THEM TOO – Inevitably in politics, perceptions of a cover-up are more damaging than the alleged misdeeds that spawned them (think Watergate). Such appears to be the beast Premier Doug Ford is now trying to tame, in the wake of last Friday’s abrupt resignation of Jim Wilson from cabinet and from the PC caucus. Initially, the narrative – set forth by a short statement from Ford’s office – was that Wilson was leaving to “seek treatment for addiction issues.” That part is apparently true (Wilson has reportedly entered rehab for alcohol abuse), and was greeted with a wave of sympathetic well wishes from across party lines, many praising his “courage” in facing up to his demons. But on Monday the story changed quite dramatically, amid news reports that Wilson had actually been forced out by accusations of sexual misconduct from a male staffer at Queen’s Park. At the same time, it was also reported that Andrew Kimber, a senior advisor to Ford, had also resigned, in his case over allegations of sexting female colleagues. Ford insisted that the whole truth was originally kept quiet in deference to the complainants – “They repeatedly asked us not to make this a media story … with all due respect to the media, they trump the media,” he pleaded to reporters – but that just made things worse when the true impetus for the resignations emerged a few days later. NDP MPP Sara Singh wasted no time invoking the dreaded C-word – “cover-up” – charging, “This is a lie by omission. There’s information that is being withheld.” Ford acknowledged that independent investigations are underway into both sets of allegations, but noted that the accusers have not gone to police. As for the accused, Ford didn’t hide his disdain, scorning, “They’re gone, they’re done. See ya later.” Kimber subsequently issued an apology via Twitter; Wilson has yet to comment publicly.
CABINET FILING – Perceptions aside, a very real cabinet shuffle was necessitated by Wilson’s departure. (He will continue to sit as the MPP for Simcoe-Grey, albeit as an independent. As such, there is no need for a by-election to replace him in what is considered one of the safest PC seats in the province.) Todd Smith steps into Wilson’s Economic Development role, opening the door for Bill Walker to be promoted into cabinet in Smith’s previous Government and Consumer Services portfolio. Four other ministers swapping portfolios (Sylvia Jones trading up to Community Safety and Correctional Services, with Michael Tibollo going the other way to Tourism, Culture and Sport; Jeff Yurek taking over Transportation, changing places with John Yakabuski, who is now responsible for Natural Resources and Forestry) was seen as Ford bouncing troubled but still trusted ministers into lower profile roles. As always, reviews of the shuffle had a partisan flavour, with Liberal supporters chortling that former Premier Kathleen Wynne was able to keep her cabinet intact for more than a year, compared to Ford having to move ministers barely four months into his mandate. Tories scoffed that Wynne’s intransigence was part of her government’s problem, lauding Ford for taking decisive action.
DEPUTY DEPARTURE –Ministry depth charts are still being written in pencil, as the roster of Deputy Ministers remains in flux. Scott Thompson, who is the senior bureaucrat in Transportation and Infrastructure, has announced he’s leaving at the end of the calendar year. A job search to fill the two vacancies, along with a new Deputy for Treasury Board, is underway.
VIC SCHTICK – However much they may be reeling right now, Ford’s Tories will almost certainly be able to wrest back control of the overall messaging next week. On Thursday, Finance Minister Vic Fedeli will deliver a fall economic statement. He has indicated it will be a mini-Budget, including tax measures and policy changes, rather than the vague fiscal update these reports have become in recent years. To be sure, there will also be plenty of castigating of the previous Liberal government’s financial management – a theme that will continue at least until next spring’s formal Budget, and probably beyond.
WILD BLUE, YONDER – The day after Fedeli’s economic statement, Progressive Conservatives from across the province will gather in Toronto for their annual convention starting November 16. The mood will no doubt be jubilant (a return to power after 15 years on the outside will do that), kicking off with a “Victory Party” on Friday night, with Ford hosting a Premier’s Dinner Saturday. The most serious bit of business will take place on Sunday, when delegates will vote for the party executive.
CHEAT SHEET – How stunningly different this PC convention will be compared to a year ago. Although popular in the polls, then-party leader Patrick Brown was staring down a raft of allegations of cheating in nomination meetings – perceived mismanagement that likely contributed to his lack of internal support when his downfall came a few months later. But despite the Tories’ resounding election win under Ford in June, the genie is not completely back in the bottle. Police in Hamilton confirmed this week that arrests have been made (although no charges, yet) in their investigation of alleged fraud related to the Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas PC nomination in May of 2017. This confirmation came as part of the police argument against releasing details of their investigation. Described as the first probe of its kind related to accusations of cheating by a Canadian political party, the cops contend that disclosing information – as sought by the Globe and Mail and CTV – could jeopardize the case by creating “undue negative bias” toward the government.
IN THE HOUSE
MPPs did not sit this week, with most in their home constituencies getting ready for Remembrance Day services this weekend. The Assembly will reconvene on November 12.
FOR THE RECORD
“It’s pretty sloppy. The interim report just basically listed who we met on what date. That’s because the timelines for this committee are so tight and the information we heard we already knew … I’ve said to those [PC committee] members, if you already know what you want from this committee, can’t you just save us a lot of time and can’t we just get to it? They clearly have an end goal, which is purely politics.”
NDP MPP Catherine Fife, unimpressed by the Select Committee on Financial Transparency looking into the previous government’s finances, which released a two-page interim report.
“That is nice. That is a quality sign.”
Premier Ford, in Sarnia to unveil the first of 25 “Welcome to Ontario – Open for Business” signs at 18 border crossings.
“People in Ontario will see this as nothing more than a cheesy exercise in sloganeering. I’m sure they would much rather see those dollars invested in local infrastructure and supports for education or small business.”
NDP MPP Taras Natyshak, scoffing at the border signs, and the $106,000 cost to produce and install them.