SUMMERY CONVICTION – When Premier Doug Ford’s brand-new government convened the Legislature just weeks after winning the June election, the expectation was that the rare summer sitting would be brief — basically long enough to pass back-to-work legislation ending the York University strike — and then the transition process would resume as everyone geared up for a more robust session in the fall. Now here it is mid-August and the Assembly is still very much assembled. Two government bills are working their way through the legislative process — one killing the province’s cap-and-trade carbon pricing program, the other shrinking Toronto City Council — and it looks like MPPs will sit until those laws are on the books. Tory insiders say they hope it will all be sealed as early as next Tuesday, but even then any summer break is likely to be short. While there’s no confirmation the House will resume as scheduled on September 10, word is Ford’s Tories are compiling a heavy legislative agenda for the fall and will want to get on it ASAP.
BEER MUSCLE – Ford didn’t need the Legislature to make good on his “buck-a-beer” election promise, cheerily announcing that the floor price for beer will be reduced from $1.25 to $1.00. This is almost entirely symbolic — brewers are not obligated to lower their prices — but Ford will happily take the symbolism, as it reinforces the consumer-focused affordability message that underpinned his successful campaign. Ford did offer some encouragement for brewers to pass on the savings, dangling special promotional considerations at LCBO outlets for brewers who play ball before Labour Day. What he did not say, however, was how and when beer and wine will be available in corner stores — another key campaign promise that will presumably be part of the legislative package coming this fall.
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT – One of the reasons the PCs have been able to come out guns blazing is their depth of experience at the staff level. It may be a rookie government, but it is certainly not a government of rookies, as senior staff are well-versed in the machinations of government. That is entirely by design: insiders say most cabinet ministers’ chiefs of staff were dictated by The Centre (a.k.a. the Premier’s Office) and government experience was a prerequisite for getting the job. There is a relatively small pool of aides who have worked for a Conservative government, meaning that most were staff under Prime Minister Stephen Harper federally, plus a few from Alberta and Saskatchewan. Across the aisle, the NDP has little such experience in its ranks — Michael Balagus, Chief of Staff to party leader Andrea Horwath, is one of the few, having held senior posts with the NDP government in Manitoba — and the greenness is showing as they haven’t been able to mount much resistance to the Ford agenda.
SEX APPEAL – One issue Horwath is pursuing with some confidence is the province’s updated sex-ed curriculum, Ford’s repeal of which continues to cause consternation among educators faced with using the 1998 version for the coming school year. This week opposition to the rollback swelled to include about 1,800 health-care professionals, who submitted a petition calling for the 2015 update to be reinstated, and a human rights challenge from parents of LGBTQ kids. That was Horwath’s cue to once again champion the cause, railing against “the Premier’s backroom deal with social conservatives” to revisit the curriculum. It’s no secret that the previous Liberal government’s internal polling showed that most Ontarians were onside with the updated curriculum, hence Horwath’s eagerness to use it against Ford. Health Minister Christine Elliott, doing double duty as Deputy Premier, fended off Horwath’s charge, essentially buying time as the Tories undertake a large-scale consultation on the issue. “The leader of the official opposition is presupposing what’s going to be in the updated curriculum,” Elliott responded during Question Period, adding to the sense that while Ford promised to review the curriculum, the updated update won’t necessarily change all that much.
WEST COAST OFFENCE – Looks like Horwath will soon be losing a key ally, at least geographically. Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who was Horwath’s Deputy Leader when he was a Brampton MPP, has decided to run in a by-election in Burnaby, B.C. Singh has been seat-less since winning the national NDP leadership, and the Vancouver-area riding is being vacated by an NDP MP so it presents an enticing opportunity. Singh was a visible campaigner during last spring’s Ontario election, appearing with Horwath at various events, and presumably she will return the favour during next year’s federal campaign. But that participation has to be tempered somewhat when his home base is 4,000 kilometres away.
RUMOURS & RUMBLINGS
FIX THE SIX
Anyone following Toronto politics in the past decade knows there’s no love lost between Doug Ford and John Tory, with the latter besting the former to become Toronto Mayor in 2014. But with Ford now ensconced in the Premier’s Office and Tory running for re-election municipally, the dynamics may be changing. Much as they don’t like Tory, those around Ford would be even more loath to see former Chief City Planner Jennifer Keesmaat in the Mayor’s chair – especially given proposed PC legislation that would significantly increase the Mayor’s powers. Using the enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend logic, Ford Nation could rally around Tory to foil Keesmaat’s attempt to usurp him. Ford’s team had reportedly been instrumental in speculation about Blayne Lastman running against Tory as a right-wing challenger. But with the decidedly left-leaning Keesmaat in the race the Fordites may suddenly find themselves cheering for Tory. However, even if they do end up supporting him, look for Ford’s strategists to get behind a slate of preferred candidates for the other 24 council positions.
IN THE HOUSE
No new government legislation was introduced this week.
NDP House Leader Gilles Bisson, knowing the PC majority will push through its legislative agenda, did his best to hold up proceedings. It wasn’t exactly filibustering, but Bisson chewed up time introducing no fewer than 13 private member’s bills, each with a long, cumbersome title. His proposed legislation calls for analysis and zebra mussel counts in various waterways – and the title of each bill alphabetically lists those waterways, averaging about 160 words per title. To introduce each bill, Bisson read the long title – in English then repeated in French – with even more time taken up by recorded votes. None of this will deter the Tories, of course, but the irritation value was priceless.
FOR THE RECORD
“It’s time to get serious about fighting guns and gangs. It’s time to get serious about fighting gun violence – no more talk, no more grandstanding. Tell the bad guys out there, ‘Heads up, we’re coming to get you.’ ”
Premier Ford, revelling in a tough-on-crime announcement – “sending a clear message to the thugs,” as he put it – of $25-million for Toronto police.
“As a former Toronto city councillor, Premier Ford wants to improve fiscal efficiency in his hometown, and that’s understandable. However, reducing the number of seats in council — while perhaps a strong symbol — is not an effective way to achieve this goal. In fact, it may grow the size of government, consume more taxpayer money and reduce democratic accountability to boot.”
Josef Filipowicz, a senior policy analyst at the Fraser Institute, cautioning against the Ford government’s plan to shrink the size of Toronto council – a rare right-wing criticism, with most opposition coming from the left of the political spectrum.
“This is what we’re dealing with and we should move on. You don’t fight city hall. I guess you don’t fight Queen’s Park either.”
Toronto Councillor Jim Karygiannis, who supports the move to reduce the council, dismissing proposed legal action to thwart the provincial legislation as a waste of time.
“There will be a lengthy and compassionate runway.”
Children, Community and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod, amidst a backlash over scrapping the province’s basic income pilot project, insisting the wind-down will be done slowly.