PUTTIN’ ON THE WRITS – Ontario has ostensibly been in election campaign mode for months now; as of next week we can drop the ‘ostensibly’ part. On Tuesday, Premier Kathleen Wynne will walk down the hall at Queen’s Park to formally ask the Lieutenant-Governor to dissolve the 41st Parliament. Wednesday morning, the L-G and Chief Electoral Officer Greg Essensa will sign the writs of election – 249 in all (two for each riding, plus one ceremonial version) – and the election will be underway. At that point rules around campaigning, advertising, fundraising and spending come into force. It also signals the end of the road for 15 current MPPs who are not seeking re-election. Although they will technically still hold their seats until the new slate of MPPs is sworn in, for all intents and purposes the focus now shifts to the new riding boundaries (124 electoral districts compared to the current 107) and the candidates to fill those seats.
YOUR INTENTIONPLEASE – Oddsmakers haven’t yet posted the line on the Ontario election (yes, there will be betting action), but right now most of the money would surely be on the Progressive Conservatives. Literally every published poll indicates a victory – with a majority government – for PC Leader Doug Ford. Campaigns count, of course, and anything could happen over the next month. But insiders all around, including some who have access to internal polling results, are projecting a Liberal wipeout – down to as few as eight seats according to the more dire predictions. A recent survey by Mainstreet Research, although it recorded a dent in the Tories’ lead (down five points from a similar earlier poll, to 45% support), asked those leaning towards the PCs who their second choice would be. Of those who ventured an answer, nearly a third opted for the NDP, compared to less than 7% who picked the Liberals, suggesting that if the Tories falter during the campaign it will be the New Democrats who pick up those votes.
TAKE IT TO THE BANK – We’re not sure where wagers fall in terms of election spending, but should the Tories care to place a bet on their own fortunes they apparently have plenty of cash with which to do so. According to figures compiled by the CBC via Elections Ontario, Team Ford has accrued nearly a million dollars in donations this year alone – more than the Liberals, NDP and Green Party combined. So far in 2018 the Tories have reported $945,000 in contributions – which doesn’t include donations to the four candidates in the leadership contest – compared to $488,000 for the LIBs, $317,000 for the NDP and $128,000 for the Greens.
FORD ASSEMBLY LINE – If nothing else, Ford continues to show he’s a master at sustaining media coverage. His election platform – the depth of which is still to be determined – will presumably come sometime during the campaign, but in the meantime he has generated headlines with a daily stream of promises. In many ways he has been systematically covering off issues: Hydro (check – pledging to cut an additional 12% off electricity bills, on top of the 25% Liberal reduction), Child Care (check – new tax rebate to cover child care expenses including babysitters, nannies and independent child-care providers, not just licensed operators), Mental Health (check – $1.9 billion over the next decade). He also made a promise regarding the Greenbelt – the swath of protected land surrounding the Greater Toronto Area – albeit somewhat off script. After the Liberals released a video of Ford making a “secret promise” (Liberal words) to developers that he’d free up a “big chunk” (Ford’s words in the video) of the Greenbelt for new subdivisions, Ford improvised his policy. Initially, he asserted that new space needs to be available to bring GTA housing prices down, although he vowed that “anything that we look at on the Greenbelt will be replaced, so there will still be an equal amount of Greenbelt.” This, naturally, triggered a maelstrom of backlash, and the next day Ford hit the reverse button, pleading, “The people have spoken. I’m going to listen to them, they don’t want me to touch the Greenbelt, we won’t touch the Greenbelt.”
VOTING RIGHTS – A “generational overhaul” of the Canada Elections Act being proposed by the federal government comes too late to have much impact on the Ontario election, but the legislation will be another filter through which the provincial vote is viewed. Bill C-76, the Elections Modernization Act, includes measures to address social media – and more specifically, the privacy of personal data on social media sites like Facebook – as well as third-party advertising and spending both during and before a writ period. Among the proposals are requirements for political parties to provide details on what information they are collecting from – and about – voters, and how it will be used. That kind of data, largely unregulated as it is now, will be at the heart of much campaign strategy as the Ontario election consumes the province between now and June 7.
IN THE HOUSE
Not surprisingly, what with the legislative session coming to its abbreviated end next Tuesday, no new government bills were introduced this week.
Bill 6, modernizing Ontario’s correctional system, and Bill 8, improving consumer access to credit scores and elevator maintenance records, passed Third Reading. That leaves just two outstanding government bills on the Order Paper. Both – including, most significantly, legislation to implement the 2018-19 provincial Budget – are expected to be passed before the parliament is dissolved mid-day Tuesday.
FOR THE RECORD
“[The Budget has] built in lots of prudence. We have reserves. We have contingencies.”
Finance Minister Charles Sousa, responding to the Financial Accountability Officer’s report forecasting deficits almost double what the Liberals are projecting. J. David Wake, the second budget watchdog to dispute Liberal calculations, warned that the fiscal plan contains “significant new spending without adequate new revenues to pay for them.”
“I govern through the people, I don’t govern through government.”
PC Leader Doug Ford, coining a new slogan as he explains his walk-back on allowing Greenbelt development.
“You don’t have to choose between Kathleen Wynne and Doug Ford.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, with a slogan of her own. Last weekend Horwath launched what she called the NDP’s “biggest campaign” ever, as she was formally nominated for re-election in Hamilton Centre.
“We whip that out of them: ‘No, no, no, you just follow the party line and do what you’re told.’”
Retiring Speaker Dave Levac, worried that partisanship and desires for cabinet posts or special privileges are robbing MPPs of their individuality. As he departs as the province’s longest-serving Speaker, he lamented that he would like to “de-brainwash” members of the Legislature.
“Democracy, don’t waste it. That’s what it says on the frame around my licence plate.”
Retiring PC MPP Julia Munro, with a few parting words of wisdom at her farewell party.