CAUSE AND DEFECT – And then there were 74. That’s how many MPPs are in the PC caucus – still a huge majority of seats – after Amanda Simard became the second MPP elected as a Tory to sit as an independent. Unlike Jim Wilson, who was exiled over sexual misconduct allegations and admitted alcohol addiction, Simard left voluntarily, in protest over francophone policies. The rookie MPP for the 70%-francophone riding of Glengarry-Prescott-Russell had broken ranks in criticizing cuts to French-language services announced in the fall economic statement, and was widely rumoured to be considering crossing the floor to the Liberals. Instead she decided to go it alone. (Technically all seven Liberal MPPs are independent because they don’t have official party status, but they are a united caucus.) Simard’s dilemma spurred speculation that such internal conflict is more widespread, with the Toronto Star reporting a wave of potential defections, quoting a “senior Conservative operative” as saying, “No less than seven [PC] members want to get out.” According to the Star, a senior Liberal source confirmed outreach to allegedly disaffected Tories. But crossing the floor is considered high treason in political circles, and often cripples careers, so an exodus from the PC ranks may be wishful thinking for Liberals craving party status.
JE T’AIME – Premier Doug Ford admitted that Simard hadn’t returned his calls in recent days, thwarting appeasement efforts to keep her in his caucus. This followed some significant concessions in the face of the backlash, an indication that Ford was taken by surprise by the strength and ferocity of francophone advocacy. For starters, he created a stand-alone Ministry of Francophone Affairs, with Attorney General Caroline Mulroney still holding the portfolio but now as full-fledged Minister rather than responsible for it as a sub-department. (Ford named veteran MPP Gila Martow – who is from Montreal and speaks French – to replace Simard as Parliamentary Assistant in the new ministry, and promoted Jane McKenna to replace Martow as PA in Labour.) Ford also resurrected the position of French-Language Services Commissioner, albeit within the Ombudsman’s office. Franco-Ontarians remain largely unappeased – they are still furious at the cancellation of a planned francophone university – as does, evidently, Simard.
Updated Ontario Legislative Highlights charts listing MPP responsibilities and government contacts are now available. Click on the following links to download:
EMISSION ACCOMPLISHED – No-one is under any delusions that the Ford government will win over environmentalists, not after summarily scrapping the previous Liberal government’s cap-and-trade emission reduction program. But climate change is not going away as an issue, and the Tories needed to take some steps to at least mitigate the unceasing outcry. Environment Minister Rod Phillips unveiled the plan this week, acknowledging “Climate change is a big deal.” Having campaigned fervently against cap-and-trade and a carbon tax – as required by the federal government and which the Tories have vowed to fight legally – Phillips had to take a different tack, arguing his 53-page Preserving and Protecting Our Environment For Future Generations: A Made-In-Ontario Environment Plan is based on best practices. “We really went around the world and saw what’s working,” he enthused, touting “polluter-pay” provisions – emission-heavy businesses will have to meet industrial performance standards or face stiff penalties – as the plan’s centerpiece, along with a $400 million trust fund to incentivize green technology.
AUTO FOCUS – Premier Ford linked the climate change debate to the other major issue this week, suggesting the federal Liberals’ carbon tax policies contributed to the pending shut-down of the General Motors assembly plant in Oshawa. “A few words to the Prime Minister: Your officials have said in response to this crisis all options are on the table. Prove it … scrap your carbon tax,” Ford chided, in the wake of the crushing GM announcement. It has always been a point of contention the degree to which government policies – be it subsidies, incentives, regulations – really make a difference in major business decisions such as the location of manufacturing plants. But what is indisputable is that governments wear those decisions, especially when they involve job losses. Such was the crisis foisted upon Ford when the auto giant announced that it will be closing its century-old Oshawa assembly facility next year, at a cost of thousands of jobs. Ford’s response – and the response to the response – was interesting to watch, as he abandoned his usual bravado to concede, “The first thing I said [to GM], is there anything we can do as a province – absolutely anything? I asked numerous times, and the answer was no, there’s nothing. The ship has already left the dock.” This was hammered by critics as defeatist, while some detractors quickly jumped on social media to post pictures of Ford’s ‘Open for Business’ signs and snarkily muse that GM must not have seen them. Ford’s supporters, on the other hand, praised his tell-it-like-it-is pragmatism. Not surprisingly, Ford pointed the blame at previous administrations, issuing a statement ruing, “Unfortunately, years of economic mismanagement at multiple levels of government have squandered many of [Ontario’s economic] advantages.” But he recognizes that this is happening on his watch, and he was quick to pledge support for displaced workers, asserting, “Our Government for the People will work day and night to make Ontario Open for Business once again.”
IN THE HOUSE
No new government legislation was introduced this week. Of the four outstanding government bills on the Order Paper, three are at Third Reading and another at committee. All are expected to pass before the House rises for its winter break December 13.
“All we hear is a bunch of powerful people grandstanding, deflecting, selling false hope, making empty promises, but in private they know the GM plant is not coming back.”
Premier Doug Ford, blasting other leaders – specifically Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Unifor President Jerry Dias and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath – for acting as if jobs at the Oshawa General Motors plant can be saved.
“A lot of people would be uncomfortable sitting in that committee, taking all those questions. It’s a bit unusual to go work for someone, have private conversations with them, give them your best advice – for most of us who are not political, you’re doing it as a public service to give back – to then say, well, now we want you to tell us everything you ever told [the Premier] and when you disagreed with her. I think that’s when you have people say if that’s what I have to do at the end of my service, maybe I don’t need this.”
Ed Clark, who was a senior advisor to then-Premier Kathleen Wynne, unimpressed by his experience testifying to the PC-dominated select committee looking into the Liberal government’s finances.
“When I go to the store with my kids they say, ‘Daddy, daddy, I want that and I want that.’ I’ve got three kids. If I buy one kid the Captain America figurine, I have to buy all three of them one. They’re also gonna say, ‘Daddy, I want an ice-cream.’ OK, I’ll buy you an ice-cream. But sooner of later, something’s gotta to give.”
PC MPP Ross Romano, justifying his caucus voting against an NDP motion to fund an expensive cancer drug. His comment sparked outrage among community leaders in his home riding of Sault Ste. Marie, and Romano later apologized for a “poor choice of words.”