EVERY TRICK IN THE BOOK – Political memoirs, at least the Canadian variety, tend to be pretty tame, but former PC Leader Patrick Brown’s new book is causing quite a stir. Take Down: The Attempted Political Assassination of Patrick Brown – a revised title, “Attempted” being added when his political career was resuscitated by winning the Brampton mayoralty – has many of his former colleagues scrambling to discredit his version of the events that led to his provincial downfall. Relations between Brown and his successor, Premier Doug Ford, were already frosty, and now figure to get downright arctic. Ditto for current cabinet ministers trashed in the book. Lisa MacLeod, for instance, initially declined to offer an opinion, scoffing, “I don’t comment on fiction.” But when she saw how Brown depicted her, particularly her mental health struggles (which she has been quite public about), she blasted his writing as “disgusting and cruel.”
CHEQUES AND BALANCES – Brown’s book launch drew some attention away from Finance Minister Vic Fedeli’s fall economic statement, but the latter document figures to have more staying power. Fedeli has the daunting task of managing Ford’s election promises – balance the budget, find billions of dollars in efficiencies, not raise taxes, not lay off civil servants – and the fiscal update offered direction on the road ahead. Most of the heavy lifting is yet to come as Fedeli prepares to deliver his first full Budget next spring. He did point toward priorities, such as the pledge to work directly with First Nations to get the long-touted Ring of Fire mining project moving in Northern Ontario. Transportation was also a major theme, including a review of Metrolinx with an eye toward better transit planning, and reviving work on the GTA West highway corridor through York, Peel and Halton Regions. In the shorter term, immediate measures including scrapping three independent watchdogs – gone are the Environmental Commissioner, Ontario Child Advocate and French Language Services Commissioner, their duties folded into other departments – as well as an end to rent controls for tenants moving into new units, extended hours at LCBO stores, and tax cuts for low-income earners. Fedeli boasted of having already found $3.2 billion in spending cuts – without firing any front-line staff – but pegged the deficit at $14.5 billion, mostly because of forgone revenues from the cap-and-trade program the Tories cancelled.
THE PARTY’S OVER/UNDER – Fedeli’s economic statement included several overtly political measures, including the elimination of per-vote subsidies for political parties before the next election in 2022, and a loosening of fundraising rules to allow MPPs and candidates to attend fundraising events. In the latter case even Liberal supporters agreed, feeling that the previous government had gone too far in barring politicians from their own events. What they most certainly do not agree with, though, was a change announced before Fedeli’s statement, moving the threshold for official party status to 10% of the Legislature – 12 seats in the current configuration. This effectively scotches any hopes for the Liberals to regain party status before the 2022 election. Under the old rules, where eight was the magic number, they were one seat short; now they’d have to win five by-elections to qualify. Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser was obviously not pleased, scorning, “It’s thwarting democracy and it’s also what bullies do.” On top of leaving the LIBs in political purgatory – without the funding and staffing that come with party status – another offshoot was to spur speculation that former Premier Kathleen Wynne might bail sooner than later. Having suffered the ignominy of leading her party into decimation but keeping her own Don Valley West seat, Wynne’s ongoing presence at Queen’s Park is a constant reminder of the voter wrath that ousted them. When the LIBs were only one seat short of party status, she pretty much had to stick around, lest they be down two. Now, facing a five-seat mountain, her departure wouldn’t make much difference. Don Valley West is widely seen as a likely to go PC should it be up for grabs in a by-election.
CONSERVATIVE SOCIAL – Fedeli’s economic statement was naturally met with jeers from across the aisle in the Legislature, but it will get a decidedly more positive reception this weekend as thousands of PC members are expected to attend the party’s annual general meeting in Toronto. Most of the three-day convention will be social in nature, celebrating the ascent to power and exulting in the still-going honeymoon with voters. But there is one important bit of business as delegates elect the party executive, including a new President. Long-time political activist Brian Patterson is the clear favourite for the top post, a status enhanced when Ford himself endorsed Patterson – which was followed in quick succession by similar support from much of the current PC caucus.
IN THE HOUSE
Fedeli introduced Bill 57, the Restoring Trust, Transparency and Accountability Act, omnibus legislation to implement measures from the fall economic statement.
Fedeli and Deputy NDP Leader Sara Singh clashed a few times this week, and one confrontation resulted in the Finance Minister having to apologize. Singh was grilling Fedeli over delays in delivery from the online Ontario Cannabis Store, and he lost patience over questioning about the security contract at the secret warehouse. “I can appreciate very much that the NDP don’t quite understand how business works, but as the security of the OCS warehouse is a top priority, we will not be sharing further information on the day-to-day operation,” he derided, then, as he was sitting down, muttered under his breath, “That’s how business works. Idiot.” It was loud enough for the microphones to pick up and to be recorded in Hansard, prompting the apology for unparliamentary language.
FOR THE RECORD
“His was the biggest betrayal because I always thought I treated him well. I recall that Fedeli sucked up to me non-stop with compliments like ‘you’re the best leader we ever had’ and … ‘you inspire me.’ He’d lay it on thick; it was over the top at times. My experience with Fedeli was that he was extremely competent, but that he was also duplicitous and too ambitious for his own good.”
Excerpt from former PC Leader Patrick Brown’s new book, which is less than complimentary about many of his former colleagues, including the current Finance Minister. Brown’s memoir also tells of sexual harassment allegations against Fedeli in 2017 (never pursued, due to lack of evidence). Fedeli vehemently denies any such claim, and told reporters he is considering legal action against Brown. In a show of support, almost everyone in the PC caucus wore a yellow tie – Fedeli’s trademark apparel – in the House.
“I would rather have the endorsement of Kathleen Wynne than Patrick Brown. The lies in this book are disgusting.”
Premier Ford’s book review.
“It’s hard to watch, that’s for sure. It’s really hard to watch. I don’t like watching what are, in my opinion, bad decisions. I don’t like that at all, and it worries me enormously.”
Former Premier Wynne, in a Globe and Mail feature on what it’s like to sit in the Legislature while the government rapidly undoes many of her policies. Asked which policy is toughest to see go, she answered (‘dryly,’ according to the Globe), “It’s hard to choose.”