ONTARIO LEGISLATIVE HIGHLIGHTS

September 22, 2017


WEEKLY ROUNDUP

FARMA CARE – Prior to this week most MPPs likely couldn’t find Walton, Ontario, on a map (it’s about 30 kilometres east of Goderich in Huron County), but many of them were there this week for the International Plowing Match and Rural Expo. Officially, it’s North America’s largest outdoor agricultural exhibition; unofficially it’s the yearly opportunity for political parties to show how much they care about rural Ontario. It’s such a big deal the Legislature recesses for a couple of days to enable large contingents from each caucus to make the trek, and the party leaders never pass up the opportunity to address the opening ceremonies. Alas, a couple of other annual traditions – and major photo ops – were thwarted by Mother Nature this year, when a downpour turned the fields into mud, nixing both the opening parade and the leaders getting on tractors in a contest to see who can plow the straightest furrow. As for the mood of the crowd, Premier Kathleen Wynne got a cool reception – which was an improvement over last year, when she was booed outright – while PC Leader Patrick Brown was, not surprisingly given his party’s rural domination, given the warmest welcome.

THAT’S YOUR OPINION – PC support is still solid far beyond rural areas, according to the most recent Campaign Research survey, which reported 38% of voters province-wide backing the Tories. Unlike other polls, however, that level of support didn’t translate into a big lead, with the Liberals only five points back at 33%, while the NDP trail at 23%. Digging a little deeper, the results do indicate a continuation of a couple of trends that are worrisome to respective party strategists, namely that Wynne’s approval rating is still a dismal 19%, while fully half of the respondents still don’t know enough about Brown to have an opinion one way or the other.

TRIAL BALLOONS – As the Sudbury bribery trial continues over alleged contravention of the Elections Act, another statute is now in play, with the Liberals citing the Libel and Slander Act in their threat of defamation action against Brown. Specifically, they are pointing to a provision allowing six weeks for a response, setting October 24 as the deadline for Brown to publicly retract his statement that Wynne herself is “on trial” before they proceed with the lawsuit. In the meantime, they will no doubt revel in Brown’s discomfort – he repeated his stance that he will ignore the “baseless” lawsuit, but clearly doesn’t want to say much more than that – as they try to turn the tables on a bribery trial that obviously makes them uncomfortable. Wynne doubled down this week, subtly likening Brown to U.S. President Donald Trump and allegations of a less than honest presidential campaign. “I deplore any behaviour that isn’t based on truth,” Wynne – who publicly supported Hillary Clinton against Trump – declared. “Let’s just hope and pray that that’s not the level of political debate that we’re going to have here in Ontario or in Canada.” If that linkage wasn’t clear enough, Wynne made the direct connection, offering, “No matter who it is, whether it’s the President or whether it’s the Leader of the Opposition in Ontario, I don’t think that behaviour belongs in politics. There are lots of differing opinions without us descending into dishonesty and defamation.”

DRIVING FORCE – Motorists will be the subject of not one but two new pieces of legislation as the fall session kicks into gear. Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca served notice this week that bills are coming to toughen laws around drug-impaired driving – a necessity as recreational marijuana is legalized next year – and distracted driving – a necessity as cellphones continue to be on too many drivers’ laps. The latter legislation will also include increased penalties for drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians, Del Duca warned.

DiNOVO A NO-GO – Make it six current MPPs whose name won’t be on the ballot next June. Cheri DiNovo (Parkdale-High Park) became the first New Democrat MPP to say she’s had enough, joining four Liberals (Brad Duguid, Dave Levac, Monte Kwinter and Mario Sergio) and one Tory (Julia Munro) heading out to pasture. DiNovo had been rumoured to be considering retirement from Queen’s Park for a while, and this week she made it official.  A United Church minister, she won’t wait until the election writ to bid adieu, announcing plans to return to her parish as of January 1. Presumably her seat will remain vacant until the general election, given that Wynne has opted against a by-election to fill the gap left by Glen Murray’s departure from Toronto Centre.

WHO WILL BE LEFT? – A month from now the NDP could be staring at another empty seat, as voting got underway this week in the federal NDP leadership campaign, with party members having until mid-October to cast their ballots. Which will mean a tense – but potentially exciting – few weeks for the provincial party. Current MPP Jagmeet Singh is considered a frontrunner for the federal NDP crown and, win or lose, the outcome will reverberate through the provincial ranks. If he wins he’ll have to resign his Bramalea-Gore-Malton seat, further depleting the NDP squad. If Singh comes up short, there’s the potentially awkward return to a provincial caucus he was trying to leave. On the other hand, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is hoping to get a boost from the buzz Singh’s leadership bid generated, and her party should also see a surge of invigorated volunteers in the run-up to the provincial vote.

RED ALERTS – With the provincial election just months away, any talk of Wynne stepping aside as Liberal Leader has subsided, which is fortuitous as a couple of her predecessors are taking turns in the spotlight:

  • Lyn McLeod, who was party leader from 1992-96, received the 2017 Distinguished Service Award Ceremony from the Ontario Association of Former Parliamentarians. Prior to the award ceremony, all three parties paid tribute to McLeod in the Legislature. “Lyn McLeod shattered a glass ceiling in this province: She became the first woman chosen to lead a major political party in Ontario,” Premier Wynne extolled. “I don’t think it is too much to say that she inspired a new generation of female politicians to put their names on a ballot and make a positive difference in public life. Lyn made it possible for me to stand here today as the first female Premier of Ontario. But to tell you the truth, I’ve always wished I could have been the second female Premier of Ontario, after her.”
  • Former Premier David Peterson will be the guest speaker at the launch of a book about his speaking on Monday at Queen’s Park. Without Walls or Barriers: The Speeches of Premier David Peterson is a collection edited by journalist Arthur Milnes (a former speechwriter for Prime Minister Stephen Harper) and policy researcher Ryan Zade, with an introduction by TVO’s Steve Paikin.  The tomes are $30 apiece, but they won’t be on sale at Monday’s event.

IN THE HOUSE

  • In a week abbreviated by the two-day break for the International Plowing Match, no new government legislation was introduced.

FOR THE RECORD

“These are two different parties, two different philosophies, two different constitutions, two different ways of doing business. It’s not like I was going to the NDP and asking them if they had that in the Liberal government.”

  • Sudbury Liberal MPP and Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault, at the trial around allegations of bribery in the by-election that brought him to Queen’s Park. Thibeault, who was a federal NDP MP, testified that he had plenty of questions before deciding to defect to the provincial Liberals, and that it was a meeting with the Premier at her home – not any specific promises – that ultimately made up his mind.

“I see this as a war by Patrick Brown on local party members. There’s no other way to explain it. The people who did get their paperwork in early, they’re not even local residents. They think they can come in at the last minute, and carpetbag it … but I don’t think these outsiders would have a chance of winning against a local candidate.”

  • Jim Karahalios, a local activist who had been seeking the provincial PC nomination in Cambridge, but dropped out amid suspicions the vote was being rigged in favour of a candidate being parachuted in by the central party. Party President Rick Dykstra called the allegations in Cambridge – the latest in a long list of ridings where the Tory nomination process has been questioned – “categorically false.”

“Patrick shares my vision for pragmatic, progressive conservatism. It’s why I’m proud to support him in his mission to form a PC government in 2018. I’m asking you to support him, too.”

  • Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, known as a mentor to the PC leader – and whose daughter is running provincially for the Tories – stepping directly into the campaign with a letter urging supporters to donate.

“We have spent a lot of time teaching people that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. You have to build techniques and strategies to reassure people that they aren’t going to be let down and it isn’t a scam.”

  • Kwame McKenzie, special advisor to the province’s basic income pilot project, noting they have had challenges getting interest from qualified people to submit applications for what essentially amounts to $1,400 per month, no strings attached.
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