GET BACK – Some half a million Ontario college students woke up this morning still in limbo, but with an expectation that the faculty strike that has kept them out of class for five weeks will soon be over. All that’s between them and a return to campus is political posturing, as the New Democrats chose this moment to reaffirm their standing as the party of organized labour. After a forced vote on the final college contract offer was resoundingly rejected (86% of the strikers gave it the thumbs down), and the two sides couldn’t reach a last-ditch deal, the Liberals stepped in with back-to-work legislation. Or tried to – Legislature rules require all-party consent to introduce legislation after the allotted time, and the NDP thwarted the move. MPPs will reconvene today for a rare Friday sitting, and Premier Kathleen Wynne said they’ll debate all weekend if necessary to get the bill passed, with the NDP dictating how quickly or not it happens. Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews didn’t mince words in disparaging the NDP stance – “We could have done it in 10 minutes … students have suffered enough,” she fumed – but NDP Leader Andrea Horwath stuck to her guns, calling the legislation “reckless” and vowing that she “will not support any legislation that takes away the rights of any workers in this province.” It’s a political risk for sure, but Horwath has obviously calculated that it’s necessary to try and win back labour support – and the on-the-ground resources it brings – that has drifted to the Liberals in recent elections.
SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF – A joke making the rounds in the early 1990s went something like this: How do you create small business in Ontario? Start with large business, and wait. Such “humour” was lethal for the then-NDP government, and the current Liberal regime is well aware that perceived ill treatment of small business would seriously damage their own re-election hopes. Hence this week’s package of goodies ostensibly to ease the impact of pending increases in the province’s minimum wage. Couched as part of Finance Minister Charles Sousa’s fall economic update – titled “A Strong and Fair Ontario,” which no doubt prefaces the Liberals’ campaign theme – the business-friendly measures include cutting corporate income tax rates for small business owners from 4.5% to 3.5%, and $124 million in new incentives for small companies to hire and retain young people. As far as the fiscal report itself, Sousa crowed about economic growth forecast at 2.8% in 2017 – higher than earlier projections – and reiterated, again, that the budget will be balanced at least until 2019-20, which will surely be another Liberal talking point throughout Campaign 2018.
NOT SO FAST – If the Liberals were hoping the minimum wage hike would create a wedge issue in next year’s election, it appears the Tories are happy to oblige. PC Leader Patrick Brown had been walking a tightrope in not wanting to be seen as hard-heartedly opposing the increase, but also needing to champion businesses – many of whom are core PC supporters – opposed to the extra financial burden it will create for them. His position had been that the hike was being implemented too quickly, and this week his party put their own time-frame on it, pledging a more gradual phase in of 25 cents a year (rather than the Liberals’ dollar a year), delaying the full $15/hour minimum until 2022. “Ontario families deserve a much more reasonable approach,” intoned PC MPP John Yakabuski, subbing in for Brown. Right on cue the wedge politics kicked in, with the Liberals and NDP chastizing the Tories – or in the NDP’s case, the Tories and the Liberals. “It just shows how out of touch the Conservatives are – almost as bad as the Liberals,” Horwath thundered. “Working people of this province deserve a raise.” Premier Wynne chimed in with a curt, “A delay is a denial.”
VIDEO GAMES – Within hours of the Tories’ minimum wage announcement, Horwath used it as a catapult into the online advertising war. She quickly tweeted a video, with the caption “Patrick Brown won’t tell us what his Conservative plan is, but now he admits he will block a $15 minimum wage … [dramatic pause] … Until 2022.” The ad goes on to tar the Liberals and Tories together, charging, “Wynne made life tougher for the middle class in Ontario, but Patrick Brown would make things even worse for the middle class.” Cue the upbeat music, and a shot of a smiling Horwath meeting constituents in a park on a sunny day, with superimposed notes about “Andrea’s commitments … $15 min wage for ALL … 3 weeks vacation after a year … Making it easier to join a union.” The spot concludes with the NDP’s latest version of a campaign slogan: “A plan that offers hope. A leader we can count on to deliver.”
TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS – Looks like the court case involving two former senior Liberal aides won’t drag into the new year after all. The trial of David Livingston and Laura Miller on charges of illegally deleting government computer files resumes next week, but time allotted for the defence to present its case won’t be used. In a brief appearance this week, lawyers opted to call “no evidence” and move directly into their closing arguments, so one way or another the proceedings will wrap up shortly – and the political parties can start managing the partisan fallout. Not so for allegations of cheating in PC nominations, which now threaten to dog the Tories for months. Hamilton police confirmed they have undertaken a criminal investigation into accusations of fraud in the May 7 nomination meeting in Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas – separate from the civil suit launched by spurned candidate Vikram Singh. Depending on how this goes, disgruntled would-be candidates in half a dozen other ridings could pursue similar action.
RICKFORD NATION – Another of Brown’s former federal caucus mates is back on his team, with Greg Rickford pegged to run for the Tories provincially in Kenora-Rainy River. Unlike Brown, Rickford was a cabinet minister under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, but lost his seat – which he had held since 2008 – to Liberal Bob Nault in the 2015 federal election. Provincially, Kenora-Rainy river has been an NDP stronghold for decades. Incumbent MPP Sarah Campbell took the seat in 2011, succeeding former NDP Leader Howard Hampton, for whom Campbell had worked as a riding assistant.
IN THE HOUSE
Sousa introduced Bill 177, the Stronger, Fairer Ontario Act (Budget Measures), to implement measures contained in the 2017 Ontario Budget.
FOR THE RECORD
“It’s not our role to tell consumers which cars to buy. I’m a pickup truck guy. I don’t apologize for that.”
Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid, welcoming the jobs that will be created in Ontario when Fiat Chrysler manufactures the Dodge Demon – a decidedly not environmentally-friendly 840-horsepower muscle car – in Brampton.
“It’s nobody’s business who is driving with whom, at what time of day.”
Former Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian (now leading the Privacy by Design Centre of Excellence at Ryerson University), alarmed by the province pursuing plans to use drones to monitor highway traffic.
“They had a political motive … let’s throw it in the cannabis bill and make it difficult for the Conservatives to vote against.”
PC MPP Michael Harris, accusing the Liberals of setting a voting trap by bundling his proposals for better school bus protection into omnibus legislation with new marijuana laws. Attorney General Yasir Naqvi, who sponsored the bill, dismissed the allegation as “just conspiracy thinking.”
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