POLICY ACADEMY – Few exercises elicit simultaneous enthusiasm and cynicism quite like “grassroots engagement” as political parties develop their election platforms. Idealists embrace the opportunity to have a say in the democratic process, keen to draw attention to their pet issues, while skeptics scoff at lip service, convinced that party brass will cherry-pick the input then do whatever they want anyway. Against this backdrop, both the Liberals and PCs have embarked on extensive outreach campaigns. Premier Kathleen Wynne kicked off the Liberals’ “Common Ground” promotion at the party’s provincial council meeting in Kitchener last weekend, gushing, “I know you have great ideas and I want to hear what you think would make Ontario better – in any and every way!” and promising that the “top ideas” will be included in the platform (albeit with no specific criteria about what defines “top” – see skepticism, above.) Visitors to the Common Ground website can submit ideas and/or vote on others’ proposals, but the scores are non-binding, and the party makes it clear it reserves the right to choose as it sees fit. Patrick Brown’s Tories, meanwhile, are in the process of gauging grassroots views on the scores of motions put forward for their big policy convention later this month. Many of those proposals are vague and aspirational (hard to imagine anyone being against a motion to “create a world-class home care system”) but party members are voting online in the run-up to the conference, and the tallies will at least partly guide the conference flow. Presumably the NDP will eventually go down a similar path – although for now their platform deliberations are strictly internal.
STANDING (FOR) PAT –Aside from launching the policy crowdsourcing, last weekend’s Liberal meeting was notable mostly for the triumphant return of operations guru Pat Sorbara, fresh off being acquitted on bribery charges stemming from the 2015 Sudbury by-election. Sorbara, who is known to shun the spotlight, was reportedly surprised to be introduced to the crowd and seemed genuinely moved by the standing ovation that greeted her when she did take the stage. Getting back Sorbara’s organizational prowess has given downhearted Liberals – reeling every time a poll comes out showing them trailing badly – some hope their campaign ship can be righted. They also took heart at the relatively large turnout for the provincial council meetings, with representatives from 76 ridings. This was interpreted as a sign of strong grassroots support – contrary to the Facebook musings of former Deputy Premier George Smitherman, whose anti-Wynne post (after his aspirations for a return to provincial politics were rebuffed by the party) was a hot topic of hallway conversation at the Kitchener gathering.
AGE OF INNOCENCE – Another big chatter topic – not just among Liberals but throughout Queen’s Park – is the court cases involving Liberal operatives, and whether the political climate will change in the absence of convictions. Sorbara has already been cleared, and the most serious charges against former senior aides David Livingston and Laura Miller have also been dropped, in recognition that there isn’t enough evidence to support breach of trust. On lesser charges, mischief related to data and unauthorized use of computers, Judge Timothy Lipson decided to keep the trial going, rejecting the defence argument that the whole thing should be dismissed. Lipson was careful to explain that his ruling is not a finding of guilt, only that it is still a possibility. As the trial continues, Livingston and Miller will present their defence, but the proceedings will now last at least until January. That’s unfortunate for the Liberals, in that if there is a conviction it will come close to the start of the election campaign. Of course, even if Livingston and Miller are acquitted, the other parties, having touted the trials as symptomatic of Liberal corruption, aren’t about to abandon that narrative. Indeed, as the editors of the Toronto Sun – no fans of the Liberals – wrote, “The guilt or innocence of the accused is up to the courts. Whether what the Liberals did was wrong is up to the public to decide.”
IT’S ACADEMIC – As the strike by 12,000 college faculty drags on, political parties at Queen’s Park are bracing for government intervention that now seems inevitable. They all breathed a sigh of relief last week when contract negotiations resumed and a settlement appeared nigh. But on Monday the talks broke off again, with the College Employer Council – representing management of the province’s 24 colleges – asking the Labour Relations Board to schedule a vote on the current offer on the table. It’s possible the strikers will accept the deal, but that is unlikely given that their OPSEU leadership is unequivocally urging them to reject it. In the meantime, some 500,000 college students are still out of class, worried about losing the entire semester. Some 105 MPPs are equally worried about how this plays out, feeling the heat from angry constituents and preparing for the very real possibility of back-to-work legislation. Premier Wynne pleaded for patience – “I’m not going to preempt a vote. Let the process unfold,” she said after being confronted by protestors at a Hamilton-area seniors centre – while Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews again played the empathy card, offering, “I know students are feeling the effects of this strike deeply and I share their concern.”
GETTING EVEN – The college strike, like every other issue right now, has to be viewed through the prism of how it might affect next year’s election, and each party is vigilantly scrutinizing shifts in public opinion. While most polls continue to show the Tories with a substantial lead in popularity, Campaign Research surveys suggest a much closer race. A new poll published in the Toronto Star found Liberal support holding steady at 32%, but that puts them a point closer to the frontrunning PCs, who dropped to 35% support from 36% a month ago. Campaign Research reported NDP support down a couple of points to 23%, with those two points apparently picked up by the Green Party, who were backed by 9% of the respondents.
RUMOURS & RUMBLINGS
PLAYING TO WINDSOR
Former Ontario NDP Deputy Leader Jagmeet Singh’s ascension to the federal party leadership continues to reverberate around Queen’s Park. The latest speculation has him pondering Windsor as a possible place to seek a federal seat. (Singh, who represented a Brampton-area riding provincially, has pledged to lead the federal NDP from outside the House of Commons, but he will face increasing pressure to land a seat so he can join debates and Question Period.) Windsor used to be a Liberal stronghold, but the NDP swept all three ridings – two Windsor seats and the surrounding Essex – in 2014. If the city becomes Singh’s home base, that kind of presence would take much of the air out of Liberal efforts to win them back.
IN THE HOUSE
The Legislature was dark this week, as MPPs headed to their home ridings for the lead up to Remembrance Day services. They’re also off Monday (a government holiday because Remembrance Day falls on a Saturday), then return Tuesday for a five-week stint – the longest continuous stretch of the entire parliamentary calendar, before the winter break scheduled for December 14.
FOR THE RECORD
“The Liberals’ approach seems to ramp up criminalization of pot outside the government monopoly, which undermines the reasons for legalizing it in the first place.”
Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner, opposing the Liberal government’s Cannabis Act that sets out the guidelines for sale and consumption of marijuana once the federal government makes it legal on July 1.
“If this is an example of what we may face under a PC government it’s all the more reason to consider a party that speaks for you and only you. By the way, Vic,‘GAME ON’.”
Northern Ontario Party Leader Trevor Holliday, throwing down the gauntlet to Nipissing PC MPP Vic Fedeli, after the latter accused the NOP of attempting to mislead Northerners with “false facts.”
“This is what I would call the nuclear response to some really specific problems.”
London medical officer of health Chris Mackie, arguing that the government’s plan to scrap local health units and create 14 larger public health agencies across the province is a serious over-reaction.
“Devastating news about Toronto @bluejays legend @RoyHalladay. The ‘doc’ was truly one of our all-time greats. #RIP.”
Tweet from PC Leader Patrick Brown, known as a huge sports fan, following the death of former Toronto Blue Jays ace pitcher Roy Halladay in a plane crash.
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