PUT YOUR MOUTH WHERE YOUR MONEY IS – Having delivered the 2018-19 provincial Budget on Wednesday, Finance Minister Charles Sousa and his Liberal compatriots will now embark on the traditional fan-out to spread the word, armed with carefully crafted talking points. But there’s a big twist this year: In addition to Liberal MPPs, the communications offensive will be joined by nominated candidates, and will face an equally concerted effort by the other parties’ MPPs and candidates fortified by a very different set of talking points. This has never happened before, with 2018 being the first time Ontario has had a fixed election date in the spring. As such, this particular Budget is unprecedented, coming as it does just before an election everyone knows is pending. (Historically, election timing was at the discretion of the Premier, enabling the governing party to keep their opponents guessing. Former Premier Dalton McGuinty changed that when he shepherded in fixed election dates, but they were supposed to be in the fall – long after the spring Budget. As recently as 2014 the writ-drop came as a surprise, when current Premier Kathleen Wynne chose to dissolve her minority government and call a snap election rather than risk having the Budget defeated. This put the provincial election on the same timetable as municipal votes, and rather than having both in the fall, the decision was made for Ontario to shift to June.) Even as it kicks off the election campaign, there’s a chance this Budget will not pass in the Legislature. Although the Liberals have a majority, they’ll only have a month – not counting next week, when the House is not sitting – to manoeuvre the Budget through the legislative process before the writ drops on May 9.
THIRD DEGREE – On top of strategizing against each other, Ontario’s political parties are increasingly forced to battle external interest groups, who are becoming ever more sophisticated in trying to influence voters. A new grassroots entity emerged this week, with the launch of Not Doug, an anonymous organization dedicated to thwarting the aspirations of PC Leader Doug Ford. “This isn’t about the Progressive Conservatives, Liberals, NDP, or Green party; it’s about preventing incompetent, unqualified individuals from taking power, just because they’re the loudest ones in the room,” the Not Doug website proclaims, while offering “Beware of Doug” posters to supporters. Both the Liberals and NDP insist they have nothing to do with it, but questions still hang over the relationships between political parties and outside groups ostensibly working on their behalf. The phenomenon gained prominence in Ontario through the Working Families Coalition – a partnership of public sector unions many Tories at least partly blame for their election losses since 2003 – and has since intensified around activism like the pro-Conservative Ontario Proud. These third parties (not to be confused with the Third Party, the NDP’s official designation in the Legislature) now face regulations almost as stringent as the political parties themselves. No fewer than 18 such organizations are reportedly registered with Elections Ontario, which is overseeing the new rules governing their spending.
TRANSCENDENT – Ottawa-Vanier is considered a safe Liberal riding – newly-appointed cabinet minister Nathalie Des Rosiers won it handily in a November 2016 by-election – but the NDP has upped the stakes by nominating the first-ever openly transgender candidate. “I’m a mixture of honoured and disappointed,” Lyra Evans, a 25-year-old from Carp, Ontario, told the Ottawa Citizen. “Trans people have been around forever … [The fact that] there’s nobody who’s been even nominated to run for a political party was sort of disappointing, but I am excited and I am honoured to be the first.” Meanwhile, in other nomination news, Ford has been officially installed as the PC candidate for Etobicoke North, while former PC leadership candidate and sex-ed curriculum crusader Tanya Granic Allen will reportedly run in Mississauga Centre. It’s a new/old riding – having been broken up by redistribution a decade ago and restored with the latest redrawing of riding boundaries. It was previously held by current Mississauga-Erindale MPP Liberal HarinderTakhar, who is expected to run in Mississauga Centre this time around, but had been PC prior to 2003.
SUNNY DISPOSITION – Apparently $100,000 doesn’t buy what it used to, at least in terms of media coverage and public outrage. Not so long ago, the annual release of the “Sunshine List” – public servants earning over $100k – would trigger a barrage of indignation about fat-cat bureaucrats. These days, the reaction is decidedly muted, with last Friday’s unveiling of the 2017 list spawning some local coverage – i.e., who are the highest paid in any given community – and not much else. Overall, the list includes a total of 131,741 names, an increase of about 6% from last year. Despite the yawns that greeted the list, Ford took the opportunity to fit it into his message track, describing the sunshiners as “Ontario’s richest political insiders.”
RUMOURS & RUMBLINGS
WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON?
Should the latest polls prove prescient and Ford becomes Premier in June, he would accomplish a feat that has only happened once before since Confederation: Taking his seat in the Ontario Legislature for the first time as Premier of the province. Only Mitch Hepburn has ever done that, winning the 1934 election without having served any time as an MPP beforehand. Hepburn, however, had been a federal MP for eight years, whereas Ford’s political experience is one term as a Toronto City Councillor. If Ford is indeed Premier as a first-time MPP, he won’t be the only one in the House finding his way in an unaccustomed role. Showing just how long the Liberals have been in power, only eight members of their current caucus were around the last time the party was in Opposition – and three of them aren’t running in the 2018 election. Only Jim Bradley, Bob Chiarelli, Mike Colle, Michael Gravelle and Ted McMeekin have sat on the Opposition benches (along with Monte Kwinter, Dave Levac and Mario Sergio, who aren’t seeking re-election; Premier Wynne was first elected in 2003, so she has never been in Opposition). Similarly, only six current PC MPPs know what it’s like to be in government: Ted Arnott, Toby Barrett, Ernie Hardeman, Norm Miller, Jim Wilson and Julia Munro (who is not running in June). Gilles Bisson is the lone NDP MPP who has seen the House from the government side, having first been elected in 1990. This means that if the Tories win in June, at least 90% of the 124 MPPs will be in unfamiliar territory.
IN THE HOUSE
Former PC Leader and now independent MPP Patrick Brown made his first appearance in the Legislature since his resignation as leader and subsequent ouster from the PC caucus. He showed up for the Budget speech, later telling reporters he was there because the Budget is “the most important day of the year in the legislative calendar.”
Finance Minister Charles Sousa introduced Bill 31, the Plan for Care and Opportunity Act (Budget Measures), to implement the 2018-19 provincial Budget.
“Replacing one establishment party with another establishment party is going to change nothing … We are never going to get the government that we want if we don’t vote for the government we want. If we always vote against the government we don’t want, we are always going to get a government we don’t want.”
Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner, testing-driving his key messages as he hopes for a breakthrough in June’s election.
“At the meeting of the PC executive following Ford’s election as leader, my membership to the party was retroactively reinstated. I was surprised, but it reminded me of the way of doing politics that Ford’s late brother, Rob, used to talk about: Never stop fighting for the little guy.”
Jim Karahalios, whose “Axe the Carbon Tax” and “Take Back Our PC Party” campaigns were thorns in the side of former PC Leader Patrick Brown – to the point that Karahalios’ membership was suspended – using a Sun Media column to praise the party’s new regime under Doug Ford.
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