THE SECRETS THAT YOU KEEP — A return to the norm, or a secretive move to keep the government’s true intentions unknown — it is all a matter of perspective how you view Premier Doug Ford’s decision to treat his Cabinet Ministers’ mandate letters as top secret. The letters spell out the government’s priorities for each ministry, and until 2014 they were rarely seen by anybody other than the cabinet minister and perhaps the deputy minister. Everybody else was on a need-to-know basis. They were first released publicly in Ontario by former Premier Kathleen Wynne, and now, the federal government and every provincial government except Quebec releases their mandate letters. In returning to the pre-2014 practice, Ford is also treating the letters as cabinet documents, essentially the highest level of secrecy in the province. They will only be seen by people the minister shows them to, cannot be accessed by civil servants and are protected against searches under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
ONTARIO LEGAL — With the House in a late summer recess, the focus on provincial politics this week shifted to a house of a different nature – a legal one:
Four residents of Lindsay, Ont., launched a class-action lawsuit on Monday against the government for cancelling the basic income pilot project after Ford promised during the campaign that the program was safe. Lawyer Mike Perry — who has taken the case pro bono — filed the suit for breach of contract and damages, with a request for a judicial review of the government’s actions. “We take no joy in this,” he said. “It is not fun to sue the government. … This will be a David versus Goliath (fight).” With more than 4,000 residents in Lindsay, Hamilton, Brantford and Thunder Bay displaced by the abrupt cancellation of the pilot, more people are expected to join the suit.
Unsuccessful Tory candidate Roshan Nallaratnam has launched a $2.45-million libel and defamation lawsuit against the NDP, its Leader Andrea Horwath, the Toronto Police Service and two individuals on the allegation that they falsely accused him of sending a threatening email during the campaign. On June 4, three days before Ontarians cast ballots, the NDP issued a media statement accusing then-police officer Nallaratnam of sending an “ominous” message to members of the Tamil community in the Scarborough-Guildwood riding where he was seeking office. At the time, Nallaratnam immediately denied sending the email, calling it a fake, and now claims the NDP’s action stole from him the election (he ended up losing to Liberal Mitzie Hunter by only 74 votes). “This is a totally random email created under my name a few days before the election…” Nallaratnam said. “This is the low level of politics we’re getting into… It changed the election outcome.”
One of the first acts by Ford after becoming premier was to quickly strike down the previous government’s rebates for buyers of electric vehicles. But that move contained a curious clause regarding the wind-down of the program — the pay back would remain in place until September 10, but only for people who bought electric vehicles through a dealership — that landed the government in court. Telsa owner Elon Musk initiated the legal proceedings because Telsa does not use a typical franchise dealership model; his customers buy directly from the company, and therefore do not qualify for the rebate in the final days of the program. The Ontario Superior Court found in favour of Telsa this week, ordering the government to pay Telsa’s legal fees of about $125,000 and, ostensibly, an unknown amount to the estimated 600 Tesla buyers since the program was cancelled July 11. The government is still considering if it will appeal the ruling.
The province and the City of Toronto are expected to be in a courtroom today as city council challenges Ford’s reduction of the size of council from 47 members to 25, and the government tries to quash the motion. The city’s lawyers are challenging the Constitutional validity of Ford’s Better Local Government Act, and are seeking to have it struck and its changes reversed back to the status quo.
THE PEOPLE’S SUDS — It’s not widely available, but if brewers so choose they can now sell beer in Ontario for as little as a buck a bottle. As of Monday, the minimum legal price for beer was lowered by 25 cents — but so far only three breweries have announced they will offer beer at the new lowered rate. Barley Days Brewery in Prince Edward County has released Loon Lager (available in only 11 LCBO locations across the province), Toronto’s Cool Beer Brewing Co. is offering four-packs of its signature beer for $4 (plus deposit) and Loblaws has announced that its President’s Choice beers will be available for a buck-a-bottle in The Beer Store — but even that has turned into little more than a PR exercise as Loblaws will be returning to regular prices on September 3. Regardless of the minimal pick up of the initiative, Ford made this a key election point and is sticking to his guns: “Health, education and everything is important, but all I heard everywhere I went was ‘buck a beer, buck a beer, buck a beer.’ So sometimes the media, ourselves even, we live in a bubble, and you don’t realize some of the kitchen table issues that people want to get done … a simple thing like a buck a beer goes a long way.”
WIND BENEATH MY WINGS — The tight bond between the Ford government and that of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper made itself more apparent at last weekend’s Conservative Party of Canada convention in Halifax. Several MPPs — including Ford, Monte McNaughton, Lisa MacLeod and Sam Oosterhoff — and political staff who previously served in the Harper government were all present. Before becoming an MPP, MacLeod was a Harper government staffer, and McNaughton was heavily involved in Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s leadership campaign. Ford also offered a very complimentary address at the convention, and engaged with former Harper cabinet minister — and current leader of Alberta’s United Conservative Party — Jason Kenney on Twitter, praising each other for their stance and action against the federal carbon tax.
UNCLE MINISTER — It seems NDP Leader Andrea Horwath was doing more than just sticking a thorn in the side of the government when she named her shadow cabinet last week — she was also stirring some tension into the family pot. Her Agriculture, Food and Rural Development critic is John Vanthof, a logical choice in that the Northern Ontario MPP was raised on a dairy farm and was once president of the Temiskaming Federation of Agriculture. But it will be interesting to see how Vanthof addresses the minister he has been charged with shadowing — Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Minister Ernie Hardeman also happens to be Vanthof’s uncle.
FOR THE RECORD
“Our role is to explain. It’s important to me that we always come across as non-partisan, because that’s where our credibility comes from.”
Ontario’s Financial Accountability Officer Peter Weltman, who is expected to have his first real look at provincial spending plans this fall when Ford releases a budget update.
“It’s not just me, there’s 3,999 other people who are directly affected by this and they have stories, too. They’ve been using Basic Income to go back to school or start businesses or move into safer living or get themselves out of poverty. I keep on hearing these stories and honestly, it’s the most heartbreaking photo series that I have ever done.”
Jessie Golem, a Hamilton photographer and participant in the recently cancelled basic income pilot project, has completed Humans of Basic Income, a picture series project documenting the stories of people who have been impacted by the program’s demise.
“If it’s competition the premier and the privatizers want, let’s actually have competition. If it’s important that cannabis consumers have a choice, let’s give them a real choice. For those smart municipalities who choose to opt out of the risky and costly private model there must be a public option available. Otherwise, it will be a bonanza for organized crime.”
OPSEU head Warren ‘Smokey’ Thomas criticizing the Ford government for preventing the LCBO from competing with the private sector on cannabis sales.