COLLEGE STATIONS – With polls showing the governing Liberals still facing a monumental challenge in trying to get re-elected, the last thing they need is to be sucked into the vortex of a bitter labour dispute. So they have their fingers crossed that talks to end the three-weeks-and-counting strike by 12,000 college faculty will quickly bear fruit. Technically, the government isn’t actually a party to the negotiations, which pits college management against workers represented by OPSEU (the provincial civil service union). But Queen’s Park is involved – quite literally, in that the Legislature grounds were the site of not one but two strike-related rallies this week. Wednesday it was students calling for government intervention to save their semester, and Thursday it was a union-led protest to show support for the strikers. Premier Kathleen Wynne wouldn’t rule out back-to-work legislation, but got some hope when the two sides returned to the bargaining table late this week. Seven months before the provincial election, the Liberals have plenty to lose depending on how this plays out: Irk organized labour and they risk losing the on-the-ground support that has contributed to their election wins since 2003; facilitate an expensive settlement and they potentially stoke Opposition claims of fiscal mismanagement.
SPINNING A 45 – Speaking of polls showing the Liberals trailing in popularity, the latest from Forum Research is rather emphatic in that category. Conducted last week – albeit before two Liberal operatives were acquitted on bribery charges – Forum found the Tories with a whopping 45% support, compared to just 24% for the Liberals and, in what amounts to a statistical tie, 22% for the NDP.
NOMS IN THE NEWS – As well as campaigning to stay on as Premier come next June, Wynne also aspires to continue as the MPP for Don Valley West. Wynne was formally nominated – unopposed, of course – as the Liberal candidate for the riding at an event in Leaside last Sunday. Meanwhile, in other nomination developments:
A potential bellwether battle is shaping up for the new seat of Scarborough North. Toronto Councillor Chin Lee announced that he will run for the Liberals, going head-to-head against PC incumbent – and also former Toronto Councillor – Raymond Cho. The new riding, carved out of portions of Scarborough-Agincourt and Scarborough-Rouge River, includes some neighbourhoods that both had as constituencies when they were on council.
The Tories have landed another big-name candidate, with Rod Phillips running for the nomination in Ajax. Phillips was a senior staffer in the Harris government, went on to run Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman’s office, was CEO of Ontario Lottery and Gaming and is currently chair of Postmedia. Assuming he gets the PC nod, he’ll be trying to unseat Liberal Joe Dickson, whose Ajax-Pickering riding will be split.
INJURIOUS GEORGE – One Liberal who apparently won’t be on the ballot in June is ex-Deputy Premier George Smitherman – and he’s not happy about it. Smitherman caused a stir with a Facebook post this week suggesting he wanted to attempt a provincial comeback in Toronto Centre but was stymied by party brass. “These last couple of months I uncovered a terrible truth about today’s Ontario Liberal Party. The grassroots have all but died off,” he wrote, in what is tantamount to treason in partisan politics. He blamed Wynne directly, complaining that what had been a Liberal stronghold has a weak riding association, but “the leader’s first and only instinct was to suffocate the only real opportunity to give birth again to the grass roots [sic] nomination process that is open to all and was once the standard for our democracy.” He even made reference to the bribery trial – obviously a sore spot for Liberals – by sniping, “Just like in Sudbury rather than do the heavy lifting and nurture the grassroots the leader’s preference is apparently the same, that is poach a politician from another party and hope that name recognition carries the day. I think that luck is going to end badly for the Liberals.” Smitherman – who left Queen’s Park to run for Toronto mayor in the 2010 election, but lost to Rob Ford – concluded his rant by pledging to run municipally again, in the Toronto seat previously held by the late Pam McConnell.
NORTH POLL – As PC Leader Patrick Brown’s big policy forum approaches – the “2017 Election Readiness and Policy Convention” is slated for Toronto’s Congress Centre November 25 – he has started setting some ground rules for how the policy proposals will or won’t come forward. For starters, he declared that 10 (of the overall 139) motions pertaining specifically to Northern Ontario can only be debated and voted on by delegates from that part of the province. “Ontario is a diverse province, but there is no region more unique than the North. That’s why I strongly believe that northerners should have the final say on some of the major issues specific to the region,” Brown said in a news release. So far it’s the only group to have special voting status.
RUMOURS & RUMBLINGS
CRASH AND BERN
While Premier Wynne was basking in the reflected glow of the left-wing love-in for U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders last weekend (see For the Record, below), some New Democrats were reportedly miffed at what they saw as Wynne scooping their moment. Yes, she’s the Premier, but there was grumbling that her private meetings with Sanders and platform to introduce him enabled her to once again outflank the NDP on the left. Despite the predominantly NDP crowd, Wynne’s introductory speech was met with warm, and occasionally loud applause, such as when she spoke about issues dear to the left like hiking the minimum wage. Newly-elected federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was not on the program, but he was at the event and was recognized during the thank-you after Sanders spoke. Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath was nowhere to be seen – nor did she or her office tweet about Sanders’ visit.
IN THE HOUSE
Attorney General Yasir Naqvi introduced Bill 174, the Cannabis, Smoke-Free Ontario and Road Safety Statute Law Amendment Act, to regulate the use and distribution of recreational cannabis when it is legalized by the federal government in July 2018.
Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Marie-France Lalonde introduced Bill 175, the Safer Ontario Act, touted as the “largest policing transformation in a generation,” including measures to mandate local community safety planning and modernize police oversight.
Private member’s bills rarely pass, but a couple introduced this week succeeded in at least generating some buzz – and their titles are certainly amusing. Liberal Yvan Baker’s Phones Down, Heads Up Act – immediately dubbed the “Zombie Law” – would penalize pedestrians for crossing the street while looking at their mobile devices; PC Norm Miller’s Reducing Waste One Pod at a Time Act would mandate that all Keurig-style coffee pods be compostable.
FOR THE RECORD
“It is a shame, it is a disgrace. That is what happens when billionaires are able to buy a political party. Don’t let it happen in Canada.”
Independent U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders– the former Democratic presidential nominee widely embraced as the darling of the left – decrying the American healthcare system, at a sold-out speech at the University of Toronto last weekend.
“In this period of rapid social and economic change, someone like Senator Sanders encourages us to think big, and take bold steps to build the kind of world we want to live in.”
Premier Kathleen Wynne, who met with and then introduced Sanders at the Toronto event.
“The people of the province got to watch what the inner workings of the Liberal party looks like and it wasn’t pretty. It was really disappointing to see the premier testifying at the trial. [But] at the end of the day, the justice system does the work that it does.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, not about to let the Liberals off the hook despite the acquittal of two senior operatives on bribery charges in Sudbury.
“In all relationships, sometimes you take a little break. And this was like a summer break. And now we’re back here in the fall and we’re doing things together, and we’re doing things for the benefit of the people we both serve.”
Toronto Mayor John Tory, intimating that things are all patched up between him and Wynne, after a very public spat earlier this year.
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