POOR THING – Safe to say the Ford government is unlikely to be warmly embraced by social justice and poverty activists, who are still furious at the cancellations of a minimum wage hike and basic income pilot project. So they were not the target audience as Community and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod announced an overhaul of social assistance programs this week. “The system is broken, and it’s broke,” MacLeod wrote in a Sun Media column outlining the first steps in the revamp. Key provisions include allowing recipients to earn more from working before their benefits are clawed back and a focus on “individual action plans” to move toward permanent employment. Evoking the language of the last PC government’s welfare reform – under Mike Harris in the late 1990s, a connection not lost on critics up in arms about the latest approach – MacLeod wrote that the new plan “provides a compassionate and personalized ‘hand up’ to the people of Ontario, instead of just a bureaucratic and impersonal ‘hand out.’ ”
UNFED – Premier Doug Ford specifically addressed – and scotched – persistent speculation that he has federal aspirations, telling reporters in his usual blunt style, “I’m zoned in on this province, nothing else … Not federally, nothing but fixing the financial mess that we inherited.” But that wasn’t to say he won’t continue to take an interest in extra-Ontario affairs. Indeed, Ford made the stay-at-home comment on the eve of the feds’ fall economic statement, imploring Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to forgo the national carbon tax Ford so adamantly loathes. (As if.) This same theme was prominent in both Ford’s and federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s speeches to the Ontario PC Party annual general meeting last weekend, practically daring the Trudeau Liberals to make the carbon tax a campaign issue in next year’s federal election. However, Ford also threw in a plot twist with an uncharacteristically conciliatory reference to Trudeau. “I’m not gunning for him,” the Premier insisted. “He has his differences, I have mine. At the end of the day we want to do the best thing for Ontario and I think we’ll come to a good conclusion here.”
FRENCH TWIST – Ford was similarly sunny after meeting with his Québec counterpart François Legault this week. Legault expressed some concern about Ford’s decision to cancel a planned French-language university and roll the French Language Services Commissioner into the Ombudsman’s office. Afterward the Québec Premier shrugged, “I don’t think it sends a good message to francophones but it’s not my decision” – hardly a declaration of linguistic war. However, dissent was somewhat louder within the PC caucus, in the person of rookie MPP Amanda Simard. She represents the significantly francophone eastern Ontario riding of Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, and posted on Facebook – in French – about her “disappointment and frustration,” adding, “I read somewhere that MPP Simard ‘might be upset.’ False. I am ‘definitely upset.’” Simard happens to be Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister responsible for Francophone Affairs (Attorney General Caroline Mulroney). No word yet on whether she will be moved out of that portfolio or face other disciplinary action for breaking ranks.
PROS AND SO-CONS – By almost all accounts, the Ontario PC convention was a joyful experience for the 1,000+ delegates, with official business, hallway chatter and social events all described as upbeat and spirited. The lone exceptions to this mood seemed to be hard-core social conservatives, who bemoaned their policy proposals being nixed before they even got to the convention floor. One of their ideas did get through – calling for gender identity to be eliminated from the sex-ed curriculum – which naturally sent LGBTQ activists into paroxysms. But this turn of events ironically gave Ford an opportunity to distance himself from the SoCons that continue to be a source of discomfort for many in the party. “I’m not moving forward with that. So, it’s done,” he asserted, although the rules say the proposal must go forward to next year’s policy convention. (Insiders noted that only a handful of delegates were there for Saturday’s vote; presumably a larger group, orchestrated by Ford and party officials, will kill the proposal at the 2019 policy conference.)
RUMOURS & RUMBLINGS
THROW THE BOOK AT HIM
Former PC Leader Patrick Brown’s new book, Take Down: The Attempted Political Assassination of Patrick Brown, continues to generate controversy, but some of it is backlash on Brown himself. Gossip making the rounds is that Brown tried to stop the book’s release after he was elected Mayor of Brampton – effectively reviving his political career, the “assassination” of which is the story in the book. But he would have had to return the $30,000 advance from publisher Dean Baxendale, and Brown had reportedly already spent it, so the book launch went ahead (albeit with the hastily added “Attempted” in the title). Baxendale had seen this movie before, when federal MP Maxime Bernier abruptly postponed his memoir after Baxendale’s Optimum Publishing had been touting it for weeks. If Baxendale was embarrassed by the rumours, he didn’t show it at a crowded book-signing event in Brown’s hometown of Barrie, crowing, “It is going fast… It’s the No. 1 best seller on Amazon.ca already for political biographies.”
IN THE HOUSE
Bill 47, repealing the previous government’s labour legislation, passed Third Reading.
No new government legislation was introduced this week.
FOR THE RECORD
“We’re very sensitive because we’ve seen something similar a year ago when we saw these policies shuffled away at the Patrick Brown convention.”
One-time PC leadership candidate Tanya Granic Allen (whose later bid for a PC nomination was scuppered by Doug Ford over publication of her extreme views), clearly not happy with social conservative policies being marginalized – again.
“Clearly some regulation is necessary – we have to protect our drinking water, have to protect our environment. But what we’re really looking for is over-regulation … We have way too much regulation in Ontario – 380,000 regulations compared to B.C., which has 169,000 regulations. And B.C. doesn’t seem like that bad a place to live.”
Todd Smith, in his role as Minister responsible for Red Tape Reduction, explaining his philosophy to a business audience in his home riding.
“You’re stuck with me.”
Ex-Premier Kathleen Wynne, shooting down speculation she’ll resign her Don Valley West seat in the wake of rule changes that put her Liberals five seats – instead of one – short of official party status.