I KNOW WHAT YOU DID THIS SUMMER – For most of us, the last weeks of August signal the end of summer; for Ontario’s MPPs and their staff summer is just now beginning, after frenetic months of campaigning, transition and a five-week legislative session. Not that Premier Doug Ford’s new PC government is showing any signs of slowing down, but for now the Legislature has gone dark, freeing politicos to take a bit of a breather. Their final act before recessing was for the PC majority to pass legislation shrinking Toronto City Council and nixing the popular election of Regional Chairs in Peel, York, Niagara and Muskoka. This adds to a dizzying list of changes since Ford took office that included (deep breath): legislating an end to the York University strike, terminating a windfarm in Eastern Ontario, cancelling 758 renewable energy contracts, overhauling the Hydro One board, starting the process to scrap cap-and-trade emission pricing, ditching the province’s Chief Scientist and Chief Investment Officer, repealing the updated sex-ed curriculum, launching audits of government finances, delaying new rules on police conduct, aborting the pilot basic income project, halving a planned social assistance rate hike, halting the opening of new overdose prevention sites, dropping the minimum price for beer, giving Toronto police $25 million more to fight crime, completely changing the way legalized cannabis will be sold and freezing public sector executive salaries. Much more is reportedly on the way, with the House due to reconvene on September 24 – a timetable that gives MPPs a longer respite, returning two weeks later than originally scheduled on the parliamentary calendar.
DOPE SCOPE – As noted above, the new government is radically changing the process around cannabis sales once recreational weed becomes legal in October. In a categorical repudiation of the previous Liberal government’s approach – something Ford’s Tories are clearly revelling in – the new system will be decidedly pro-business, with government assuming a purely regulatory role. Instead of replicating the LCBO model of government-run retail outlets as the Liberals had planned, cannabis will temporarily be sold through the online Ontario Cannabis Store while Ford’s PCs work out a private retail system. The online sales will satisfy the federal demand that cannabis be publicly available as of October 17, buying the Tories some time as they aim for an April 2019 launch of “tightly regulated” private stores.
HARD LIQUOR – With cannabis being sold by private retailers, speculation will undoubtedly heat up about whether booze sales will continue to be a government operation. Ford has not even hinted at an interest in privatizing the LCBO, but it is a long-standing aspiration among many Tories. (The previous PC government under Mike Harris pursued the idea, but left the LCBO in public hands after a makeover resulted in the shiny, well-stocked outlets we see today replacing Soviet-style wickets.) Whatever the future of the LCBO, it won’t be Ed Clark running the agency. To no-one’s surprise Clark, the former bank executive who was a senior advisor to ex-Premier Kathleen Wynne, is stepping down (being pushed?) as LCBO Chair, less than a year after taking the post – at a symbolic salary of $1 a year. Clark was demonized by Ford during the election campaign, primarily for being an impetus behind the sale of Hydro One.
HEAD OF THE CLASS – Another familiar face around Queen’s Park is also leaving, as Deputy Education Minister Bruce Rodrigues bids adieu after two years. He’ll be replaced at the end of this month by Nancy Naylor, who is currently an Assistant Deputy in Health and Long-Term Care. An updated Ontario Legislative Highlights chart listing government contacts is available for download at Government Contacts.
MUNICIPAL BONDS – With the Better Local Government Act now on the province’s books, the fight over the reduction in the number of Toronto councillors shifts from the Legislature to possible legal action. But Toronto is the one municipality that won’t be on Ford’s mind for much of next week, as he heads to Ottawa for the annual meeting of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario. Toronto opted out of AMO years ago, so the city’s tribulations won’t be on the agenda (although they’re sure to be a topic of conservation in the hallways). Some 440 other municipalities will be represented by nearly 2,000 delegates, and with civic elections on tap for this fall the atmosphere figures to be highly charged. Ford, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser and Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner are all scheduled to speak, and each will be joined by large contingents from their respective caucuses. (Well, Schreiner is his entire caucus. But this is a significant event for him, as his first major speech since becoming Ontario’s first-ever Green MPP.)
WORKS FOR ME – Wynne’s Liberals could almost always point to positive job figures during their administration, but that ultimately didn’t much help their popularity, so Ford probably won’t crow about the 61,000 new jobs in Ontario during his first month as Premier. Nonetheless, Statistics Canada pegged the province’s unemployment rate at 5.4% in July – the lowest it’s been since 2000 and below every other province except British Columbia.
FOR PUCK’S SAKE – Former PC Leader Patrick Brown has had a pretty rough year – being ousted from caucus amid sexual misconduct allegations, giving up his seat, then having his bid for Peel Regional Chair wiped out by Bill 5 – but he was all smiles at the annual Hockey Night in Barrie fundraiser he’s spearheaded for more than a decade. Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer dropped the puck for the ceremonial face-off – indicating Brown still has some support within the Conservative family – and a handful of NHL players and alumni took part, but there were no provincial MPPs at the event. Brown is promising to launch a Hockey Night in Brampton, where he is now running for Mayor.
IN THE HOUSE
Bill 5, the Better Local Government Act, passed Third Reading by a vote of 71-39. This leaves one government bill on the Order Paper. The Cap and Trade Cancellation Act is at Second Reading, to be picked back up in the fall session.
“Teachers will not be muzzled by a government whose political agenda takes precedence over the protection and education of their students. ETFO will vigorously defend members who continue to follow the 2015 health curriculum and will pursue all options to respond appropriately to the government’s reckless behaviour.”
Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario President Sam Hammond, telling his 83,000 members to feel free to teach the updated sex-ed curriculum, even though it has officially been repealed while the Ford government undertakes a massive consultation.
“When we do anything with contractors or developers from Manitoba and they’re coming into Ontario they just shake their head. The rules and regulations are so stringent, they duplicate themselves so much it’s got to straighten itself out or we’re not open for business.”
Kenora Mayor Dave Canfield, planning to press the new PC government on Premier Ford’s vows to cut red tape at next week’s Association of Municipalities of Ontario meeting in Ottawa.
“History matters … John A. Macdonald plays a central role in our national story. He did more to found our nation than any other father of Confederation. In fact, we would not be debating here today without Sir John A.”
Tourism, Culture and Sport Minister Sylvia Jones, telling the Legislature that Ontario would be willing to take the Macdonald statue that was removed from Victoria, B.C.’s City Hall because of his role in the residential school system. Victoria’s Mayor declined the offer.
“After 15 years a government of any stripe can become so full of themselves that they fail to listen and learn. Soon they come to believe they are right about everything all of the time. They become detached and arrogant. No one is guilty but everyone is responsible. When our government finally woke up to the fact that we had alienated just about everyone: teachers, doctors, farmers, hydro users, police associations, union leaders, parents with autistic children, home builders, small business people and others, it was too late to recover. A burgeoning sense of ‘mistrust’ had developed. With that loss of trust came the political decimation that followed.”
Former Liberal cabinet minister Ted McMeekin, in a Hamilton Spectator column, neatly summing up what went wrong for his party.