Elections Ontario has launched a voter registration drive throughout March, promoting e-Registration across the province to improve the accuracy of the Voters List. We encourage all of our readers – even if you are already registered to vote – to go online to confirm, update or add information, atelections.on.ca.
Scheduling note: With Good Friday on March 30, Ontario Legislative Highlights will be posted on Thursday next week. We will also post our Budget summary and analysis Wednesday afternoon.
RUNNING START – This past Monday saw the opening of the Third Session of Ontario’s 41st Parliament, with MPPs assembling to administer the province’s legislative business. As if. What really happened Monday was the de facto launch of the 2018 election campaign, as the three parties jockeyed to lay out their vision and grab the public’s attention. If it looks like a campaign, and it sounds like a campaign…
CARE PACKAGE – Although it was read aloud by non-partisan Lieutenant-Governor Elizabeth Dodswell, Monday’s Speech from the Throne was undisguised as the Liberals’ re-election platform. It overtly set the tone for what Premier Kathleen Wynne wants the election to be about. Most notably, the word “care” appeared at least 35 times – as in health care, mental health care, child care, home care, pharmacare, etc. – with Wynne and company evidently hoping an emphasis on compassion and social services can reverse their unpopularity. To underscore the point and draw a contrast with the front-running Tories, Wynne and the Liberals immediately started talking about the coming campaign as “care versus cuts.”
ONE LEFT – Not wanting to be upstaged by a Liberal-written Throne Speech, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath held her own media events, unspooling the basis of her platform – first at an NDP provincial council meeting on Saturday and then at a news conference Monday. Horwath made sure to deliver her election package – or at least the broad strokes of it – before the Throne Speech, knowing that much of what she’s selling is likely to be in the Liberal basket as well. With Wynne’s Liberals tacking to the left, Horwath is determined to get credit for the ideas. As such, she was first out of the gate talking about universal pharmacare and dental care – under the banner, “Ontario Benefits” – as well as promising to give post-secondary students grants instead of loans, increase support for transit and affordable housing, and de-privatize Hydro One. (Okay, the Liberals won’t be mirroring that last one, much as many might like to given the public relations grief the sell-off has caused them.) She specifically highlighted universal dental care as the centrepiece of her plan, pledging $1.2 billion to make it happen. Overall, she said the whole platform package would mostly be paid for through higher corporate taxes and increased income tax rates for the wealthy. Asked whether she would also be willing to run deficits, Horwath didn’t hesitate to respond, “absolutely.”
FORD FIESTA – New PC Leader Doug Ford didn’t even pretend to be interested in parliamentary ceremony, forgoing the Throne Speech to get ready for a rally Monday evening. (Indeed, in robocall messages he recorded to promote the event, Ford openly disdained the pomp of Queen’s Park, touting his rally as an opportunity to hear “directly” from him.) Some 2,000 cheering – and jeering, loudly booing every time Wynne’s name was mentioned – supporters turned up. Contrary to speculation beforehand, leadership runner-up Christine Elliott did not introduce Ford, nor did any of the other candidates speak, as he alone addressed the crowd. But they did get the photo op they wanted, with Ford, Elliott, Caroline Mulroney and Tanya Granic Allen raising their arms in unified victory – the celebration they missed when vote-counting snags robbed the leadership convention of its climactic moment.
SPENDING TIME – Before heading to the rally, Ford also got his digs in at the Throne Speech, with the type of pointed soundbite we can expect much more of: “Today, the Premier wrote a lot of cheques. Having looked at the finances, I can tell the people of Ontario that these cheques are going to bounce.” Ford will no doubt have some zingers ready for the Budget, to be delivered by Finance Minister Charles Sousa next Wednesday. As has become a tradition in recent years, the week leading up to the Budget has seen a drip-drip of announcements, aimed at spreading out the media coverage – while presumably leaving one big goodie to be the main focus on B-Day. Thanks to Liberal news releases this week, we know the Budget will include free prescription drugs for anyone over 65, an additional $822 million in hospital funding (a 4.6% increase), and “the biggest provincial investment in Canadian history in mental health and addictions services” of $2.1 billion over four years.
POLL A FAST ONE – Pre-election periods are like the sports playoffs for polling firms, and there are surveys aplenty in the field right now. Ford’s election as PC Leader has added a new dimension, creating a polling frenzy even earlier than usual. So far all of the data suggests he is bound for the Premier’s Office. A Mainstreet Research poll released this week found Ford with a whopping 21-point lead, garnering 47% support compared to the Liberals at 26% and the NDP at 19%. Léger Marketing didn’t see quite as big a gap, but still had Ford’s Tories out in front with 42%, while the Liberals and NDP were virtually tied with 26% and 24% respectively. Ditto for Campaign Research, whose score was PCs 43, LIBs 27, NDP 23. Campaign Research also asked some interesting questions about who voters won’t support. The results showed that 65% of the electorate won’t even consider voting Liberal, compared to 58% who have ruled out the NDP and 49% who have nixed the Tories.
TEAM BUILDING – In keeping with his flair for generating publicity, Ford has attracted some high-profile names to his campaign, not the least of whom is outspoken Toronto Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, who announced this week he is seeking the PC nomination in Brampton Centre. Ford also named Kory Teneycke as his campaign manager. Teneycke may not be a household name for most Ontarians, but he is well known in political and media circles as a senior advisor to former Prime Minister Stephen Harper and as an executive of the short-lived Sun News Network. Meanwhile, another of Ford’s high-profile supporters apparently won’t be bidding to join his caucus. Word is that Frank Klees is no longer considering a comeback. In fact, insiders say it’s a good bet that the Newmarket-Aurora riding he had reportedly been eyeing will be the landing spot for Elliott as she looks for a seat.
NO HOLDS BARRIE – Former PC Leader Patrick Brown may be persona non grata, having been barred from running for the Tories and confirming he won’t seek re-election as an MPP at all. But his saga isn’t over yet, as intrigue mounts over who will run in Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte. Among those reportedly interested is former MPP Garfield Dunlop, who voluntarily gave up his previous Simcoe North riding when Brown needed a seat in the Legislature. (His daughter, Jill Dunlop, is the PC candidate in Simcoe North, winning the nomination after Brown opted for the new Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte riding.) The elder Dunlop was let go from his advisory position at Queen’s Park when Brown resigned as party leader, and he has been one of the few loyalists who publicly defended the ex-leader during Brown’s downward spiral. However, he’s not a sure thing for the nomination. Current federal MP Alex Nuttall is said to be thinking about moving to provincial politics (to have a shorter commute), and former Barrie MPP and city councillor Rod Jackson has also indicated an interest in running. Jackson is far from a Brown devotee. A few weeks ago, at the height of Brown’s tribulations, he went public with accusations that he had been “threatened” by a member of Brown’s campaign team some 14 years ago, during nominations for the 2004 federal election (which Brown won).
IN THE HOUSE
To kick off the new session following Monday’s Throne Speech, Premier Wynne introduced the traditional Bill 1, An Act to Perpetuate an Ancient Parliamentary Right – purely symbolic legislation (dating back to 1558) that will never be debated nor voted on.
The Order Paper quickly became re-populated, as the three government bills terminated by prorogation were reintroduced: Labour Minister Kevin Flynn reintroduced the Pay Transparency Act, now Bill 3, to address pay inequities; Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Marie-France Lalonde reintroduced the Correctional Services Transformation Act, now Bill 6, to modernize Ontario’s correctional system; and Government and Consumer Services Minister Tracy MacCharles reintroduced the Access to Consumer Credit Reports and Elevator Availability Act, now Bill 8, to improve consumer access to credit scores and elevator maintenance records. Another 15 private member’s bills were also introduced by backbenchers from all three parties, plus one from independent MPP Jack MacLaren.
FOR THE RECORD
“I’m not a fan of hers, at all. I think that she’s a reprehensible ideologue. I think she’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing as well because she’s not a Liberal by any stretch of the imagination … I think Kathleen Wynne is an utter disaster. I think she’s the most dangerous woman in Canada.”
University of Toronto professor and author Jordan Peterson – whose anti-political correctness views have made him a polarizing figure – in an interview with the unabashedly anti-Wynne Toronto Sun.
“When the unrepresentative tabulation method is capped by an inaccessible selection procedure, all for the purpose of a bloodless, soulless, snoozer of a revelation of the result as calculated by unanswerable and unverifiable machines entrusted to reapply second and third choices on ballots, with three of the four candidates crying foul even before the result is rendered, drama and even credibility are trampled in the dust by malfunctioning automation tainted by old fashioned ballot-stuffing.”
Media mogul and National Post columnist Conrad Black, summing up, in his inimitable style, the PC leadership race.
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