WHAT WOULD YOU DO? – Deliberations over the next couple of days could have significant impact on next year’s provincial election, as hundreds of PC delegates gather for a policy conference to build their campaign platform. Or not – some say this weekend’s gathering isn’t much more than a pep rally, and that party strategists around Leader Patrick Brown will separately plot their platform course behind closed doors. Either way it’s a major event for Brown, as he addresses the delegates after lunch Saturday in arguably the most important speech of his political career. His supporters are looking for him to fire them up, while critics stand ready to pounce. In the latter category, the Toronto Star – never a big friend of the Tories – got the ball rolling with an editorial demanding that Brown do more than bash the unpopular Liberal government. “As an election strategy, this may well make sense. The Liberals will have been in power for 15 years by next June, and by now are being held responsible for every sparrow that falls from the sky,” the Star opined. “After so long in office they’ve made lots of mistakes and accumulated plenty of enemies, and voters may conclude that it’s simply time for a change. But six months out from the election, the PCs are doing voters a disservice by dodging almost all the big issues.”
RAISE THE STAKES – One issue Brown has a firm position on is the time-frame for raising Ontario’s minimum wage, having pledged to spread a dollar-an-hour increase over four years rather than one. As of this week, fulfilling that promise will require repealing legislation, as the Liberals’ controversial labour reform bill passed into law. Among other measures – some of which also displease the business community and could be in Brown’s bombsights – the legislation hikes the minimum wage to $14/hr this coming New Year’s Day. A bump to $15/hr is scheduled for the following January 1, but the Tories have vowed to delay implementation, increasing by 25 cents a year until 2022.
CHINA SHOP – Premier Kathleen Wynne’s name will not, oddly, be listed among MPPs who voted in favour of the labour reforms. She was out of the country for the Third Reading vote, leading a trade mission to China and Vietnam. (There were plenty of other Liberals in the House and the NDP – who lay claim to originating the $15/hr minimum wage push – grudgingly supported the bill, which passed 67-26.) The two-week trade mission, with about 100 business delegates in tow, is Wynne’s third to China, and her first to Vietnam – in fact, it’s the first to the Southeast Asian country by any Ontario Premier.
CLASS WAR – “This terrible chapter is over,” intoned Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews, after a weekend of emergency debate finally passed back-to-work legislation ending a five-week-old strike by college faculty. Politically, however the story is far from done, as rancour from the bitter dispute continues at Queen’s Park. At issue is the NDP’s refusal to allow swift passage of the bill, a calculated move by NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, who was able to reinforce her fidelity to organized labour while knowing the Liberal majority – with PC support – would get students back in class anyway. “Whether that process started Thursday or Friday makes no difference in terms of the outcome,” Horwath explained, seizing the opportunity to buttress her labour chops. “I do not believe in back-to-work legislation. New Democrats don’t believe in back-to-work legislation. It’s something we fundamentally think is a breach of people’s charter rights.” It’s no secret that the NDP has to woo back the labour movement – a founding core of the party, whose support has crumbled in recent years – to improve its electoral fortunes. But Horwath is gambling that voters won’t hold it against her. The Liberals would certainly encourage such public resentment, as evidenced by Matthews’ reaction to Horwath’s defence of the delay tactics: “That’s an astonishing statement … the strike could have gone on forever.” OPSEU President Warren “Smokey” Thomas cagily played both sides of the issue, offering, “If I was the Premier and it was down to this particular juncture, I’d do what she’s doing,” but adding that the union is launching a legal challenge of the legislation’s constitutionality.
JUST ASK HER – Before heading across the Pacific, Wynne took the unusual step of holding a Town Hall – unusual in that it was not the standard party-orchestrated, canned-questions-from-a-friendly-audience session. In fact, this one was rigidly neutral, paid for by the government (not the party) and devoid of any Liberal signage or control. Many of the questions at the Toronto event were outright hostile, including some from Ontario Proud, a pro-Conservative organization formed as a counterpoint to the anti-Conservative Working Families Coalition. But Wynne stoically parried the volleys, sometimes directly and often by defaulting to trusted message tracks. Similar meetings are reportedly in the works for other cities, and despite the obvious risks, the thinking is that by putting Wynne in the line of fire voluntarily the Liberals are deliberately trying to contrast her with Brown, suggesting he’s running a peek-a-boo campaign.
SARAH WRAP – Add New Democrat Sarah Campbell to the list of current MPPs who will not be seeking re-election next year. Campbell, who has held Kenora-Rainy River for seven years, revealed she is expecting a second child and wants to concentrate on her family. “I’m very passionate and committed to my job but I’m also passionate and committed to my family,” she said. “At the end of the day my family needs me just a little bit more and they need me at this particular time in our lives.” Campbell’s announcement brings the number of retiring MPPs to nine (6 Liberals, 2 NDP, 1 PC).
An updated wall chart listing MPP responsibilities is now available. Click here to download: MPP Chart
HOT ROD – One name that will be in the ballot in June is Rod Phillips – the former Civic Action and PostMedia Chair was nominated as the PC candidate for Ajax Wednesday night. (“Former” in that he resigned both of the above positions before the nomination meeting to avoid obvious conflicts. His past career also includes running Ontario Lottery and Gaming and overseeing the office of Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman.) Phillips is seen by many as a star candidate, rivalling Caroline Mulroney atop the Tories’ A-List. Notably, his nomination was only the second attended by Brown in person. Mulroney’s was the other. One negative sure to be raised by his opponents is that Phillips doesn’t live in Ajax, but his team isn’t worried about that. As one supporter quipped, “Everybody in Ajax is from somewhere else.” Phillips was formally nominated by the 2014 candidate Todd McCarthy (who lost to incumbent Liberal Joe Dickson) and one-time Ontario Finance Minister Janet Ecker. Behind the scenes, he is also getting help from notable Tory operatives, including the party’s former communications director Paul Rhodes. If the Tories and Phillips both win in next June’s election, most insiders figure he’s a lock for a senior cabinet post.
IN THE HOUSE
Labour Minister Kevin Flynn introduced Bill 178, the Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology Labour Dispute Resolution Act, to legislate an end to the strike by college faculty by imposing binding mediation-arbitration. After debating on Saturday and Sunday, the bill passed Third Reading by a vote of 39-18, with the NDP and independent MPP Jack MacLaren voting against it.
Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act reforming labour laws, passed Third Reading.
“We have some work to do to look at why the system failed students.”
Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews, after the government legislated an end to the college faculty strike that showed no signs of being resolved any other way.
“A lot of us pay $500 just for rent. [Post-strike hardship funding] hardly puts a dent in our costs … We’ve been laughing about that, because it’s pretty much a joke.”
Fanshawe College student Caitlin Foulon, who is advocating for a class-action lawsuit in the wake of the strike, unimpressed by the province’s offer of up to $500 per student to cover unexpected costs related to the walkout.
“Although Patrick Brown is a pale miniature of Mike Harris … I’m with Andrea when it comes to strategic voting.”
Former NDP Leader Stephen Lewis, exhorting delegates at the Ontario Federation of Labour convention to stick with Andrea Horwath’s NDP rather than supporting Liberal candidates to block the Tories.
“It defies common sense and logic to suggest that this ‘nuclear’ approach was aimed at deleting personal photographs, medical records, résumés and similar documents.”
Crown prosecutor Tom Lemon, summing up his case against former Liberal senior aides David Livingston and Laura Miller, arguing they illegally cleared government computers to get rid of politically sensitive emails. Livingston’s defence lawyer Scott Hutchison countered that there was no evidence to suggest duplicity, submitting, “They asked for permission and they got permission.” Judge Timothy Lipson has reserved his verdict until January 19.
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