JOINT VENTURE – Canada appears to have survived the first few days of legalized cannabis without being overrun by stoners, but the political narrative around the landmark law is still being written. In Ontario, Premier Doug Ford’s language continues to suggest something less than enthusiasm for public sales of recreational weed, but it’s not clear whether that’s based on a deeply held conviction or just disdain for the federal Liberals who spearheaded it. Whatever the motivation, Ford blasted the feds for creating “a mess” around enforcement, both in a speech to the Ontario Provincial Police Association and in an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “As your government opens the door to widespread consumption of a psychoactive drug in our communities,” Ford wrote in the letter, “it is critical that you also provide police with the necessary tools to ensure they can protect our roads and highways from impaired drivers.” Ford also took another dig at the provincial Liberals he replaced, writing that his administration “acted quickly and decisively to replace the Wynne government’s dated and inefficient plan involving government-run cannabis stories, with a flexible retail model.” As it stands, Ontario is the only province with no bricks-and-mortar outlets, making cannabis available only through an online government website until private shops can open next spring.
CARBON PAPER – Another Wynne government initiative unceremoniously axed when Ford took over was the cap-and-trade carbon emission reduction plan – a move now estimated to cost the provincial treasury some $3 billion over four years. That’s the calculation of Financial Accountability Officer Peter Weltman. While critics make hay of the cost – they are hoping for a repeat of the stench around gas plant cancellations that the Wynne Liberals couldn’t shake – Ford’s Tories are unapologetic. “That’s $3 billion back in the pockets of Ontario taxpayers,” Environment Minister Rod Phillips declared. “Yes, that means less money for government – that’s more money for families.”
ACTION FIGURES – On another conflict front, a Ford policy that hasn’t even been announced yet has organized labour and social justice groups up in arms. Ford has said that he will revisit Bill 148, the sweeping labour reforms brought in by the Wynne Liberals, although he hasn’t specified which provisions will change. No matter, more than 50 protests – touted as the “largest coordinated day of action for Ontario workers in the past decade” – were staged on Monday, outside the constituency offices of PC MPPs. Most of the demonstrations were relatively small and fizzled in terms of media interest, but they are no doubt the thin edge of the wedge as Ford’s opponents prepare for all-out war.
INNER FEELINGS – Another event this week that didn’t get much attention – by design – was the first meeting of Ford’s Priorities and Planning Committee of Cabinet. Always a hush-hush affair, this group wields tremendous clout, setting the direction for policy strategies before they go to the full cabinet. Membership on the committee is an indication of who is in Ford’s inner circle. Along with the Premier, P&P is comprised of House Leader Todd Smith, Health Minister and Deputy Premier Christine Elliott, Finance Minister Vic Fedeli, Economic Development Minister Jim Wilson, Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy and Energy, Northern Development and Mines Minister Greg Rickford. (Interestingly, no Caroline Mulroney, Lisa MacLeod or Phillips, despite their relatively high profiles.) Don’t look for any news releases flowing from these meetings – they are highly confidential, albeit very influential on policy decisions and timing.
SHOVE IT – Given the current divisive political climate, no-one really expected much civility in the Legislature. But an incident this week suggested the Chamber is descending into something akin to pro wrestling. Not unlike the so-called “elbowgate” federally – when Trudeau was alleged to have jostled Opposition MPs in the House of Commons – eyewitness accounts of the altercation between NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and PC MPP Donna Skelly differed widely, depending largely on the onlooker’s partisan vantage point. According to Skelly’s version of events, Horwath “crossed the floor and came up to me, yelling and screaming, and pushed me,” adding that the Opposition Leader “needs to probably consider some anger management. I mean she’s clearly an angry woman.” Energy Minister Greg Rickford concurred, describing Horwath’s actions as “aggressive and unacceptable.” From Horwath’s perspective, the Tory account was a “despicable” exaggeration. “This is nothing more than me having gone over to tap an old colleague on the shoulder. I mean I’ve known this woman for 20 years,” Horwath recounted, noting that both she and Skelly are from Hamilton. “The fact that [the Tories are] blowing this up into some kind of scandal just shows how this government cannot resist from being hyper-partisan.” NDP House Leader Gilles Bisson confirmed that his colleagues were peeved at the Tories for deliberately blocking the TV camera when Horwath was making a speech, but discounted the assault allegation. “I know Andrea Horwath well, Andrea would never do anything like that,” Bisson asserted. “She’s not a physical person.” Speaker Ted Arnott ruled that there was not enough evidence to take any further action.
RUMOURS & RUMBLINGS
As municipal elections get decided on Monday, polls show Toronto Mayor John Tory poised for re-election. In anticipation of this outcome, the rumour mill is churning that his main rival, former Chief City Planner Jennifer Keesmaat, will run for the Ontario Liberal leadership. If that happens, it would surely intensify the internal rift about how left-wing the party should be. Keesmaat is known to lean toward the socialist side – not far from where Kathleen Wynne took the Liberals, which didn’t work out so well – while many in the party are calling for a return to a more centrist, or even centre-right, outlook. This existential debate is expected to be the crux of the leadership race when it eventually happens.
Another byproduct of the municipal election has been trash talk between former MPPs – and not just from different parties. Brampton has been a particular hotbed for nasty exchanges, with current mayor and former Liberal MPP Linda Jeffrey being challenged by ousted PC Leader Patrick Brown. Typical of their discourse has been Brown sniping, “I’m tired of seeing Brampton walked over. I’m tired of seeing Brampton bullied,” with Jeffrey firing back, “I don’t think [Brown] has the ability to navigate anything federally or anything provincially.” Stranger, though, has been the sparring between Jeffrey and her former caucus mate, defeated Liberal MPP Helena Jaczek. Jeffrey tweeted a thank-you to PC cabinet minister Lisa MacLeod, enthusing, “It’s great when old political foes come together for the common good … I look forward to working together with your government to advance Brampton issues!” Jaczek retweeted, but with the added comment, “Linda – have you totally lost it?”
IN THE HOUSE
No new government legislation was introduced this week.
Bill 36, setting rules around cannabis consumption and retail sales, passed Third Reading and received Royal Assent.
FOR THE RECORD
“There is that interface between government setting policy and the public service speaking truth to power, but also then implementing government policies … In [the Liberals’] view, the objective of providing rate relief superseded the concerns that I had… The public service would not have recommended or supported this.”
Cabinet Secretary Steve Orsini, at the select committee probing the previous government’s spending, hammering a retroactive nail into the Liberal coffin by testifying that senior bureaucrats argued against the plan to borrow money to finance a hydro cost reduction for consumers.
“Just days before the deal was concluded, the Premier was briefed in detail in Washington, D.C.… [He] left that meeting and said publicly what he told us behind closed doors, that he stands ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with Canada’s negotiators.”
Federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc, in the latest war of words between Ottawa and Queen’s Park, taking exception to Premier Ford’s vocal criticism of the new free trade agreement.
“Andrea Horwath, Leader of the NDP and Leader of Ontario’s Official Opposition, has not endorsed Eve Adams’ municipal campaign. By citing an endorsement from an ‘Andrea Horvath’ in her campaign literature, Ms. Adams has created some confusion about that.”
Statement from the Ontario NDP after controversial former Mississauga MP Eve Adams — a Conservative who crossed the floor to the Liberals and is now seeking a seat on Hamilton City Council — raised some eyebrows about who is supporting her bid. Turns out Andrea Horvath — not Andrea Horwath, the NDP Leader — is Adams’ sister-in-law.