POLLING RIGHT ALONG – Yes, yes, we know between-election polls don’t count for much. But it’s still fun to see what the latest voter opinion snapshots reveal. A new Forum Research survey shows a very slight tightening of the Ontario race. Things have to be pretty bad when a 15% approval rating is a step up, but given that Premier Kathleen Wynne was flirting with single digits her Liberals will take whatever improvement they can get. They can also see a glimmer of hope in being back in second place, after a few months of trailing both the PCs and NDP. According to the Forum poll conducted May 9-10, Patrick Brown’s Tories are still well out in front with 41% support, compared to 28% for Wynne’s Liberals and Andrea Horwath’s NDP at 23%. Meanwhile, a poll by Campaign Research actually has the Liberals in first place, with 37% support against 34% for the Tories and 22% for the NDP. Oddly enough, despite finding Liberal popularity higher than it has been in years, the Campaign Research poll wasn’t much better for Wynne personally, reporting an approval rating of only 19%.
TAKING ISSUE – A year from now Ontario will be in the middle of a provincial election campaign, and right now it appears both the Tories and New Democrats are counting on electricity rates to be the dominant issue. Brown and Horwath loudly proclaimed this week that their respective caucuses will be voting against Liberal legislation to reduce hydro bills by 25%, claiming it merely defers the costs and that prices will skyrocket again in a few years. But while the Opposition parties continue to flog the hydro horse, the Liberals put a couple of other big issues on the table that could change the conversation. To wit:
Labour Minister Kevin Flynn started laying the groundwork for massive labour reforms, which could have great appeal to workers — particularly young people — worried about tenuous employment with no benefits or job security. “You can’t justify treating that part-time worker any differently than a full-time worker,” Flynn asserted — a sentiment that could be music to the ears of those stuck with contract-to-contract or temporary employment. Flynn suggested that changes could include making it easier for unions to organize and raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour — both potentially taking planks from the NDP platform — as well as updating rules around benefits, vacation and scheduling. Business groups have already responded negatively — the Ontario Chamber of Commerce released a scathing letter, addressed to Wynne and copied to the other party leaders, warning, “These sweeping changes will tip our economic balance in a profoundly negative way” — but given that business tends to lean toward the Tories anyway, the Liberals are clearly fishing for votes in other demographics. Their proposals could also be helpful in courting unions that have aided previous Liberal campaigns.
Addressing longstanding enmity toward the Ontario Municipal Board, the Liberals let it be known that legislation is coming to overhaul the province’s planning system. Municipalities have been exasperated by the OMB for decades, complaining that their planning decisions are routinely overruled when deep-pocketed developers file appeals. According to media reports, the new legislation will create the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal to replace the OMB, with a mandate to give local communities more of a say in land-use decisions.
Whether these kinds of issues can overcome anger over hydro bills and/or general discontent about a long-in-the-tooth government remains to be seen, but the Liberals are obviously betting they can get voters thinking about other things. Harken back to the 2014 election, when the Opposition parties were convinced that the scandal over gas plant cancellations would be the Liberals’ undoing, while the LIBs steered voters toward pension reform and infrastructure investments. There were other factors, of course — like the Tories’ jaw-dropping pledge to cut 100,000 civil service jobs — but having so many eggs in the gas plant basket ended up hindering the PC and NDP campaigns and they were slow to react when voters seemed to tune that issue out.
KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE BALLOT– Voters in Sault Ste. Marie can start casting their by-election votes tomorrow, as advance polls open for a week. They will have seven names to choose from, including candidates for the three main parties and the Greens, plus the People’s Political Party, the ubiquitous Znoneofthe Above (birth name Sheldon Bergson, who has previously run federally in Thornhill and in provincial by-elections in Oshawa-Whitby and Scarborough) of the None of the Above Party, and the even more ubiquitous John Turmel of the Pauper Party – adding to his world record for contesting (and losing) some 90 elections since 1979. In terms of by-election content, Sault Ste. Marie is still very much a union town, and a debate sponsored by the United Steelworkers laid bare how each party is approaching the campaign. “Let’s be clear: Romano is a Conservative. That’s a fact. It says so right on his signs,” thundered NDP candidate Joe Krmpotich, himself a Steelworker as well as a city councillor. “And what do Conservatives do? They try to destroy unions.” PC candidate Ross Romano, also a city councillor who shares a municipal ward with Krmpotich, fired back, “We’re not anti-union, Joe. C’mon! I don’t know what party you’re referring to. We are a new party with a new direction and a new leader.” The Liberal candidate, former mayor Debbie Amoroso, based her message on having a seat at the provincial table with the Liberals in power, exhorting, “I’m terrified that we will sit on our hands for 13 months because we wanted to send a message.” Earlier in the week, Amoroso sent out a rather bizarre statement claiming that Horwath is supporting her, quoting the NDP Leader as saying, “She seems to be a very strong woman … She loves this community. That came out in spades.” Whatever else may be happening in this by-election, Horwath is quite certainly not endorsing the Liberal candidate.
WHAT’S IN A NOM – Speaking of endorsing candidates, Brown has made it clear he will absolutely not do so until they are actually nominated. Brown is wise to steer clear of his party’s nomination process, which has been beset by an unusually high number of challengers and challenges. Fuelled by strong polling and a sense that the Tories are cruising to power, many ridings are seeing multiple contestants for the chance to carry the PC flag, and much grumbling about alleged dirty tricks to get there. So much so, Brown has hired private-sector auditing firm PwC to monitor the integrity of the nominations. While keeping his distance from the actual process, Brown did concede it’s a good problem to have. (Justin Trudeau’s federal Liberals had similar “problems” in the run-up to the 2015 federal election. Observed one old political wag, “Nomination problems seldom, if ever, affect the outcome in a riding on election day.”) In any case, Brown was no doubt relieved that one high-profile nomination meeting – in the riding he currently holds – didn’t spur any controversy. Brown will be running in a new riding come 2018, leaving Simcoe North open for the daughter of former MPP Garfield Dunlop. Jill Dunlop won the PC nomination last weekend in a vote that was relatively close but, thankfully for Brown, accepted as fair and square.
ACTION FIGURES – More evidence that the 2018 election campaign is, for all intents and purposes, already underway: The Ontario Liberals are launching province-wide “Days of Action” starting in early June. Not the protest kind favoured by unions, but the canvassing kind, taking a page out of the federal Liberal playbook. Leading up to the 2015 federal election, Liberals went door-to-door and set up phone banks, building a database for the campaign that many attributed with providing a solid foundation for their victory. Meanwhile, the LIBs continue to look for new ways to raise money, having hamstrung themselves (and other parties) with restrictive new rules. One of those rules is that sitting MPPs are not allowed to attend fundraisers, but that doesn’t preclude former MPPs from showing up – or former Premiers, as the case may be. Ex-Preems Dalton McGuinty and David Peterson are the headline attractions for a $500-a-pop cocktail reception scheduled for June 7.
IN THE HOUSE
Three government bills passed Third Reading: Bill 96, to increase protection for survivors and those at risk of human trafficking; Bill 124 to strengthen protections for tenants; and Bill 127, implementing the 2017-18 provincial Budget.
Once the Budget bill had passed, Finance Minister Charles Sousa introduced complementary legislation to implement components of the Budget. Bill 134, the Budget Measures Act (Housing Price Stability and Ontario Seniors’ Public Transit Tax Credit), would implement a 15% speculation tax on non-Canadians buying residential properties in the Greater Golden Horseshoe and enact a 15% public transit tax credit for seniors.
With the summer recess in sight, the Liberals instituted two-a-day debates to get through their legislative agenda, with the House sitting into the evening. MPPs won’t be sitting at all next week, then they’re back for just four days before knocking off for the summer June 1.
FOR THE RECORD
“This is an important milestone and a first step toward renewed discussions.”
Premier Kathleen Wynne, announcing that the government and Ontario Medical Association have reached a tentative deal for binding arbitration – which had been a key stumbling block in years of bitter and fruitless negotiations for a new contract covering Ontario doctors.
“He’s certainly done a lot of hard work to engage young people with our party, to engage folks in the broader GTA with our party.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, praising her caucus mate Jagmeet Singh as he launches his bid for the federal NDP leadership. Singh will stay on as MPP for Bramalea-Gore-Malton, but will relinquish his Deputy Leader’s post as well as his Attorney General, Anti-Racism and Government and Consumer Affairs critic portfolios.
“He grabbed all the forms and said that these will be counted by [the] party’s lawyers and placed them into a box.”
Part of allegations of “gross irregularities and voter fraud” against PC Party President Rick Dykstra, in an appeal filed by failed candidate Vikram Singh. Singh’s complaints about the Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas nomination meeting earlier this month essentially accused Dykstra and other party officials of ballot-stuffing, noting that they refused an open count of the credentials ballots, which he calculated would have to have been cast every 26 seconds.
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