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.
DO THE MATH – March 28 has been circled on calendars around Queen’s Park, thanks to Finance Minister Charles Sousa announcing it as the date for this year’s provincial Budget. Odd that it’s a Wednesday – traditionally Budgets are Thursday affairs – but Sousa had to factor in the Easter weekend and the upcoming election in his calculations. Back-timing from the June 7 vote, the writ drop will be in the first week of May, leaving a little over one month for the Liberals to shepherd the Budget through legislative requirements, use their majority to pass it and springboard into the campaign. Aside from the date, Sousa dropped a bigger bombshell when he told the Toronto Economic Club that the pre-election Budget will not be balanced. Sousa said the deficit will be less than 1% of the province’s GDP – which could still be close to $8 billion, a prospect that sent fiscal conservatives into paroxysms – and that the Budget will set out a path to return to the black. Liberal strategists must have public opinion research showing that balanced budgets are not the touchstone for voters that right-wing economists make it out to be, emboldening Sousa to spend more. “We are making a choice,” he intoned. “We are committing to more support for social and developmental services. More supports for mental health and healthcare programs. More supports for students.” (Read: election goodies to entice votes and resuscitate Liberal re-election hopes.)
WHO’S THE BOSS? – Ontario’s Tories can collectively exhale tomorrow, as the bedlam of their precipitous leadership race reaches the finish line. Of course, they’ll have to immediately take another deep breath with a provincial election on the near horizon, but at least they’ll know who they’re panting for. At this point it’s impossible to project who will wear the crown, given the vagaries of the leadership balloting process – a one-member-one-vote, weighted-by-riding system in which who votes will ultimately determine the winner. With such a relatively small pool of voters, a well-organized, motivated bloc (say, social conservatives) could prevail over a campaign with broader-based appeal. Compounding the unpredictability is the multi-step voting apparatus, which entailed online registration, mailed-out PIN numbers and uploading of scanned identification. Designed to thwart manipulation – like the bogus memberships exiled leader Patrick Brown is accused of engineering – the system has been criticized as too complicated for many members. Indeed, organizers extended both the registration and voting deadlines to give members more time to figure it all out – so those organizers are in for a long night counting, weighting and assigning votes in time to announce the winner on schedule tomorrow. They will also surely face fallout from the losing camps; leadership hopeful Doug Ford laid the foundation for that this week, calling for an extra week of voting and a paper ballot option in light of the “hundreds of calls each day from people who are struggling just to cast a ballot.” Two other candidates, Caroline Mulroney and Tanya Granic Allen, agreed that extra time might be a good idea, but the party executive nixed any extensions beyond today, citing the end date as enshrined in their constitution. There is still one more card to play, however. A court challenge seeking an injunction has been launched on behalf of a handful of party members, none directly affiliated with any candidate, with a decision expected before the noon cut-off.
FORD, TOUGH – If Ford does want to file post-facto complaints, apparently that would be just fine with a large segment of moderates within the party because it means he lost. As expected from the outset, an Anybody But Ford movement has emerged, with supporters of Mulroney and Christine Elliott reportedly strategizing to a) discredit Ford; and b) ensure second choices on the ranked ballot don’t go his way. There is a real fear among Red Tories that Ford, if he’s leader, will take the party on a steep rightward slope – a path they worry is doomed in centrist Ontario. Those concerns were amplified this week when Ford deliberately kicked the third rail of politics, reopening the abortion debate by musing that girls under 16 should require parental permission for an abortion (which is currently not the law – the decision is between the teenager and her physician). Liberal MPP and campaign co-chair Deb Matthews exacerbated those moderate Tories’ anxieties when she blasted Ford for pandering to SoCons, chiding, “He wants to win the leadership, so just like Patrick Brown did he is appealing to that particular group of members and not thinking about the entire province of Ontario. I think it’s despicable what he’s doing.” Liberals will no doubt provide many such reviews of Ford but, given the populist mindset he is targeting, those words might ironically work in his favour. Think of U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s characterization of Donald Trump supporters as “deplorables,” which only served to galvanize them, paving his way into the White House.
AFFRONT LOADED – Regardless of who wins the leadership, one of the biggest obstacles facing the new captain will be lingering ill-will from a campaign that, while short, has been decidedly unfriendly. All of the losing candidates will, as tradition dictates, pledge unity (although the bumptious Ford is a wildcard in that regard) in the aftermath of the vote announcement. But some things have been said during the campaign that might prove hard to walk back. For example, in one of her speeches Mulroney quipped that she is ready to “send Kathleen Wynne to her well-earned political retirement … and I may even make her my next Patient Ombudsman” – a snide jab at Elliott, who held that very post before jumping into the leadership race. Ford is on the record as calling Elliott’s ombudsman appointment “patronage” and challenging her effectiveness in the role. Elliott’s team countered, through her campaign co-chair, MPP Todd Smith, that “with his erratic and out-of-control behaviour, I worry that if Doug was to lead our party, he would lead us to certain defeat.”
LET’S GO TO THE EX – Brown may be out of sight again but he is not out of mind, as his legacy continues to generate salacious storylines. This week it was emails obtained by the Globe and Mail, suggesting decisions around at least one nomination were influenced by Brown’s personal relationships. In this case it was the Ottawa West-Nepean nomination of Karma Macgregor – whose daughter worked in Brown’s office and was known to have dated him. Macgregor’s nomination was one of the results tainted by allegations of ballot stuffing, but according to internal correspondence there was reluctance to overturn the outcome lest the younger Macgregor take offence. “I think you are underestimating Tamara’s reaction,” read one memo from a party lawyer to senior PC staff. “We have beaten her up before and she has always taken it like a loyal soldier. But don’t assume that past practice will repeat itself.” More damning: “Tamara has 3 years of texts from PB [Patrick Brown] and the rest of the team. She is also the lead for the story that none of us wants to deal with: the relationship with every female staffer in his office. … If we go down this path [of overturning the nomination], we need to be ready for … the wrath of jilted ex GF/ex staffer.” With Brown now out of the picture, the nomination has indeed been nullified. Macgregor initially declined to run again, opening the door for Jeremy Roberts – the jilted candidate who spearheaded the accusations of cheating – to be acclaimed this week. But the saga isn’t over yet. Macgregor has challenged the validity of Roberts’ acclamation, arguing she was never formally notified that her candidacy had been revoked.
WOMEN’S LIBS (AND TORIES) – As the MeToo movement partly responsible for Brown’s downfall continues, International Women’s Day took on added import this week. Premier Wynne went all-in, but it was PC MPP Lisa MacLeod grabbing much of the glory. MacLeod was given the 2018 EVE Award by Equal Voice – the top honour for the organization dedicated to boosting women in politics – alongside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was feted as male Catalyst for Change. Wynne applauded both awards while setting out to make her own IWD noise, including presiding over a town hall on women’s issues – the latest in a series of such unscripted, and sometimes hostile, events she has been conducting across the province. She also timed legislation to close the gender pay gap for this week, and spoke of “economic empowerment” repeatedly. Insiders say this thrust will continue into the spring election campaign, as a key plank in Wynne’s “fairness” theme. On a more tactical level, it’s no secret that the Liberals covet female voters, seeing them as a winnable constituency, especially in the wake of the Tories’ sexual misconduct woes.
IN THE HOUSE
Labour Minister Kevin Flynn introduced Bill 203, the Pay Transparency Act, to address pay inequities, including requiring large employers to track and report compensation gaps based on gender and diversity and mandating that all publicly advertised job postings include a salary rate or range.
In a flurry of bill passing, four government bills were legislated into the books this week: Bill 175, overhauling police oversight; Bill 193, improving concussion safety for amateur and school athletes; Bill 194, responding to discriminatory procurement policies in the U.S.; and Bill 196, the routine Supply Act. All passed Third Reading and received Royal Assent, making them law.
FOR THE RECORD
“Given everything I know, there’s nothing I would have done differently in the past 40 days … While there will always be more work to be done, today I can confidently give our party a clean bill of health.”
Interim PC Leader Vic Fedeli, after addressing his caucus for the last time before the election of a new leader this weekend, declaring that he has been successful in “rooting out the rot” in his short stint at the party helm.
“That’s goofy stuff. I had no political experience and look what happened: I won the two largest back to back majorities since Sir John A. MacDonald.”
Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, wading into the PC leadership race on behalf of his candidate daughter, dismissing criticism that Caroline Mulroney is a political neophyte.
“When we were approaching an election a little over a year ago in the United States, some people said, ‘What would happen if Donald Trump wins?’ And a lot of people said, ‘Well, it might not be so bad.’ Oh yeah? It’s worse than anybody thought it would be. I do know this: Ontario is moving forward; Ontario is making progress; Ontario is setting the standard for provincial and regional governments around the world.”
Former U.S. Vice President and climate change crusader Al Gore, endorsing the Wynne government at a campaign-style event in Toronto.
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