THE BAD WITH THE GOOD — While the provincial election won’t officially begin until May, there is not an announcement made without a thought about how it will play on the campaign trail. On that front, internal polling has no doubt buoyed Liberal prospects as they are being told their recent policy announcements are gaining traction — even if their leader continues to languish at dismally low levels. While most public opinion polls have the PCs maintaining a lead over the Liberals, internal polls conducted for the governing party over the past nine months — albeit by the Gandalf Group and David Herle who is leading the Liberals’ 2018 election campaign — indicate widespread popular support for increasing Ontario’s minimum wage, implementing carbon pricing and even measures to provide rebates on hydro bills, a particularly contentious matter for the government. All of this while Premier Kathleen Wynne’s personal popularity sits at around 15%. With this information in hand, expect the Liberals to do all they can to make this election more about policy than personality. Wynne implied as much in a short video she posted to Twitter this week where she said her job is not to be popular, but is to build a more fair Ontario: “Whether people like me or not, I’m really glad that people think that free tuition for kids who live in low income families is a good idea. I’m really glad people think that having free medication for kids from zero to 25 is a good idea. I’m really glad people think that raising the minimum wage is a good idea. And that makes for a fairer Ontario.”
WHAT NOMINATION ISSUES? — Wynne wasn’t the only party leader to get some good polling news where trouble was thought to lay. According to a recent poll conducted by Forum Research, more than half of Ontarians say they are not aware of the issues that have been plaguing the Progressive Conservatives and Leader Patrick Brown when it comes to the nomination of candidates. Among the roughly 43% who say they are aware of the issues, a third say it has made their opinion of Brown worse — but it should also be noted that more than half of those folks identified as NDP and were unlikely to be voting for the PCs anyway. These figures make for an interesting study of the so-called political bubble, occupied by those who are actively engaged and/or attentive observers of the happenings at Queen’s Park, on Parliament Hill or in their local city hall. Quite often, issues emerge that seem massively important within that bubble, but the reality is outside of the political bubble — where the vast majority of Ontario residents reside — they barely cause a ripple. PC Party insiders are hoping this poll is painting that exact picture. While committed Liberals and NDP harp on the nomination irregularities in some ridings, most Ontarians are not tuned in, and likely won’t be until the campaign kicks into high gear next spring when it is hoped more pertinent policy issues will be occupying the stage. The Forum poll surveyed 981 Ontarians on August 23rd and 24th, with a margin of error of three per cent, 19 times out of 20.
NORTHERN REFLECTIONS — The chances of the Northern Ontario Party sending an MPP to Queen’s Park are as remote as, well, the northern reaches of the province. But that doesn’t mean the separatist party isn’t having an impact. It was founded with a mandate to create a new province out of Northern Ontario, but in the process has made strides to highlight the unique issues that face the north that perhaps are not being reflected in the highly urbanized Toronto power centre of government. And without question, with nine months to go until the election, the three major parties are jostling for the votes of Ontario’s northern residents:
Wynne has been all over the north for much of the past couple of weeks. Her government recently announced the creation of two new ridings in the northernmost areas of Ontario, and she did a tour to highlight efforts to kick-start the infrastructure projects that will make the vast deposits of chromite in the area known as the Ring of Fire accessible.
Brown brought his caucus retreat to Timmins last week to let voters in the area know the “North matters.” He wasn’t shy to point out that he has visited Northern Ontario 27 times since he became party leader in 2015. “Part of our tradition is every year we have a driving tour and we go through some of the worst snowstorms in some of the most dilapidated infrastructure, areas where there’s no cellphone reception,” he said. “It gives you a perception of some of the real challenges and why you have to put a northern lens on public policy being written at Queen’s Park.”
The NDP have traditionally been the strongest in the region, and Leader Andrea Horwath isn’t going to easily cede any of that ground to her political rivals. Her most recent northern jaunt stopped in Kenora, Sioux Narrows and Thunder Bay where she was taking the government to task for staffing shortages in local hospitals, seniors care that doesn’t meet adequate standards and to state her support for development to the Ring of Fire — the right way: “I want to unlock the thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity this project promises,” she said, noting any efforts must respect Indigenous nations in the area as partners. “Unlike Wynne and the Conservatives, I understand the urgency.”
All of this attention on the north and general political uncertainty highlighted in public opinion polling is making political observers believe the election in the north may be more competitive than we have seen in the past. With the Tories staging a surprise win in the recent Sault Ste. Marie by-election, it is expected to be a real three-way race.
C’EST MANUFIQUE — With more than 600,000 francophones living in Ontario — and two-thirds of those in the Greater Toronto Area — the Liberals are set to introduce legislation that will create the province’s first French-only university. Recommended by the French-language University Planning Board last month, the proposed new school was touted by Advanced Skills and Education Minister Deb Matthews as an entity that will be governed for and by francophones. It is also looking at a downtown Toronto location, which will be a point of contention raised by the NDP; MPP France Gelinas, who has several times introduced a private member’s bill for a French university in Northern Ontario, immediately raised concerns about the pockets of French communities in places like North Bay and Sudbury remaining unserviced. However, with more than 400,000 francophones in Toronto, a site in the provincial capital simply makes sense.
RUMOURS & RUMBLINGS
If there is one thing at which the Ford family excels, it’s generating media attention. Former Toronto city councillor Doug Ford was partaking this week with the pre-announcement of a pending announcement that he will next week decide whether he will challenge Toronto Mayor John Tory in the municipal vote a little more than a year from now, or carry the Tory banner in Etobicoke North in June’s provincial vote. He will make the announcement Sept. 8 at the family’s annual Ford Fest gathering. “People are fed up,” Ford said. “They put their hands in their pocket and you’ve got the municipal government in there, you’ve got the provincial government in there and you’ve got the federal government in there…It’s all ‘tax, tax, tax’ and ‘spend, spend, spend.” Speculation is now running rampant about what that decision may be — but PC Party insiders say Ford will run provincially and that they are not only holding Etobicoke North open for him, but are also keeping adjacent ridings open for other candidates from the so-called Ford Nation. But the rumour mill is churning, with whispers that between now and the vote, Ford is expected to be a good soldier and support the party. But if Brown fails to unseat the unpopular Wynne, Ford is expected to make a quick strike to unseat him as leader and make a run for the post himself. Adding to the gossip is that Ford will not be alone in pushing for a quick change. It is doubtful another star candidate attracted by the Tories came on board to just be a cabinet minister or, in a worst-case scenario, backbench MPP in opposition. In that scenario, expect Caroline Mulroney to line up against Ford for the party leadership. Many insiders believe that race has already begun, even through Brown is still active and showing quite well — according to polls.
FOR THE RECORD
“I think it’s important because of the impact it’s having on my community. People are horrified, they’re traumatized, they’re worried about their children. We’re in a society where free speech is guaranteed and I’m very glad of that but putting out images that are so horrendous is not something that is responsible.”
NDP MPP Peter Tabuns, who has joined with Toronto school board trustee Jennifer Story and city councillors Paula Fletcher and Mary Fragedakis in asking Attorney General Yasir Naqvi to file an injunction to block the distribution of graphic anti-abortion images and literature in vogue with pro-life activist groups.
“I don’t believe his name should be removed from schools in Ontario.”
Premier Kathleen Wynne, while acknowledging that Canada’s first Prime Minister was “far from perfect”, refuting a call from the elementary teachers union to pull John A. Macdonald’s name from schools that have been named after him.
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