THE CHO-SEN ONE – Despite a rather large misstep that dominated the media coverage in the last week of the Scarborough-Rouge River by-election (more on that in a moment), the PC Party has moved to 3-0 in by-elections with Patrick Brown as their leader. But the first two — Brown’s win in Simcoe North and Lorne Coe’s victory in Whitby-Oshawa — the Tories simply held on to seats they already had. Thursday night they had a break- through in what had been a Liberal stronghold; Raymond Cho not only resoundingly defeated Liberal Piragal Thiru to be the first non-Liberal to hold the seat since it was created in 1999, but he also gave the Tories a vital foothold in vote-rich Toronto. It’s too much of a stretch to say a by-election is a barometer for the rest of the province; after all, they are fairly safe places to register discontent without the threat of upheaval. But to lose what had been a safe seat, and to do so by 10 percentage points while barely staying ahead of NDP Neethan Shan, has to be worrisome at Liberal Party HQ. Premier Kathleen Wynne — who is in Mexico on a trade mission and wasn’t on hand for election night — has a popularity rating in the basement and current polls reflect the results seen in the by-election. With at least two more by-elections on the horizon, and a general election less than two years away, the Grits have some work to do.
SEX ED SEE SAW – The waning days of the by-election campaign were dominated by the chattering classes ruminating over Brown tying himself — and his party — in knots over the province’s sex ed curriculum. When running for the party leadership, he was opposed to its contents, then changed his mind once in the Legislature and supported the new course guidelines for health and physical education. Then last week a letter went out under Brown’s name to select (re: ethnic) households in the Scarborough-Rouge River riding pledging that a PC government would “scrap” the controversial lessons. In turn, that was promptly followed by a statement issued through the Toronto Star and a Toronto-wide media blitz where Brown admitted he made a mistake and that he has no intentions of doing away with the curriculum; however, he did say he is open to more consultation with parents on the curriculum but will not consider anything that hints at intolerance: “I will never support removing LGBT sensitivity or combating homophobia from schools,” he wrote. “I will always support consulting with parents and giving them a voice, but I will never support intolerance in our society.” Admitting a mistake is a rare move in politics, and Brown acknowledges there may be political consequences to his actions. Indeed, those on the far right of the conservative spectrum are not pleased with his stance (see For the Record) and you can bet the Liberals have stashed this little incident into their quiver to be pulled out as part of their strategy for the 2018 general election.
FUNDRAISING FLIP FLOP – The Liberals started the week under some fire for its proposed fundraising reforms that, initially, failed to prohibit the controversial practice of paying large sums of money for an audience with Wynne or a cabinet minister. (Wrote former Ontario Ombudsman André Marin in his Postmedia column last weekend, “What’s wrong with cash- for-access? A lot. But simply put — it’s corruption.”) The Liberals did a quick about face on Monday and went to the other extreme with an amendment to Bill 201 that will bar all MPPs from attending any fundraisers. It was a surprise turnaround amidst a contentious committee hearing — at one point the debate degenerated to PC MPP Randy Hillier calling LIBs on the committee parrots and then clucking like a chicken to taunt them — and will have a serious impact on the political landscape in Ontario. Gone will be everything from the gala dinners costing thousands a plate to the corn roasts and spaghetti suppers hosted by local MPPs in ridings across the province. While the details are still to be released, in lieu of fundraisers with their member, riding associations can now count on a per-vote subsidy.
IN THE RICK OF TIME – As had been widely rumoured, former MP Rick Dykstra is seeking the Tory nomination for the upcoming Niagara West- Glanbrook by-election. Dykstra was a caucus colleague of Brown’s in Ottawa and has worked closely with him over the years, even playing in each other’s annual charity hockey games. Dykstra is also familiar with the workings at Queen’s Park, having been a staffer in the Mike Harris government and is currently the president of the PC Party of Ontario. The largely rural riding is considered a safe Tory seat — outgoing MPP Tim Hudak and his federal riding mate Dean Allison have enjoyed significant margins of victory in recent elections — which may make the race to secure the PC nod more interesting than the by-election itself. Niagara Regional Councillor Tony Quirk has already announced his intentions to run, and he has the support of Hudak, while Dykstra’s nomination is backed by Allison and Hamilton-area MP David Sweet. A nomination meeting has yet to be set.
IN MEMORIAM – Ken Black, who served a stint as David Peterson’s Minister of Tourism in 1989-90, has passed away. The retired educator — he was a high school teacher, principal and superintendent of education — represented the old riding of Muskoka-Georgian Bay for one term before falling in the NDP sweep of 1990. He was 84. Also in mourning is Finance Minister Charles Sousa, whose father António Sousa died this week at age 91.
For the Record
“Do we really want our future business leaders taking Ethics 101 from the Hamburglar? Matthews should be ashamed to have put her support behind this attack on our public education system. The next generation deserves better than the McJobs and McDegrees this misguided scheme offers.” – OPSEU President Smokey Thomas taking a swipe Deputy Premier Deb Matthews and a provincial deal with fast-food chain McDonalds to grant college credits for corporate training.
“I think they’re still working on quill pens and ink blotters, actually.” – David Sterns, president of the Ontario Bar Association, is “delighted” that Attorney General Yasir Naqvi is planning to modernize Ontario’s courts and introduce more technology into the system.
“It’s like he’s dating two girls and saying somethingdifferent to each one, and he’s hoping one won’t find out about it and tell the others, which is ridiculous.” – Queenie Yu, an independent candidate in the Scarborough- Rouge River by-election, taking exception to PC Leader Patrick Brown’s rotating stance on the province’s sex ed curriculum.
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