QUESTION … PERIOD! — It was a classic case of a he said-she said confrontation in the Legislature as the governing PCs and Opposition NDP shouted back and forth over an alleged racial insult incident on Tuesday. All decorum went out the window and Speaker Ted Arnott was unable to maintain any sense of order as Premier Doug Ford and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath exchanged verbal blows. Ford and the PCs allege NDP MPP Gilles Bisson was mocking the accent of PC MPP Kaleed Rasheed. Bisson strongly denied the accusation and is backed by Horwath, beside whom he sits in the House. The Tories decided they would refuse to answer any questions from the NDP until an apology was issued. The exchange — which prompted Tory House Leader Todd Smith to observe that the environment in the House is currently “very toxic” — temporarily took the focus off a series of contentious matters, but, given the frantic pace at which the Ford government is pushing its agenda, the diversion didn’t last long.
CHESS MOVES— Last week’s snap announcement to reduce the size of Toronto city council — and cancel elections for the regional chair in Peel, York, Niagara and Muskoka — was made official Monday when Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark presented the legislation to make it happen (see In the House below). With a large Tory majority, ultimate passage of the bill is just a matter of time, but discussion around the reforms dominated Question Period through the first half of the week. The swift action by the government on this matter is marking a shift in the approach the PC government takes towards municipal politics. The NDP has typically been more organized at the city level in Toronto, but Ford has effectively clipped the wings of the NDP in the city. Before Ford’s changes, Toronto council was slated to grow to 47 councillors, a move that would have doubled the wards in the downtown area from three to six. It was a reasonable assumption that the NDP were poised to win at least five of those. Ford has put the brakes on that.
PROMISE MADE, PROMISE BROKEN — The municipal debate was finally edged aside with another surprise announcement that the government was ending the province’s basic income pilot project. Critics lined up to denounce the move as short-sighted, cold-hearted and wasteful — and for those keeping score, it is also noted as the first broken promise of the Ford government, as they pledged during the campaign that they would not touch this social program. In addition to ending the pilot project — which was providing a base income to about 4,000 low-income people in Hamilton, Thunder Bay, Brantford and Lindsay — the government is scaling back a planned three per cent increase in social assistance rates to 1.5 per cent. As self-described champions of the impoverished, the NDP were near apoplectic with the announcement. “And this callous, mean-spirited premier sees this as a priority?” Horwath thundered. “Making poverty worse? Making life worse for families? Absolutely disgraceful. Shameful.” In making the cuts, Children Community and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod said the basic-income pilot was too expensive and not sustainable; she is now tasked with developing a new social assistance model for Ontario within 100 days.
NOT DONE YET— He may have fallen short in his bid to become the longest-serving MPP in Ontario history, but former Liberal cabinet minister Jim Bradley is not done with politics just yet. The 73-year-old Bradley was first elected as an MPP in 1977 and was a regular face at Queen’s Park until his party was swept from office on June 7. But despite finishing third in his St. Catharines riding, Bradley has registered as a candidate for one of the six seats St. Catharines has on Niagara regional council. Incidentally, one of the other candidates is Sandie Bellows, who represented the Tories in St. Catharines and bested Bradley’s numbers for second place behind winner NDP Jennie Stevens. It has been widely held in local political circles that Bradley’s longevity in office was a testament to his name and brand in the riding, and not his party — which should bode well for the veteran in a citywide municipal race. There are also rumours that, with Ford cancelling the popular election for the regional chair, some members of regional council will encourage Bradley to seek the appointment for the top political post in the region. No word from Bradley as to whether he is interested.
WHAT THE POETS ARE DOING— It’s rare that private members bills make it into law, but NDP MPP Percy Hatfield is taking a second shot at an effort to establish in Ontario an office of the Poet Laureate in memory of Gord Downie, the late lead singer of the iconic Canadian rock band The Tragically Hip. The Poet Laureate of Ontario Act (in Memory of Gord Downie), 2018, would create a new officer of the Assembly, appointed by the Lieutenant Governor, to promote art and literacy in the province. Hatfield introduced a similar bill in the last term, but it died on the order paper when the session was prorogued. He is hopeful such a measure will get the support of all parties. “A Poet Laureate: Canada has one; other provinces have them,” Hatfield said. “Many municipalities in Ontario have them, including my city of Windsor. I think it’s appropriate and it’s past overdue.”
RUMOURS & RUMBLINGS
The rapid-fire pace at which the Ford government is moving is a clear indication that things at Queen’s Park are not like they used to be. All previous assumptions, assumed processes and thoughts on how business is conducted are useless. It has also sent a mild panic through the ranks of parties and organizations that would regularly lobby the government. For them, it is a cautionary tale. The usual timeframes that folks may have expected are gone — witness the speed with which Ford altered the municipal elections in five municipalities. It means advocates will have to adjust how they approach the government; there is no time for complacency and no assumptions that just because something has always been done a certain way that it will continue to do so. Ford’s hard push to get matters done is likely rooted in the recent history of the PC Party. Consider that since the beginning of the year, the PCs have seen their leader disgraced by scandal, resign, the internal structure of the party overhauled, financial books put back in order, a leadership contest hastily convened, Ford installed as leader, a new campaign team put in place and an ultimate victory on June 7 with a significant majority. The party accomplished what many thought could not be done, and party insiders believe that experience has the Tories firmly believing they can throw all normal assumptions out the window and still be successful.
It is more than a whisper that there is a tinge of vengeance behind Ford’s rapid dismantling of regional chair elections in four municipalities — his predecessor and a former Liberal cabinet minister were among the displaced candidates — and last-minute changes to the size and shape of Toronto City Council. It is also rumoured that Ford and his supporters were behind the aborted candidacy ofBlayne Lastman to challengeJohn Tory for the Toronto mayor’s office. Tory and Ford have never really seen eye-to-eye, and Ford was the primary challenger to Tory four years ago. What will be interesting to see is what Ford Nation does now. It is an unabashedly partisan group, which means they may have to swallow hard and get on board with Tory if only to ensure the mayor’s chain of office does not end up around the neck of NDP sympathizer Jennifer Keesmaat.
IN THE HOUSE
Clark introduced the Better Local Government Act, which enacts amendments to the City of Toronto Act, the Municipal Act and the Municipal Elections Act to reduce the number of wards in Toronto, extend the nomination date for city council posts in Toronto and repeal the general election of the regional chair in Peel, York, Niagara and Muskoka regional municipalities.
FOR THE RECORD
“Maybe he’s listening to too much Bruce Springsteen. He’s born to run.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, responding to former PC Leader Patrick Brown shifting gears and filing papers to run for Mayor of Brampton after Ford abruptly cancelled the regional chair election in Peel where Brown had previously stated his intentions.
“There’s going to be less left-leaning politicians in the City of Toronto and that means it’s a great thing and it’s a great day for the taxpayer.”
Toronto City Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, expressing his support for Ford’s reduction of the number of wards in the city while his fellow city councillors were voting to send a “strong message” to Ford about the cut, request a binding referendum on the issue and explore a court injunction to stop, or at least delay, the legislation.
“It’s like being back in university again where you’re there for the first few weeks of school and they’re just downloading all this information on you.”
Natural Resources and Forestry Minister Jeff Yurek, who is not only getting up to speed as a rookie cabinet minister and filling out his staff, but is also expected to provide leadership to 800 ministry staff as they battle the worst wildfire season Northern Ontario has ever seen.