ONTARIO LEGISLATIVE HIGHLIGHTS

March 24, 2017


WEEKLY ROUNDUP

WELL FED – With Liberal majorities in Ottawa and Queen’s Park, gone is the rhetorical bombast that used to surround Budget days – which reached its apex a decade ago when federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and his provincial counterpart Dwight Duncan would spend weeks hammering each other every spring.  Nowadays the men in those respective roles, Bill Morneau federally and Charles Sousa in Ontario, speak of each other only in the softest of tones – if at all. “It’s a budget that talks about maintaining the status quo,” was as much as Sousa could muster in terms of a review of the federal fiscal plan unveiled this week. (PC Finance Critic Vic Fedeli noticed the partisan niceness, chiding, “Look, if this was a Conservative budget you would have seen passion, table pounding from [Sousa].”) Even before Morneau tabled the federal Budget, Sousa had pronounced that it would make little difference to his own, at least in terms of eliminating the deficit. Sousa affirmed that Ontario will “absolutely” be in the black in the upcoming provincial Budget, which is expected within the next few weeks – reportedly either April 6 or April 13. Sousa wouldn’t confirm the date, but acknowledged that Morneau’s Budget was the final major piece. “The [Ontario Budget] will come out after we take a full review [of the federal plan] and after we lock in our numbers,” Sousa told reporters. Much of the document is no doubt already written.

UP AND AD ‘EM – Government advertising is always buried in Budget minutiae, but it inevitably raises the hackles of the Opposition – and, they hope, voters. Both the PCs and NDP were apoplectic this week about radio ads touting the Ontario Liberals’ plan to reduce consumer hydro bills. They assert that the taxpayer-funded ads, featuring a narrator intoning, “We’ve heard you and we’re taking action with the fair hydro plan,” are actually quite partisan. PC House Leader Jim Wilson went so far as to claim the ad campaign is in contempt of the Legislature by presuming the outcome of the legislative process. “It not only definitively states the result of legislation that is yet to be tabled by the Minister of Energy, which is ‘25% off your hydro bill,’ but also presents an unqualified timeline: ‘starting this summer,’ ” Wilson argued in his contempt complaint. Speaker Dave Levac shot it down, but the Tories know most voters don’t much care about parliamentary process anyway. The real value from an Opposition standpoint is in the attendant media coverage. To that end, Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk, who has been in a public feud with the Liberals over their diluting of her authority to censor government ads, didn’t miss the opportunity to pile on. “Under the previous legislation it would likely not have passed because it does convey a positive impression of the current government,” Lysyk said. “It’s more like a pat-on-the-back type of advertisement.” Both PC Leader Patrick Brown and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath parlayed Lysyk’s umbrage into platform planks, each committing to reinstate the Auditor’s vetting authority if they form government.

BROWN AND SERVE – Speaking of partisan advertising (which nobody has a problem with as long as the parties pay for it), the Tories have launched a new series of short videos in what is openly being called the “Brand Brown” campaign. The 20-second spots emphasize the big-tent philosophy Brown is espousing, each opening with the caption “I BELIEVE” followed by shots of the PC Leader marching in the Pride parade, in ethnic garb and meeting with various stakeholders.  All of this is overlaid by excerpts from Brown’s speech to a party convention a year ago, when he described himself as “a pragmatic progressive conservative” and welcomed a wide range of demographics with, “It doesn’t matter … who you love … where you worship … if you belong to a union … etc. … You have a home in the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario.” Not surprisingly, the Liberals have their own “Brand Brown” campaign that is somewhat less complimentary. In their latest salvo, they launched a website building on a recent theme, FactsStillMatter.ca.  According to Liberal agitprop, “We developed these tools to document the misinformation that Patrick Brown has been spreading across Ontario, and challenge the myths in one place.” There isn’t anything subtle about the partisanship here – the home page features a large picture of Brown scowling, with the caption, “The Man with No Plan.”

COFFEE SPILL – In the hyper-sensitivity of the current pre-election atmosphere, statements don’t have to be blatant to cause problems, as PC MPP Randy Pettapiece found out this week.  Pettapiece was evidently trying to be funny at a committee hearing on public appointments, but his choice of words was all Liberal Daiene Vernile needed to pounce.  In approving the appointment of engineer Rumina Velshi to the Ontario Energy Board, Pettapiece made a joke about the committee’s notoriously bad coffee.  But the way he phrased it led to an uncomfortable exchange:

Pettapiece:  Maybe with her background, she could go to the kitchen and get them to do something about this coffee.

Vernile: You want a woman to go get coffee for us, is that what you’re saying?

Pettapiece:  No, do something about it, the taste of it.

Vernile: Why is it her responsibility?

Pettapiece:  With her scientific background.

Vernile went in for the kill later with reporters, aiming to reinforce the Neanderthal image the Tories are trying to dispel. “This is a woman with incredible academic and professional credentials,” Vernile fumed. “That he would order her to go to the kitchen — ‘go to the kitchen,’ he said — and do something about the coffee was demeaning, degrading and, I think, sexist.”  Pettapiece subsequently apologized, and Velshi insisted she was not in any way offended.  “It was a clumsy attempt at humour,” she said. “During the committee meeting, his comments about my qualifications were entirely positive.”  Her son, Alykhan Velshi, just happens to be Patrick Brown’s new Chief of Staff.

LEAVING LADY – As nominations for incumbent MPPs continue to accumulate, one long-serving MPP – in fact the longest ever serving female MPP – has reached the end of her political road. Julia Munro announced this week that she will not be seeking re-election in 2018, bringing to a close a Queen’s Park career that began nearly 22 years ago. Despite being elected on the Mike Harris Common Sense Revolution ticket in 1995, Munro has a reputation as a moderate, which has earned her respect across party lines.  Indeed, Women’s Issues Minister and Liberal MPP Indira Naidoo-Harris praised Munro as a “trailblazer,” noting, “There was a time when people thought there was no place for women in politics. Well, they were wrong.”  PC MPP Laurie Scott also paid tribute, telling the House, “Every day is a new record for the member from York-Simcoe or, as we call her, Lady Munro. We seek to be as professional as, and to continue to be mentored by, the gracious member.”

IN THE HOUSE

  • Treasury Board President Liz Sandals introduced Bill 111, the Supply Act, routine legislation to authorize the public payroll for the current fiscal year.
  • Bill 92, tweaking school board collective bargaining, passed Third Reading, by a vote of 53-38, with the Tories and NDP voting against it.

FOR THE RECORD

“There’s a whole lot of people in the Ontario Liberal party who think that it’s all over. …You have to ask yourself, Premier, whether given that scenario, it’s better to step down before the next election. The [polling] numbers do not lie and the ability to win the next election is in grave grave doubt.”

  • Former Ontario Finance Minister and Ontario Liberal Party President Greg Sorbara, on TVO’s The Agenda, suggesting Premier Kathleen Wynne is hindering the party’s re-election chances since, in his words, it is “extremely unlikely” she’ll win.

 “The fact is there is a lot of momentum in the U.S. right now for ‘Buy America’ kinds of approaches. That’s what we’re up against. So it will be a challenge for us to get an exemption. We recognize that. But it’s something we’ll certainly be doing our very best to try to achieve.”

  • Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid, who along with International Trade Minister Michael Chan was in the New York state capital of Albany this week, trying to convince legislators there not to adopt President Donald Trump’s protectionist stance. Duguid said they positioned their argument as being in the Americans’ own self-interest, explaining, “there are a lot of American jobs dependent on an unfettered trading relationship and open procurement between New York State and Ontario.”
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