COURTROOM DRAMA – Maybe we should change the name of this publication to Ontario Judicial Highlights, with legal matters swamping political business these days. To recap just the last few days:
ACQUITTING TIME – The Sudbury bribery trial of Liberal operatives Pat Sorbara and Gerry Lougheed is over, terminated by the judge’s ruling that the Crown had failed to make its case even before the defence called any evidence. Sorbara was immediately reinstated in her old job running the Ontario Liberal Party’s election effort, while Liberal supporters lit up social media to welcome her back and exult about vindication. Both Opposition parties, however, having hyped the trial as a proof point of Liberal skulduggery, didn’t let the acquittals deter them. “This whole episode is but one part of a consistent pattern of political corruption,” chided PC Leader Patrick Brown. “We’re worried about what they’ve been able to keep hidden and are fearful of what scandal will come next.” NDP MPP Gilles Bisson scoffed that the accused “got off on a technicality.”
ONTARIO LIBEL PARTY – Brown’s post-acquittal comments made it clear he is not afraid of a libel lawsuit from Premier Kathleen Wynne, which took another step forward this week when Wynne’s lawyers served formal legal papers to Brown. At issue is his depiction of Wynne herself being “on trial” in Sudbury, a statement Wynne’s lawyers claim is defamatory – exacerbated, they argue, when his initial response was to say she was “debased” and “humiliated” by testifying at the trial. Brown reacted to this latest development by doubling down. “Make no mistake, it is political corruption that’s on trial,” Brown wrote in a statement. “And the premier is oblivious to the fact that her party is politically corrupt.” Brown’s lawyers have responded that if the case is going to proceed they want to do so quickly, adding a jibe that, “It is regrettable that the premier’s response to discussion of this government’s ethical record is to consume Ontario’s scarce judicial resources through libel actions.”
PROVE THE RULE – While the Sudbury trial is done, another politically-tinged trial is still in its early stages. At this point we have only heard from the Crown, which is aiming to prove that former senior Liberal staffers David Livingston and Laura Miller broke the law by circumventing rules around erasing computer files in the Premier’s Office. Much of the testimony so far has revolved around civil servants and their views on how the process was supposed to work. We did get a glimpse into the defence strategy, with cross-examination focusing on whether explicit instructions – or warnings – were issued regarding IT procedures.
SINGH HER PRAISES – Former NDP MPP Jagmeet Singh hadn’t been around Queen’s Park much in recent months as he ran – successfully – for the federal party leadership. But one of his first acts in his new job was to drop by his old haunt, to say goodbye to his former caucus mates and, most importantly, to reconfirm his allegiance with Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. Singh has now formally resigned his Bramalea-Gore-Malton seat, which will stay vacant until next June’s general election. But he was adamant he won’t be leaving his Ontario comrades behind. “I’ve committed to supporting the provincial party. I have a personal reason: these are my colleagues, my friends. I also have a vested interest in the benefit of the province and of the country,” he avowed. Presuming that Singh has a honeymoon period in Ottawa – most of the early commentary has been about how he can go toe-to-toe with charismatic Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – this could go either way for Horwath. On one hand, she could bask in his reflected glow, with Ontario voters suddenly taking a closer look at the NDP as a viable option. On the other hand, she could seem bland in comparison. Horwath naturally expects the former, gushing, “Although [Singh] won’t be on the ballot for us, he certainly will be very, very active and prominent in our campaign. Yes, we’ve lost our deputy leader and our MPP from Bramalea-Gore-Malton, but we’ve gained an amazing national NDP leader, who has brought a great amount of excitement.”
BEDS AND LEDS – Health care and energy are staples in any election campaign, and this week the Liberals took a couple of steps they hope will resonate on the campaign trail:
Health Minister Eric Hoskins announced funding for more than 1,200 new hospital beds – the equivalent, he crowed, of opening six medium-sized hospitals. Ostensibly the move was an urgent response to what is expected to be a difficult flu season this winter (based on recent experience in Australia and elsewhere), but Hoskins surely knows there are political benefits to reap. Indeed, the announcement triggered a wave of positive headlines in community newspapers around the province.
Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault released the 2017 Long-Term Energy Plan – the latest step in the Liberals’ uphill climb to appease electricity consumers angry about soaring costs – setting out measures aimed at “energy affordability, innovation and customer choice.” Notably, the LIBs aren’t promising to lower electricity bills, with their news release hedging, “While rates will rise gradually over time, the government remains committed to avoiding sharp increases through initiatives outlined in the plan.” As a preamble earlier in the week Thibeault announced an “Affordability Fund” – $100-million to provide free installation of energy-saving LED light bulbs, power bars and energy-efficient appliances for people who don’t qualify for low-income conservation programs.
DOWN ON MAINSTREET – Pollsters have come under fire of late for election prognostications that wound up being way off the mark, but for the most part the media has been happy to keep publishing the results. Now comes word that Postmedia is contemplating suspension of work with Mainstreet Research because of how badly it misjudged voters’ intentions in the recent Calgary mayoralty race. According to the Calgary Herald, Postmedia is putting its relationship with Mainstreet “on hold” after being embarrassed by a 20-point difference in what was predicted versus what actually happened. (Mainstreet gave challenger Bill Smith a 13-point lead; incumbent Naheed Nenshi won by 7.6%.) Allegations have flown that Mainstreet methodology was designed to show support for a candidate favoured by Postmedia, and while this has been denied all around it still fuels ongoing controversy about the relationship between journalists and pollsters – which could have ramifications in the lead-up to the Ontario election. For what it’s worth, Mainstreet’s most recent Ontario poll (in June – exactly one year before next year’s vote) found the PCs with a 14-point lead, with 43% support compared to 29% for the Liberals and 24% for the NDP.
FUNNY LADY – There’s usually not much humour in politics, but PC MPP Vic Fedeli’s wife has shown a keen wit that he could probably use on the campaign trail. Patty Fedeli, who wrote a humour column for seven years (as well as authoring six plays and four books) has been making the rounds as a speaker, offering tips on coping with ageing. A sampling from a recent speech to the Powassan Women’s Wellness Day event:
“In cinematic terms, It’s a Wonderful Life had become the Voyage of the Damned. When I found my first grey eyelash, I was so freaked out I applied for a handicapped sticker for my car.”
“I lost all of my stamina, my muscle tone, my libido, all of my short-term memory, and had the attention span of a hummingbird on amphetamines.”
“In a heartbeat we go from Flintstone vitamins to Centrum Silver, from tie-dye to moustache bleach, from worrying that no boy will ever want to carry your books to hoping your husband remains strong enough to lift you out of the bathtub.”
“When I was five years old, tying my shoes was an intellectual challenge. Today I put it down as a cardiovascular workout. Twenty years ago after a successful diet, I resembled a greyhound. Today I look like a Shar Pei.”
“I hope I live long enough to see the day when women stop lying about their age and start lying about their IQs. A day when we start bragging longer and harder about our library cards than our gym memberships and realize that every year we have is a gift that too many are denied.”
IN THE HOUSE
No new government legislation was introduced this week.
Two bills passed Third Reading: Bill 152, creating new ridings in Northern Ontario; and Bill 163, creating safe zones around abortion clinics.
Ejections from the Legislature are rare, even more so for cabinet ministers, but Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Minister JeffLeal got the thumb from Speaker Dave Levac on Thursday. Leal was angry at a line of questioning from PC MPP Laurie Scott about Kawartha Downs racetrack being denied an application for additional racing dates. Finance Minister Charles Sousa was actually the minister responding, but Leal kept loudly interjecting until Levac tossed him out. Before leaving, Leal yelled, “Let me tell you, the facts still matter in Ontario!”
“Most of these organizations that have advertised against us in the past realize that we do have common ground that we can work on with them. We’re not going to back up the Brink’s truck for them, but certainly there are things that we can work on as a party to make their lives better and make their employees’ lives better.”
PC MPP Todd Smith, confident that the “olive branch” (his words) the Tories have extended to unions will mute the impact of anti-Tory ads from the union-sponsored Working Families – although the “Brink’s truck” crack might undermine some of that goodwill.
“This is really unfortunate that this is dragging … without them actually talking to each other. If they were at the table, if they were hammering out the issues, I’d have a different opinion, but the fact that they’re not even finding a way to get to the table is very troubling.”
Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews, frustrated at a lack of progress in resolving the two-week-old strike by college faculty, but not yet ready for the province to intervene.
“After decades of neglect the province is finally taking some steps but the pollution that these communities face is still outrageous. The Ontario government must make environmental justice part of its pursuit of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.”
Environmental Commissioner Dianne Saxe, in her annual report – which used to be a big deal but these days goes largely ignored – exhorting the government to do more to address mercury contamination and other pollution problems plaguing First Nations.
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