. I regret the time and money that has been required to investigate and prosecute this case, and I apologize to all my colleagues for the strain of direct or indirect involvement in this trial.”
David Livingston, the former senior Liberal aide convicted of illegally destroying government records, at his sentencing hearing. The Crown argued for a six-month jail term, Livingston’s defence called for a conditional discharge; Judge Timothy Lipson has reserved his decision until April 11.
“The chips are going to fall March 10. And we’ll have to pick up those chips and try and make the best of it behind our new leader and move forward into the election.”
PC MPP Todd Smith, philosophical about the divisiveness of the PC leadership race.
“This is bad for all of us. If General Motors’ marketing plan was ‘Fords crash and will kill you,’ that’s bad for the entire car industry. Well, this is bad for politics.”
Unnamed “high-ranking Liberal insider” quoted by the Toronto Star, suggesting the other parties are not revelling in the PCs’ tribulations. Liberal campaign co-chair Deb Matthews agreed, offering, “I don’t think anybody is enjoying this.”
“You’d think, with 14 million people — nearly 40 per cent of all Canadians — some honourable and talented women or men would emerge as political leaders. But look at what we have instead. Have our political leaders ever been quite as pathetic and disappointing as they are now?”
Former NDP National Director Gerald Caplan, in a Globe and Mail column where he took swipes at Premier Kathleen Wynne, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, all contenders for the PC Party leadership, Toronto Mayor John Tory, federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Although the latter hails from Quebec, Caplan wrote that Trudeau “feels like an Ontario boy.”
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