WOO-HOO SOO – As expected, just days after the Liberal candidate was nominated for the Sault Ste. Marie by-election – former Mayor Debbie Amaroso was acclaimed on Sunday – the government dropped the writ to officially launch the campaign. Sault voters will go to the polls on June 1, meaning that whoever wins won’t get to take their new seat in the Legislature until the fall, since the House rises for the summer that very same day. All three major candidates have a municipal pedigree, with PC Ross Romano and New Democrat Joe Krmpotich both current city councillors. To support them, waves of volunteers – many of them political staffers – will now start pouring into The Soo, with much at stake. The by-election outcome won’t change the configuration at Queen’s Park – the LIBs will still have their majority regardless – but coming almost exactly one year before the next general election everyone will be looking for momentum. In theory it’s a three-way race, with each of the parties having won the riding in the past, although for the Tories that was ancient history (they last held the seat in 1985). Sault Ste. Marie has had an interesting voting pattern, in that voters there don’t change allegiances very often. The riding was PC from 1951 to 1985, then spent 18 years as an NDP bastion, and has been Liberal since 2003.
MENAGE À TORY – Premier Kathleen Wynne and PC Leader Patrick Brown will go head to head in the provincial election in June 2018. A few months later, Toronto Mayor John Tory will also be asking for a new mandate in a municipal vote, but given the way Wynne and Brown are treating him they evidently expect him to wield plenty of influence on the provincial stage. Tory, whose own popularity suggests he will face little competition for re-election, is milking it for all he can, applying pressure to get more money from Queen’s Park. An archetype “Red Tory,” the Toronto Mayor would, theoretically, be equally comfortable with the Liberals or PCs (and indeed his campaign team included many from both camps). But he is also a former PC Leader, and at the moment he seems to be leaning toward the party of his roots – to the point of appearing to be openly campaigning against the Liberals. Ostensibly Tory was griping about a lack of funding for social housing in the recently-tabled Ontario Budget, but the leaflets he was handing out featured a picture of the local Liberal MPP and the caption, “The Ontario government is not helping to get your housing fixed.” Tory insisted that he was not campaigning for or against anyone, but the LIBs were miffed at what they saw as undue partisanship, and took the rare step of dispatching a cabinet minister to intervene with the media. “There’s a fine line between passionate advocacy for your community and moving in a different direction altogether,” Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca told reporters. “I would say [Tory’s] behaviour in the last couple of days is … a little bit over the line.” Perhaps the more important point was where Del Duca made the comments – at City Hall, just after Tory had met with Brown. Clearly that was making the LIBs uneasy – notwithstanding that Tory has vowed to regularly meet with all the provincial leaders. Brown emerged with a list of (albeit vague) commitments he made to Tory, several of which started, “Say yes, where Wynne has said no…” to things like allowing Toronto Community Housing to purchase natural gas independently. “Toronto needs a partner they can trust and rely on, who honours commitments that have been made,” Brown pronounced. “We will fight for the city of Toronto.”
DAVE’S NOT HERE –Rumours continue to abound that a whack of current Liberal MPPs will bid adieu before the next election, and while most of that is still hearsay, one long-time member is on the verge of retirement. Brant MPP Dave Levac is reportedly set to announce today that he will not seek re-election. This will no doubt trigger a chorus of “abandoning ship” from the other parties, who are revelling in the speculation that LIBs are giving up in the face of worrisome polls. But those close to Levac, who has been Speaker of the House since 2011 – and therefore largely shielded from partisan hostilities – say he has simply had enough of politics. He was first elected in 1999 and remains quite popular in the riding. With him gone, next year’s election will show whether Brant was a Liberal seat or a Levac seat.
TOUR DE FORCE – One of the sidebars to the Sault Ste. Marie by-election – and ultimately the provincial election next year – will be how the parties raise money in the wake of new rules, which include a prohibition against MPPs and candidates personally attending fundraisers. All of the parties are waging almost non-stop campaigns to solicit donations from supporters. These pleas for cash also serve as testing grounds for messaging, such as a recent Liberal missive with a headline proclaiming, “Government can be a FORCE FOR GOOD” – which offers an idea of how they want to position themselves. In another development, the LIBs are also experimenting with fundraising events that might have some appeal when political face-time isn’t on offer. The party’s first fundraising event of the year, coming up on May 17, is a reception featuring author and humourist Terry Fallis.
CONDOLENCES IN CAMBRIDGE – MPPs observed a moment of silence in the House this week, after they learned the sad news that Gerry Martiniuk had died at age 78. Martiniuk was the PC MPP for Cambridge from 1995 to 2011, winning four elections before he retired. “Gerry always put his constituents first,” the current Cambridge MPP, Liberal Kathryn McGarry said in a statement. “He was a fixture in the riding and always made time to talk to, and spend time with, the various groups that make up our community.”
IN THE HOUSE
No government bills were introduced or passed this week.
FOR THE RECORD
“Of course politicians, human beings, love to be loved. But this budget and my political career is not about … me being loved. Whether people love me or not is beside the point. The election will come. There will be a poll on that day and the people of Ontario will decide. In the interim, I am going to be working as hard as I can to do everything that I can to help people.”
Premier Kathleen Wynne, at a post-Budget event, insisting that her unpopularity is not what’s driving her policy decisions.
“[The Budget] may be a real game-changer … a true milestone for a government that has been under significant pressure for some time. The Budget confirms what many of us have suspected for some time: Things have improved dramatically in Ontario.”
Former Liberal Finance Minister and party president Greg Sorbara, whose pronouncement last month of “grave, grave doubt” about Wynne’s re-election chances was seen as a gut punch, apparently more bullish after the Budget.
“This has been an incredible year of my own personal metamorphosis … Personally, I’m out on my skates like I was 20 years ago, playing and training hockey teams. I’ve also taken up rugby, though I’m anything but good at it. Most of all, I’ve been through hell and I’ve come out on the other side and want to make sure other families going through the horror of mental illness have resources to help them.”
PC MPP Lisa MacLeod, in an Ottawa Sun guest column, marking the one-year anniversary of her publicly disclosing she was suffering from depression and anxiety.
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