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THE TRUTH, THE WHOLE TRUTH, ETC. – Ontario’s lawmakers may have re-assembled for their fall legislative sitting on Monday, but law enforcement was a preoccupation, as judicial proceedings with political ramifications unfolded on multiple fronts:
Premier Kathleen Wynne made history by testifying in open court – unprecedented for a sitting Premier – as she took the witness stand in the Sudbury bribery trial. Historic yes, but memorable not so much, as Wynne said exactly what everyone expected her to say: unshakably insisting that she had already determined Glen Thibeault was going to be the Liberal candidate in the 2015 by-election – and therefore wannabe nominee Andrew Olivier couldn’t have been offered a bribe to voluntarily step aside. She spent the entire four hours standing – in high heels no less, a feat described as symbolic by Postmedia columnist Michele Mandel, who wrote, “There was no way she was sitting in the hot seat.” Because this was a courtroom and not a public inquiry, there were no cameras at the hearing, but there was plenty of media on hand as Wynne made her way in and out of the courthouse, and the appearance will likely resonate in the months ahead. The outcome of the trial will have more immediate impact – a guilty verdict and the critics have a field day; acquittal and the whole issue goes pffft – but by waiving her parliamentary privilege and agreeing to testify, Wynne took a chance that voters will ultimately approve of her resolve.
Wynne may have been in court, but she herself was not on trial – a point tersely driven home by her lawyers in a letter to PC Leader Patrick Brown demanding that he stop referring to it that way. Last week, Tory MPP Bill Walker was forced to apologize for comments during a radio interview, and this week a similar statement from Brown – “I hope that the premier will give us answers. We’re not getting them in the Legislature. Maybe when she stands trial,” he was quoted as saying – is now on the Liberal legal radar. The letter calls for Brown to formally retract and apologize for the slight. All of which is reminiscent of a tactic Wynne used against Brown’s predecessor Tim Hudak. He and caucus colleague Lisa MacLeod were sued for libel over accusations that Wynne “oversaw and possibly ordered” the deletion of emails related to gas plant cancellations. That $2 million suit was dropped after Wynne won the 2014 election, but it did put a chill into the Tories’ rhetoric in the meantime. So far Brown has shown no such inclination to back off, declaring, “her baseless lawsuit will be ignored.”
The aforementioned email deletions are subject of another high-profile court case, involving the Chief of Staff and Deputy Chief of Staff to former Premier Dalton McGuinty. But it’s on hold at the moment amid legal wrangling. Having two corruption cases simultaneously was never going to be good for the Liberals, but they had hoped to get them over and done with as quickly as possible. Now, the trial of David Livingston and Laura Miller will have to wait until at least next week to start hearing evidence. Court did convene long enough for Livingston and Miller to formally plead not guilty to charges of illegally destroying documents related to the 2011 gas plant cancellations, and for Livingston’s lawyer to describe police notes as “cryptic, unusually sketchy, as if by instruction” – hence, the legal wrangling over Crown disclosure.
JOINT ACCOUNT – Coincidentally – or not at all, according the Opposition – the Liberals chose the eve of the court cases for a major announcement about provincial marijuana sales when cannabis is legalized federally next July. A trio of cabinet heavy hitters – but not, notably, the Premier – unveiled the plan, with Finance Minister Charles Sousa, Attorney General Yasir Naqvi and Health Minister Eric Hoskins standing side by side to cover the fiscal, legal and health bases. Starting with 40 locations and expanding to 150 stores by 2020, the government will essentially replicate the LCBO model – albeit the 1950s model, with product hidden away, unlike the shiny modern liquor stores – to sell weed. Naqvi called it “a safe and sensible approach to legalization that will ensure we can keep our communities and roads safe, promote public health and harm reduction, and protect Ontario’s young people.” Not everyone agreed with this assessment. Currently-illegal private dispensaries will continue to be illegal – “If you operate one of these facilities, consider yourself on notice,” Naqvi growled – which naturally displeased their owners. Canadian Federation of Independent Business President Dan Kelly also scoffed at the “public sector monopoly,” arguing that “an above-ground, regulated private sector could stay much closer to customers’ preferences and would guard against an underground industry.” Politically, PC Leader Patrick Brown – careful not to sound like he’s against legalizing marijuana – challenged the plan as half-baked, suggesting the Liberals just wanted an issue that would stir the…uh, pot. “[It was] a rushed announcement as a distraction technique,” Brown sniped. “They don’t want us talking about the Liberal corruption trials. They want us talking about some salacious issue.”
SWEET LITTLE FIFTEEN – Speaking of issues the Liberals want people talking about, their proposed $15/hour minimum wage continues to be a hot topic. The narrative didn’t exactly go their way this week, however, when a report from the province’s Financial Accountability Office deduced that the hike will cost at least 50,000 jobs because it is “both larger and more rapid than past experience, providing businesses with a greater incentive to reduce costs more aggressively.” Critics vigorously seized on the report as independent validation of their position, but Labour Minister Kevin Flynn wasn’t conceding any ground. “People in Ontario support the notion that you work 35 or 40 hours a week … you deserve to be able to pay rent, to buy food, put shoes on your kids’ feet,” Flynn asserted, adding, “The job-loss numbers are something that would be disputed by other economists.” Notwithstanding the financial watchdog’s analysis, the Liberals continue to see the issue playing in their favour, and indeed the other parties were treading carefully, attacking the LIBs’ approach rather than the substance of the policy. Brown argued for slower implementation, positing, “What I’d like to see is just a level of reasonableness. Why does it always have to be the Premier’s way or the highway?” NDP Leader Andrea Horwath aimed to get credit for the idea, while blasting the Liberals for giving the FAO – not to mention the Tories – ammunition to criticize. “We think the $15 minimum wage should be going ahead – that’s why we announced it almost two years ago now – but there needs to be that work done,” she fumed.
RUNNING STARTS – Provincial Tories came from far and wide to cheer on Caroline Mulroney as she was acclaimed as the party’s candidate in York-Simcoe last weekend. The daughter of former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney is obviously seen as a new force for the PCs, leading to the unusually large turnout (for any kind of nomination meeting, let alone an acclamation) in Keswick. Brown took the opportunity to pitch his big picture message, crowing, “Caroline is a fantastic addition to our modern, inclusive and pragmatic Ontario PC team.” Meanwhile, at another high-profile Conservative announcement, Monte McNaughton was the lone MPP on hand for the “Ford Fest” barbecue when Doug Ford confirmed he will be running for Mayor of Toronto next fall – and not, as had been previously speculated, as a provincial candidate. Many provincial Tories are heaving a sigh of relief that Ford will not be running on their ticket. There’s little doubt Ford could have won Etobicoke North, but it is just as likely he would be a largely unmanageable new MPP that would be the source of problems for Brown from election day on. But the provincial problems aren’t completely resolved. Ford’s rematch with current Mayor John Tory sets up a quandary within the PC camp, inasmuch as many provincial PCs are Tory supporters while many others are in Ford’s corner. They’ll all be compelled to mute their criticism – even in the midst of what will surely be a nasty battle – to show a united front for the provincial election that comes first.
GONE TOO SOON – Much sadness in Ottawa and at Queen’s Park this week with the passing of Liberal MP Arnold Chan (Scarborough-Agincourt). Prior to winning a seat on Parliament Hill, Chan was well-liked throughout Queen’s Park as an earnest, enthusiastic aide to cabinet minister Michael Chan and Premier McGuinty. He had been battling cancer for a couple of years but that did not deter him from continuing his duties as an MP and his passion for and respect of Parliament.
IN THE HOUSE
The Sault Ste. Marie by-election seems like eons ago (actually it was June 1), but newly-minted PC MPP Ross Romano had to wait until this week to take his seat in the Legislature. As the fall session got underway, the first order of business was for Romano to be escorted into the Assembly. A few minutes later he was up for his first-ever Question Period, grilling the Premier about recent Ring of Fire announcements, asking if she’d admit they were “nothing more than Liberal photo ops to win over voter support in an election year?” She admitted no such thing of course, and welcomed Romano to the Legislature with a droll, “It’s great to have you here, but I have to say that we probably need to offer you a technical briefing on the Ring of Fire file.”
Attorney General Yasir Naqvi introduced Bill 152, the Representation Statute Law Amendment Act, to create the ridings of Kiiwetinoong, Mushkegowuk, Timmins, and Kenora-Rainy River – resulting in a total of four ridings in Ontario’s Far North instead of the current two.
Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid introduced Bill 154, the Cutting Unnecessary Red Tape Act, to amend 40 statutes across six ministries to reduce regulatory burdens on businesses.
FOR THE RECORD
“Connor McDavid was in junior kindergarten the last time the unemployment rate was this low.”
Economic Development Minister – and hockey fan – Brad Duguid, referencing the NHL star to crow about Ontario’s unemployment rate falling to 5.7%, its lowest level in 16 years, thanks to 31,000 net new jobs in August.
“Realistically, it is the only way they can maintain the integrity of the product. A stand-alone building is the only way they can do it. They’re going to have to fortify it; they’re going to have to have a big enough storage area [that’s] climate controlled; [and] it has to be maintained.”
Paul Sieger of Paul’s Para Fernalia in Orillia, recognizing that a government monopoly on marijuana sales is needed for quality control. While private (and currently illegal) dispensaries will obviously be hurt, he expects paraphernalia shops like his can thrive selling “vapourizers, water pipes, bongs, rolling papers – whatever people use.”
“You have to know when it’s time to go. I’ve given it a lot of thought. Obviously, I love the job and you can’t ask for a more challenging opportunity as an individual. You never know who’s walking in the door. You never know who is making the next phone call. To be on top of that is a permanent dance in the boxing ring.”
Retiring PC MPP Julia Munro, at the York-Simcoe nomination meeting to officially pass the torch to Caroline Mulroney.
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