ONTARIO LEGISLATIVE HIGHLIGHTS

October 13, 2017


WEEKLY ROUNDUP

YOU SAY YOU WANT A RESOLUTION – In about six weeks the Ontario PC Party will convene for its much-touted Election Readiness & Policy Convention, which could well be the most critical event before next year’s provincial election. This week we got a sense of the substance of the coming discussions, with the release of 139 policy resolutions to be brought to the convention floor. As usual for these types of exercises, much of the content is vague – such as pledges to “make life more affordable for families with young children,” “put consumers first in all branches of government,” “improve student math scores” and “get the provincial debt under control” – without much detail on how to meet these lofty goals. Many of the proposals are also prefaced by non-committal verbs like “address,” “explore,” “take action,” “prioritize” and “encourage” – again planting a flag but not tackling implementation. Some are basically there to criticize the Liberals, such as the reference to wasted tax dollars “on everything from luxury winter jackets and giant rubber ducks” in a proposal to “commit to responsible spending.” There are a few specifics, including a promise to repeal the Green Energy Act (which in the proposed resolution is disparaged as “more appropriately known as the Bad Contracts Act”) and to require mandatory training in Geriatrics for all medical grads and health care practitioners. The challenge for PC Leader Patrick Brown and his strategic team is to weave these grassroots, ‘motherhood’ concepts into a bigger platform and, more importantly, to come up with some ‘wow’ policies to grab voters’ attention.

“Any policy that attempts to limit a woman’s right to choose or the ability of same-sex couples to marry are off limits, period. I’m not going to say it’s even up for consideration when I personally could not defend that or support it.”

  • PC Leader Brown, making it clear that social conservative issues will not be on the table at next month’s police conference.

GOODBYE GIRLS – Premier Kathleen Wynne obviously knew it was coming – she had an effusive statement all ready to go – but the announcement that Deb Matthews and Liz Sandals won’t be seeking re-election had to be a tough pill to swallow. Both are senior members of the cabinet – significantly, the senior-most women in cabinet – and both have been staunch Wynne supporters and confidantes. Not at all surprisingly, Wynne’s critics are trumpeting the news as abandonment in the face of looming defeat, but both Matthews and Sandals were adamant that they simply want to do something else. “I’m not jumping ship,” Matthews insisted, taking the words out of her opponents’ mouths, “I’m changing roles.” Sandals offered that she’s “ready to be a full-time grandmother.” Both were equally adamant that they still have faith in Wynne, and Matthews will stay on as Liberal campaign co-chair. But Wynne now has a conundrum about whether to shuffle her cabinet, with three of her top ministers – Matthews, Sandals and Brad Duguid – confirming they won’t be on the ballot next June. Wynne has to decide whether to leave them in place, leaning toward experience and stability in the crucial months leading up to the election, or promote backbenchers, boosting the profiles of MPPs who will be running again but heightening the risk of rookie mistakes at a very bad time.

An updated wall chart listing MPP responsibilities is now available. Click here to download: MPP Chart

LET MY PEOPLE GO – We won’t know for a couple of weeks whether the Sudbury bribery trial will continue, but observations from the courtroom this week would suggest it’s all but over. Defence lawyers for Liberal operatives Pat Sorbara and Gerry Lougheed argued for a “directed verdict” – essentially saying there’s no need for them to call witnesses because the Crown failed to make its case. On the issue of whether would-be Liberal by-election candidate Andrew Olivier was offered an inducement to step aside, the defence asserted – as testified by Premier Wynne herself – that the decision had already been made to appoint Glenn Thibeault as the candidate. “No nomination meeting was held. Neither Mr. Olivier, nor anyone else, was permitted to seek the [Liberal] candidacy,” the defence team submitted. “Mr. Olivier’s ‘wishful thinking’ that he would be able to persuade the premier to change her mind was a product of his own self-induced misconception.” On the separate charge that Sorbara had promised paid jobs to Thibeault’s staff to convince him to defect from the federal NDP, the defence position – as testified by Thibeault himself – was that Sorbara indicated only that it was “doable.” Judge Howard Borenstein commented that he was having a hard time seeing that as an offence – leading to the speculation he will terminate the proceedings. As Postmedia’s Chris Selley reported, “Much as the Crown appeals to ‘common sense,’ it has struggled throughout this trial to make Sorbara’s and Lougheed’s actions appear especially unsavoury, let alone illegal.” Borenstein has set October 24 as the date for his ruling on the directed verdict motion.

COLLEGE TRY – Labour peace has been a key theme for Wynne’s Liberals, and they were much relieved to lock up contracts with teachers and most civil servants – in terms, importantly, that stretch beyond next year’s election. But the peace may be shattered in a few days, as the union representing 12,000 college workers has set this coming Monday as a strike date. The union happens to be OPSEU, which has been loudly critical of Wynne for years despite settlements with most of its public sector members. In a news release, the union insisted that money is not the sole sticking point, citing rejection of proposals for “including the voices of faculty and students in academic decisions” as one of the reasons talks broke down.

HOGTOWN COUNTDOWN – Pre-election periods tend to be boons for pollsters, and right on cue we’re seeing an upsurge in research aimed at predicting where voters are headed – notwithstanding recent history showing pre-election polls to be wildly off the mark. (This is not unlike the stretch run of any sports season, where pundits and analysts calculate the likelihood of a particular team’s playoff chances, almost never correctly.)  Interestingly, a Toronto-based poll by DART Insight and Communications, commissioned by Newstalk 1010 radio, highlighted that very unpredictability. On one hand, the poll indicated that Wynne’s Liberals are in trouble in Toronto – which would effectively destroy any chance they have of winning provincially. Only 25% of Torontonians polled supported the LIBs, while a full 44% said they absolutely will not be voting Liberal next June. But on the other hand, 45% said they are still open to voting Liberal, depending on how the campaign unfolds.

IN THE HOUSE

  • The Legislature did not sit this week.  MPPs return on Monday for a three-week stint, followed by another constituency break the week of November 6. After that they’re in the House for five full weeks before the winter recess scheduled for December 14.

FOR THE RECORD

“People give their time. They do an enormous amount, and then we need to, without rancour or criticism, let them make a decision that’s good for their families and good for themselves … We owe [them] that.”

  • Premier Kathleen Wynne, downplaying the meaning of MPPs deciding to retire from politics.

“[The] shoe doesn’t fit. I was a backbench member of a broader team. Now that I’m the leader of the party I can much [more] clearly speak from my own heart. Rather than criticize the fact that opinions have evolved, we should celebrate it.”

  • PC Leader Patrick Brown, dismissing Liberal efforts to paint him as a social conservative based on his time in Ottawa with the Harper government.

“The intent of this was to give First Nations a voice, which they didn’t get. This is colonialism in full bloom.”

  • NDP MPP Gilles Bisson, echoing the concerns of some First Nations leaders that the way two new ridings in Northern Ontario have been mapped out will limit Indigenous representation.
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