BEST OF ENEMIES – After a rare period of same-stripe parties at Queen’s Park and Parliament Hill, the traditional Conservative/Liberal intergovernmental rivalry appears to be back in full swing. Not that the Ontario Liberals under Kathleen Wynne got along all that swimmingly with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s gang in Ottawa (Trudeau was conspicuously absent from the recent provincial election – perhaps sensing that his cousins were no-hopers), but they didn’t often skirmish in public. Such play-nice attitudes now seem quaint, as newly-installed Premier Doug Ford’s first meeting with Trudeau was described by some observers as “super-heated.” The two leaders smiled and shook hands for the cameras, but made it clear they disagree about immigration policies and carbon emission controls – the first of many issues sure to create rifts in the months ahead.
SUMMER HOUSE – Next Wednesday will provide a vivid illustration of what happened on June 7, as MPPs take their seats in the Legislative Assembly for the first time – the PCs occupying the entire government side of the House plus some spillover seats across the aisle, the NDP taking up much of the Opposition side and the Liberals reduced to a rump in one corner. The rare summer sitting, which is expected to be brief, will kick off with the election of a Speaker, likely from one of Tories Ted Arnott, Jane McKenna, Rick Nichols, Randy Hillier or Bill Walker. A Speech from the Throne will follow on July 12 setting out, in broad strokes, the Ford government’s legislative and philosophical agenda.
SHORT ORDERS – Ford didn’t wait to convene the Legislature before announcing some policy initiatives:
He confirmed this week that his government’s first order of business was to kill the cap-and-trade program – or, in his words, to revoke “the regulation that punishes Ontario residents at the gas pump through a wasteful cap-and-trade carbon tax regime.” Anticipating the outrage from environmentalists – and, of course, the NDP and Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner – Ford maintained his fiery rhetoric from the election campaign. “Every cent spent from the cap-and-trade slush fund is money that has been taken out of the pockets of Ontario families and businesses,” her asserted, slagging cap-and-trade schemes as “government cash grabs that do nothing for the environment, while hitting people in the wallet in order to fund big government programs.”
Health Minister Christine Elliott announced changes to the OHIP+ program that provides free prescriptions to anyone younger than 25. Under the Liberals the freebies applied to everyone, but the new rules will only extend to children and youth not covered by private insurance plans. This is an example of the low-hanging policy fruit the Tories can be expected to pursue in the early days of their government – changes unlikely to provoke much anger while, in Elliott’s words, making services “more efficient, saving the taxpayers money and dedicating resources to the people who need it most.”
While not actually scrapping laws brought in by the previous Liberal regime, Ford has hit the pause button on a handful of regulations poised to go into effect. New rules around ticket-scalping, vaping and police oversight are on hold, pending further review around implementation and enforcement.
HELLO, GOODBYE – Ford also moved swiftly to pull the plug on three high-ranking officials, terminating Ontario’s Chief Scientist Molly Shoichet and Chief Investment Officer Allan O’Dette, and jettisoning former banking executive Ed Clark as business advisor to the Premier. All were Liberal appointees, so it isn’t shocking that Ford showed them the door – like any incoming boss, he’s looking to put his own stamp on the organization – although it’s not clear whether they or their positions will be replaced. These dismissals will intensify the angst among senior bureaucrats, as a shuffle of deputy ministers usually follows a change in government. At the moment one DM, Alex Bezzina, is without a ministry, as Ford eliminated Citizenship and Immigration. The erstwhile Ministry of Research, Innovation and Science is also gone, but its Deputy Giles Gherson is otherwise occupied with Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade. Ditto for Shirley Phillips, as her now-defunct International Trade ministry was also folded into EDJCT.
WE’RE NUMBER TWO – Moments after unveiling his new cabinet last week – albeit with much less fanfare – Ford announced Parliamentary Assistant assignments for 26 other MPPs. Often seen as minister-in-training posts, PAs are basically second in command, doing much of the ministerial grunt-work, meeting with stakeholders and sifting through policy minutiae. A couple of the appointments come with titles pointing to specific files within the broader portfolio, offering a hint of issues seen as priorities for the new administration: Amy Fee as PA for Children and Autism, and Michael Parsa as PA for Small Business. The only minister without a PA is Raymond Cho in Seniors Affairs and Accessibility, while several have two, splitting up duties that were combined when Ford amalgamated ministries (including separate PAs for Municipal Affairs and Housing, and for Energy apart from Northern Development and Mines). The Parliamentary Assistant ranks include 18 just-elected rookie MPPs, leaving 29 PC MPPs as neither ministers nor PAs, including veterans Arnott, Hillier, Nichols, Walker and Lorne Coe, as well as McKenna, who was re-elected after being defeated in 2014. One of them is likely to be Speaker, while others could be named as committee chairs – which, like the PA appointments, come with a salary boost.
CRITICAL THINKING – PC caucus roles may be pretty much set, but New Democrat MPPs are still waiting to see what their jobs will be. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is creating a shadow cabinet of critic portfolios – a process entailing many of the same pressures Ford faced, as she looks to find meaningful work for 39 NDP MPPs (and their egos). Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser, with a considerably smaller caucus to contend with, has already named his critic team – even though, unless they are granted official party status, they are technically seven independent MPPs – while Schreiner, the lone Green MPP, will have to be his party’s critic for everything.
Updated Ontario Legislative Highlights charts listing MPP responsibilities and government contacts are now available. Click on the following links to download:
SEEING RED – If nothing else, Liberal supporters can look forward to some catharsis over the next few months, although that figures to be fairly unpleasant for party brass. Starting the painful process of rebuilding, Frasertried to be as upbeat as he could under the circumstances in a missive this week outlining next steps. He announced that the party is planning a “post-mortem seminar to hear from grassroots party members,” while Damien O’Brien, the party’s policy VP, will head up a summer task force, facilitating consultations “to reflect on our experiences from the last campaign.” Much as Fraser would like to focus on looking ahead, he needs to give party members an opportunity to vent about what all see as an abysmal election – vitriol that will no doubt continue when Liberal riding officials gather for their first post-defeat Provincial Council meeting on September 29.
FOR THE RECORD
“Those who did not vote for us, all I ask is for a chance to show you that life will be better.”
Premier Doug Ford, in his swearing-in speech, reaching out to the 60% of Ontario voters who didn’t choose him – a crucial demographic to get at least partly on-side if he wants to avoid the caustic polarization afflicting the U.S. under President Donald Trump.
“For me as a young woman of colour, and I’m sure for many others across this province, they’re not seeing themselves reflected in the decisions that were made today.”
Rookie NDP MPP Sarah Singh, right after congratulating Premier Ford on his new cabinet, slamming it for being predominantly male, white and middle-aged.
“What freedom the Ontario Liberals now have. They can think about the future of education in the most creative way possible without fearing the reaction of friends in the teacher unions. They can consider how to best protect workers in our rapidly changing modern economy without being afraid of stepping on the toes of key union leaders – just two examples where a fresh start might be in order.”
Former Liberal cabinet minister John Milloy, in a NationalNewswatch.com column – one of many offering the Liberals advice on how to rebuild – suggesting it’s time for the party to “build some new friendships and re-evaluate some old ones.”