GETTING SCHOOLED – Maybe even more than New Year’s, the first week of September signals a new annual chapter – a feeling that was amplified in Ontario politics this year. There was symbolism galore this week: The unofficial end of summer (although it was, admittedly, far busier than most summers around Queen’s Park as the new Doug Ford government moved swiftly after being elected to a majority in June) and shift toward what figures to be an intense fall; Labour Day, taking on greater significance as the union movement started mobilizing against what it sees as a hostile right-wing government; and of course the beginning of the new school year, which this year has extra layers of angst amid concerns about math scores, the repealed sex-ed curriculum, pending consultations on a range of contentious school issues and the foreboding spectre of expiring teacher contracts. This unease extended to post-secondary institutions, thanks in part to an edict from the new government – issued just before the long weekend – around free speech on campus. “Colleges and universities will have until January 1, 2019, to develop, implement and comply with a free speech policy that meets a minimum standard prescribed by the government and based on best practices from around the world,” declared the news release from the Premier’s Office, driving home the point by threatening to reduce operating grants for institutions failing to comply.
IN YOUR COURT – Classrooms will share the spotlight with courtrooms for the foreseeable future, as groups opposed to the Ford government’s actions try to thwart them judicially. Ford is 0-for-1 in legal battles so far, having lost to car manufacturer Tesla – who successfully fought exclusion from rebates after Ford’s Tories cancelled subsidies for electric vehicles. (Tesla sells directly to customers, and the rebates were originally only through dealerships.) But there are far bigger court cases on the horizon, notably a decision expected next week on legislation shrinking Toronto City Council – followed by the inevitable appeal by the losing side. On another legal front, this week the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario sought an injunction against the repeal of the modernized curriculum – and the accompanying “snitch line” targeting teachers sticking to the new version – in a case that will likely dovetail with a lawsuit launched by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. Legal action is also reportedly pending around Ford’s cancellation of various initiatives from the previous government, including the cap-and-trade carbon emission program, wind turbines, a task force looking at part-time and contract work, and the basic income pilot project.
SUBWAY SANDWICHED – Regardless of how the Toronto election case turns out, Ford’s battles with the city figure to be a sub-theme through much of his early mandate. This week he reiterated his pledge to upload Toronto’s subways to the province, appointing infrastructure expert Michael Lindsay to head up an advisory panel looking into how it could be done. Former PC Leader Tim Hudak made a similar pledge during the 2014 election, and was ridiculed for it – a contributing factor, albeit a minor one, in his losing campaign. But Ford appears keen to follow through, asserting, “An upload of the subway would help the province to implement a more efficient regional transit system, reduce costs and build transit faster.” It will be up to Lindsay – who is working for free as a “special adviser” – to make recommendations, including addressing the issues Hudak evidently couldn’t get past, such as the complications of a split transit system where trains and buses are operated separately. Former Toronto Transit Commission CEO Andy Byford opposed the idea when Hudak floated it, citing a scenario of a sudden subway shutdown requiring shuttle buses, which might not be so readily available if they have different masters.
FAREWELL, JIM – Queen’s Parkers of a certain era were sad to hear of the passing of Jim Breithaupt last week at age 83. Breithaupt was the MPP for Kitchener from 1967 to 1985, and was a powerful Liberal voice during those Opposition years. Had the Liberals been able to upend the PC dynasty (which didn’t happen until after he retired), Breithaupt would surely have been a senior cabinet minister.
RUMOURS & RUMBLINGS
THE L WORD
Still licking their wounds from last spring’s decimation, the Ontario Liberals are showing some signs of life, as buzz starts to build around the coming leadership race. Word is that Ottawa MPP Marie France Lalonde – one of the seven Liberal MPPs who survived the June drubbing – is making some serious noises about running and is putting together a campaign team. Speculation will only heat up ahead of the September 29 provincial council meeting that will be the first gathering of grassroots Liberals since the election debacle. Party officials will no doubt welcome the distraction of leadership talk, taking some of the focus off the anticipated bloodletting from angry riding associations. Tickets are selling very quickly for the one-day event, which will take place at Toronto’s Chestnut Hotel – not exactly the swankiest digs, indicative of the Liberals’ hard times.
FOR THE RECORD
“Thank you for the work you will be doing for us over the next four years so we can keep our foot on the neck of Doug Ford and kick him the hell out of office in four years’ time!”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, at a Labour Day rally in Hamilton.
“We don’t usually do labour relations in the press, but when you disregard basic workers’ rights with such impunity, it doesn’t give us much choice. … It’s unacceptable from any employer, but it’s appalling from the NDP. You shouldn’t have to lose your job to have your human rights protected.”
Patty Clancy, Ontario Director of the Canadian Office and Professional Employees (COPE) union, defending three NDP office workers who have brought forward allegations of human rights violations against two Hamilton MPPs who employed them. One worker has since been fired, while on parental leave, and the other two are no longer being paid, as they all await an arbitrator’s ruling.
“I think Rob was quintessentially a person who thrived on being with people and taking little notes of their problems and taking their phone calls and so on. Doug is more interested in making decisions. They’re different people, but both of them are outside the mould.”
Toronto Mayor John Tory, who has known the Ford family for more than 20 years, offering his take on the current Premier and his late brother – Tory’s predecessor at City Hall – in a Maclean’s interview.