MONEY CRUNCH – Ontarians may have voted back on June 7, but the campaign rhetoric goes on. Premier Doug Ford made that readily apparent this week when he declared, “The people held the Liberals accountable on Election Day but their accountability did not end on Election Day.” Ford was announcing a legislative “Select Committee on Financial Transparency” (six PC and three NDP MPPs, no Liberals) to dig into how the previous government handled the province’s finances. This sort of thing is well worn – new governments routinely criticize their predecessors, expressing shock (shock!) at the maladministration they inherited. But the tone of this venture has more bite than in the past, perhaps a symptom of the turbulent times we are in. Finance Minister Vic Fedeli got the sniping started when he unveiled results from a commission of inquiry into Ontario’s books, reporting a deficit of $3.7 billion for the last fiscal year (a far cry from the surplus the Liberals claimed in the spring Budget), and projecting a staggering $15-billion shortfall for the current year (more than double the LIBs’ calculations). Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy followed up with his own report on a line-by-line examination of provincial spending, concluding that operating expenditures increased by 55% over the last 15 years ($2,226 for each person in the province, to humanize it) and outpaced population growth by 1.9%. All of this triggered a wave of provocative commentary, from Ford (see For The Record, below), from Fedeli – “They straight-out lied to us” … “The truth may not be much fun, but at least you know it’s the truth” … “The hole is deep and it will require everyone to make sacrifices without exception” – and of course from critics. “It’s a context for cuts. They’re going to be deep,” frowned Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser; NDP Finance Critic Sandy Shaw scoffed at Fedeli’s speech as an “act of political theatre;” and public service union President Warren ‘Smokey’ Thomas invoked the last PC government’s austerity measures, warning that the new government will be “Mike Harris on steroids.”
FESTIVE MOOD – Premier Ford is hardly worried about his critics’ barbs at the moment, as he basks in an ongoing honeymoon. Case in point: Once again the phrase “rock star” was on many lips as thousands of supporters attended Ford Fest – the family’s annual barbeque. In previous years the event was held in their spacious Etobicoke backyard, but that clearly wasn’t going to be big enough so it was moved to a large outdoor facility in Woodbridge. Even long-time politicos were awed by the size and enthusiasm of the crowd, many figuring it was the largest political event they’d ever been at. Ford didn’t disappoint, spending hours posing for pictures and selfies with his adoring fans – including one shot with extreme right-wing mayoral candidate Faith Goldy, which critics seized on and splashed across social media. Ford was unfazed by those declaring him guilty by association, although he was later compelled to declare, “I condemn hate speech, anti-Semitism and racism in all forms – be it from Faith Goldy or anyone else.” He was also not particularly bothered by the ire of his predecessor Kathleen Wynne. The ousted Liberal Premier took great exception to chants of “Lock Her Up!” whenever she was mentioned at Ford Fest – a gleeful nod to what Donald Trump supporters yelled about Hillary Clinton during the last U.S. presidential race. “It is just vile and unbecoming of a Premier,” Wynne chided. “It’s really, really disappointing to me that at an event this weekend he wouldn’t have shut that down.”
WHIRLWIND TOUR – Some anti-Ford types also tried to slam him for attending Ford Fest while people in the Ottawa area were reeling from devastating tornados. But Ford turned that into a virtue too, issuing a statement saying he was deliberately holding off his Ottawa visit so as not to get in the way of emergency first responders and hydro crews restoring power. He did tour the wreckage on Sunday, offering, “We’re here to assure everyone in the region that’s been affected that we’ll spare no expense, we’ll do whatever it takes to make sure we get people back on their feet.” Disaster Recovery Assistance measures have been activated for those affected by the tornados.
RED BLOOD – Wynne’s Ford Fest reproach continued her public visibility, which included directly responding to the Tories’ accusations of fiscal mismanagement. Having led her party to their worst election showing ever, she might be expected to stay out of the spotlight, but she has evidently decided to soldier on. How that is perceived by rank-and-file Liberals will be one of the sub-texts of this weekend’s Ontario Liberal Party provincial council – the first grassroots Liberal gathering since June’s debacle. Saturday morning will be devoted to, according to the official agenda, an “open and frank discussion” about what went wrong, but it’s not clear whether Wynne herself will face the wrath, or if she will even attend the conference. The meeting in downtown Toronto is close to sold out (at $75 a ticket, with no restrictions on who could buy them – i.e., it’s not delegated), and it will be interesting to see who among the former cabinet ministers and MPPs who lost their seats shows up. One ex-MPP who will be there for sure is Bob Rae. The one-time NDP Premier turned federal Liberal will participate in a “fireside chat,” offering his insights into the daunting rebuild the party now faces.
IN THE HOUSE
Attorney General Caroline Mulroney introduced Bill 36, the Cannabis Statute Law Amendment Act, to create a licensing framework for private retail sales of recreational cannabis and add marijuana smoking to the rules under the Smoke Free Ontario Act.
“Worst of all was the coverup – this was quite possibly the worst political coverup in Ontario’s history. Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals lied to all of us and we all know that if you lie on your taxes, if you lie on your mortgage, if you lie on your car loan, there are consequences. You don’t just get to walk away.”
Premier Doug Ford, stoking partisan fires as he announces a select committee to examine the previous Liberal government’s financial management.
“I am completely clear and sure that we revealed everything about what we were doing in the financial realm … [Ford is] going over issues that have already been in the public realm and creating an inflamed rhetoric around something that was already well known.”
Former Premier Kathleen Wynne, arguing that the select committee isn’t going to find anything hidden. She and the Liberals insist that the discrepancy in budget figures trumpeted by the Tories is almost entirely attributable to changes in accounting practices.
“We had a climate law and programs that were working. Now we don’t. When pollution is free, we can expect to have more of it.”
Environmental Commissioner Dianne Saxe, slamming the Tories for scrapping climate change initiatives. Environment Minister Rod Phillips said he respects the commissioner’s role, but disagreed with her viewpoint, noting, “she has the luxury of advocating for higher taxes.”
“Clearly, anyone can fall for it. Even Canadians can get played. But look, Doug Ford would have to go a long way to match Trump.”
American filmmaker Michael Moore, whose latest documentary Fahrenheit 11/9 is a grim warning about the U.S. President, discounting critics who see similarities with the new Ontario Premier.