CLAUSE AND EFFECT – One way or another, Premier Doug Ford was going to succeed in his quest to shrink Toronto City Council – the question now is what the residual impact of this battle might be. Temporarily thwarted by a lower court, Ford’s Tories opened up two different fronts to impose their will: 1) seeking a stay of the Superior Court decision; and 2) introducing new legislation to invoke the constitutional notwithstanding clause that would override it. As it happens the stay was granted, putting the original Bill 5 back on the books and rendering the reboot Bill 31 redundant. Either way, it was a certainty that Toronto voters would be electing 25 councillors, rather than 47, next month. On the surface, that’s an unequivocal victory for Ford, and once the new council settles in this fight will quickly fade into history. (Remember the outrage over the previous PC government amalgamating suburbs into the mega-City of Toronto 20 years ago? Entire generations don’t; the current city structure is just accepted.) But the skirmish may have set a tone that will define the Ford mandate moving forward, especially for Ford supporters uncomfortable with his willingness to use the “nuclear” option of the notwithstanding clause for what many saw as a relatively minor issue. Some images – MPPs gathering in the wee hours of Monday morning to expedite debate on Bill 31, hecklers in the gallery being led away in handcuffs, protestors outside the Legislature making enough noise to be heard inside – could have a lasting effect, potentially creating voter fatigue over time as Ford continues to push ahead and his foes continue to push back.
RED INK – Ford will certainly chalk up another victory today – at least from a PC perspective – when his Finance Minister Vic Fedeli unveils results from two examinations of Ontario’s books. Both will undoubtedly be condemnations of the previous Liberal government, laying the groundwork for whatever cost-cutting policies the Tories choose to pursue. “You will be floored when you hear the numbers,” Ford told reporters earlier this week, setting the stage. “We’ve got a serious issue on our hands.”
STOCK IN TRADE – Ford’s blunt force approach has served him well so far, but it made a lot of folks nervous as he stepped into the delicate talks for a new free trade agreement with the U.S. Ford’s first international foray as Premier had him stopping by Washington ostensibly to support the Canadian negotiating team. He and Economic Development Minister Jim Wilson met with key officials, including Canadian Ambassador to the U.S. David MacNaughton – an uneasy conversation, to be sure, given that MacNaughton was Principal Secretary to former Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty before being appointed to his Ambassador gig. Before heading stateside, Ford made his stance clear in his usual unsubtle way. “If you’re asking me, don’t compromise,” he advised Canadian negotiators. “We have to protect the farmers. We have to protect the autoworkers. We have to protect everyone in Ontario.” Wilson was equally direct, asserting, “We want to be proactive and make sure that the federal government really does understand. Because you’re all hearing the rumours that we are hearing, that maybe they don’t want a deal. So we’re going down there to say that ‘You bloody well need to get a deal.’” On the receiving end, federal Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland was diplomatic about Ford getting involved, offering, “I am an Ontario MP. I am always happy to speak to the government of Ontario about where these negotiations are going and to hear their thoughts and ideas.”
FIELDS OF DREAMS – “I love farmers.” Doesn’t get much more blunt than that, as Ford basked in a warm welcome at this year’s International Plowing Match and Rural Expo. Rural Ontario has long been a bastion for the Tories, and they were clearly delighted to be coming to the annual fair as the party in power for the first time in 15 years. More than one observer described Ford as being treated like a “rock star,” and his opening speech was met with thunderous applause. “You can be sure rural Ontario will be looked after by this administration,” he enthused, and further emphasized the us-versus-them narrative (notwithstanding that he is from suburban Etobicoke) by slagging the New Democrats. “They hopped in their car from downtown, the NDP, and drove down here,” he scoffed. Ford and a sizeable contingent from his caucus made the trip to Chatham-Kent, as did big groups of MPPs from the other parties – many of them bleary after the red-eye debates early Monday morning. The House did not sit for the rest of the day Monday or at all on Tuesday in deference to the IPM.
IT’S ONLY NATURAL – Aside from the group hug with farmers, Ford did make one policy announcement, touting legislation for a new natural gas program that is much more private-sector driven. Slamming the previous Liberal government’s restrictions, Ford criticized private sector companies being limited from participating in natural gas expansion, decrying that it was instead managed by a “taxpayer-funded program.” The new approach will encourage private gas distributors to partner with communities to develop expansion projects in rural and Northern Ontario.
IN THE HOUSE
Infrastructure Minister Monte McNaughton introduced Bill 32, the Access to Natural Gas Act, amending legislation to provide rate protection for consumers when gas distributors incur costs for investments to expand access to natural gas.
Energy, Northern Development and Mines Minister Greg Rickford introduced Bill 34, the Green Energy Repeal Act, to repeal the Green Energy Act enacted by the previous Liberal government in 2009 to promote wind and solar power generation.
Bill 31, now at Second Reading, is being abandoned after the legal decision reinstating Bill 5. It will stay on the Order Paper, but will not be called for further debate and will eventually be wiped out when the parliamentary session ends.
FOR THE RECORD
“[Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba] was understandably motivated by the fact that the timing of Bill 5 changed the rules for the election mid-campaign, which he perceived as being unfair to candidates and voters. However, unfairness alone does not establish a Charter breach. The question for the courts is not whether Bill 5 is unfair but whether it is unconstitutional. On that crucial question, we have concluded that there is a strong likelihood that [Belobaba] erred in law and that the Attorney General’s appeal to this court will succeed.”
Decision from the Ontario Court of Appeal, reinstating legislation to cut the size of Toronto City Council. A formal government appeal of Belobaba’s original ruling will still go ahead, but after the municipal election for the smaller council.
“We condemn his actions and call on those in his cabinet and caucus to stand up to him. History will judge them by their silence.”
Joint statement by former Prime Minister Jean Chretien (Liberal), former Ontario Attorney General Roy McMurty (PC) and former Saskatchewan Premier Roy Romanow (NDP) – all prominent politicians who helped craft the Canadian Charter – slamming Premier Doug Ford for invoking the notwithstanding clause and urging his MPPs to vote it down. All of this became moot when the court decision took the legislation with the notwithstanding clause off the table, but it was indicative of the heavyweight discussion inspired by Ford’s approach.
“Well-connected energy insiders made fortunes putting up wind-farms and solar panels that gouge hydro consumers in order to generate electricity that Ontario doesn’t need. Today we are proud to say that the party with taxpayers’ money is over.”
Infrastructure Minister Monte McNaughton¸ sounding very much like Premier Ford as he announces legislation to undo the Liberals’ Green Energy Act.