PLEDGE DRIVE – Whatever other issues might be keeping Doug Ford’s Tories up at night, they headed off one potential firestorm quickly and quietly, with Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark asking ministry staff to create an oath of office that doesn’t pledge fealty to the Queen. This stemmed from newly elected Hearst councillor Gaetan Baillargeon, who refused to take the traditional oath, arguing that he has no loyalty to authorities responsible for residential schools, reserves and broken treaties. “I pledge allegiance to the Indigenous peoples. [The Queen], she doesn’t represent me. Nor does the Crown,” Baillargeon explained. “I represent the people that I work for and that’s the people of Hearst, and the Indigenous peoples of Canada.” He was on the verge of being forced to vacate the seat, but Clark – who initially said “no exceptions” – acknowledged the need for a different oath, and has assigned staff to come up with one that better reflects Indigenous views.
POLICE STATE – A lot has happened since Ford’s Tories took power, but it’s only been six months, which means they are still in the traditional ‘honeymoon’ period with the voters who installed them. As such, the tribulations – scandals, even – Ford incurs now probably won’t factor much into the distant-future election. Nonetheless, the ongoing fuss about Ford family friend Ron Taverner’s appointment as OPP Commissioner – which takes effect this coming Monday – appears to have some staying power. Not one but two of his predecessors have expressed dismay at the appointment process. First, it was former OPP Commissioner Chris Lewis decrying, “the fix was in,” citing a change in the recruitment rules to grease the skids for Taverner. Then Brad Blair, the current interim OPP Commissioner, went the formal route, sending a letter to the provincial Ombudsman calling for an inquiry into the hiring. Blair – who, it should be noted, was in the running for the job that ultimately went to Taverner – wrote that “the concern of political interference runs counter not only to the principles of a democratic society but also to fully effective policing.” Ford steadfastly denies any involvement in Taverner’s appointment, and dismissed Blair’s complaint as “sour grapes.”
PICK A NUMBER – Pop quiz: This year’s budget deficit is a) $6.7 billion; b) $11.7 billion; c) $15 billion; or d) $12.3 billion? The answer is any of the above, depending on who’s doing the calculations. (In order, it would be a) the previous Liberal government; b) the Auditor General; c) Finance Minister Vic Fedeli; d) Financial Accountability Officer Peter Weltman.) For most voters, the actual number is moot – it’s either zero or a lot, and Ford’s election promises included getting the budget back to balance. Weltman, in his annual fiscal analysis, sounded an ominous note in that regard, warning that the annual deficit will rise to $16 billion within five years unless the government makes massive spending cuts and/or increases taxes.
NITTY GRITTY COMMITTEE – While Fedeli is front and centre on budgetary matters, it’s Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy who faces much of the heavy lifting in trying to find savings. He has opted to set up a team of MPPs for that purpose, launching a new Audit and Accountability Committee – touted as the only one of its kind in Canada. A Legislature sub-committee, the panel will decide on where to direct resources, through a lens of “strong fiscal management … by driving special audits through the province’s ministries, agencies and transfer payment partners.”
GET YOUR KICKS ON BILL 66 – While there is an obvious attraction to the efficiency of changing a bunch of laws in one fell swoop, omnibus legislation has a habit of taking on a life of its own, often forcing governments to fight battles on multiple fronts. We’ll see if that is the fate of Bill 66, the Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act introduced just before the House rose for its winter break. Ostensibly an effort to cut red tape – the bill softens some 30 regulatory requirements across a dozen ministries – it has triggered an avalanche of warnings about increasing risks in a range of areas including child care, water protection, the Greenbelt and worker safety. Expect chatter about the bill all winter as various interest groups unpack its implications.
RUMOURS & RUMBLINGS
Whether any of his current troubles leave a lingering stain on Ford remains to be seen, but a perhaps more worrisome trend became apparent as the OPP Commissioner story unfolded. Just as with other controversies, journalists were able to quote senior Tories – unnamed, of course – giving the inside scoop about alleged dissension within the party ranks. No doubt this subversion infuriates Ford, as it would any political leader, while the anonymity of the quotes has naturally led to waves of gossip about who the sources might be. Word is that Ford and those closest to him are determined to clamp down on what they see as akin to treason.
As the Ford government’s transition has evolved in recent months, largely lost in the commotion is a new location for PC headquarters. Virtually since the party was founded its HQ was in downtown Toronto. But its home is now in suburbia, in the very heart of Ford Nation near Bloor and Islington in Etobicoke (56 Aberfoyle Cres., to be precise). The office is on the fourth floor of an eight-story building, surrounded by high-rise apartment complexes – a long way, symbolically as well as distance-wise, from the previous digs at Church and Adelaide just blocks from Toronto City Hall.
FOR THE RECORD
“Right now, the government spends roughly $10,000 per person per year on programs. How are you going to reduce your expenditures in light of increased demand for your core services? It’s going to be very challenging I think.”
Financial Accountability Officer Peter Weltman, warning of tough decisions ahead to avoid a continually ballooning deficit.
“A lot of people said, ‘Why don’t you just cross your fingers, why don’t you just lie or say it through your teeth?’ People say [politicians] always lie. They never hold their word. I wanted to show people that it’s part of me and hopefully people respect what Idid.”
Hearst councillor Gaetan Baillargeon, who refused to recite the traditional oath to the Queen to be sworn in – prompting the provincial government to create an alterative oath.
“I support in principle being at the table to discuss transit with the province given that they have an enormous amount of power over us, and we can’t deny that reality. [But] I don’t believe the City should go to the table and just say, ‘Hey, how can we help you screw us?’”
Toronto Councillor Josh Matlow, insisting the City shouldn’t “capitulate” to the Ford government’s plan to take over Toronto’s subway system.