Doug Ford, PCs ready to battle for the spotlight with Liberals
Throne speech Monday to lay out Liberal 'priorities' as new Tory leader plans 'unity rally'
Ontario's Liberal and PC parties will compete for the spotlight Monday as the government presents a throne speech, while Doug Ford throws a "unity rally" that his caucus and supporters are expected to attend.
Premier Kathleen Wynne suddenly prorogued the legislature last week. The new session starts on Monday when Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell will deliver a speech that will "outline next steps" for the Liberal government.
The decision comes just a few weeks ahead of Ontario's writ dropping, in early May, for a June 7 election that the PCs are favoured to win, according to recent polls. The move was also made within just a few days of Ford narrowly winning his party's leadership race on March 10.
- Wynne announces prorogation ahead of throne speech
- Ford on becoming PC leader, uniting the party and taking on Wynne
Wynne justified the legislative restart at an event on Friday and denied that it had anything to do with the upcoming campaign.
"It was about making sure that we could lay out our priorities for the next few weeks before the legislative session, as we go into our budget and then as we go into an election," the premier said.
"Those decisions are made long before anything was going on with the [Progressive] Conservatives."
Wynne also noted no sitting days were lost because of the decision to prorogue, as MPPs were not scheduled to sit on Friday.
Finance Minister Charles Sousa will present the government's pre-election budget on March 28. A budget is also an opportunity for governments to lay out their priorities for the coming year.
Cutting the session short means all legislation that was in progress now goes back to square one. Wynne said government bills that were on the agenda will be re-introduced, but that pledge does not extend to private members' bills from opposition MPPs.
With the campaign expected to kick off May 9, that leaves little time to pass legislation during the remaining sitting days. Debating the throne speech, and then debating the budget bill will occupy much of the legislature's time in the coming weeks.
Liberal House Leader and Attorney General Yasir Naqvi told Radio-Canada that the government will use debate time "effectively" in the days ahead.
He gave a preview of the main themes in the throne speech.
"We are very much focused on building on our fairness agenda and focusing on the care that families need. Things like childcare, mental healthcare and long-term care," he said.
Ford, who spent his first week on the job doing rounds of media interviews and settling into his new role, denounced Wynne's move as a political stunt and predicted that Ontarians won't fall for it.
No seat for Ford
"By proroguing the legislature, Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals want you to think this is a re-set for their government. But the people of this province know better. There is no re-set on 15 years of Liberal waste and political corruption," Ford said in a statement.
Ford does not currently have a seat in the Ontario legislature, which means he won't be able to face off against Wynne during debate on the throne speech and the budget.
That task goes to Vic Fedeli, who stepped in as the party's interim leader after former leader Patrick Brown abruptly resigned in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations in January and triggered the leadership contest.
Brown denies the allegations, but Fedeli still kicked him out of the PC caucus. The party announced last week that Brown will not be allowed to run in the election. Brown wrote on Twitter that he will not seek re-election.
Fedeli said in an interview that the transition process with Ford is going smoothly and that he was asked to carry on with his leadership role at Queen's Park.
"I'm the legislative leader of the Opposition but, no bones about it, he is my boss," Fedeli said about Ford. He said the two will work closely over the coming weeks and that he's encouraged by how supportive the PC caucus is of their new leader.
"It's old news now to us," Fedeli said of the leadership race.
Only two MPPs endorsed Ford, a former Toronto city councillor, in the brief race. Some stayed neutral or endorsed Caroline Mulroney, but the majority endorsed Christine Elliott. Now the caucus says they are quickly uniting behind Ford.
PCs say they're united
"Anybody that can't get over what happened probably shouldn't be in the business," said Michael Harris, who co-chaired Elliott's campaign. He said the caucus is now focused on the upcoming election.
"The thing that unites us all is the anticipation to defeat Kathleen Wynne," said Harris, MPP for Kitchener–Conestoga.
Usually there is a healing period after leadership races, said Harris, but given that the campaign is around the corner, PCs don't have time for that.
"We are in an election in days. We will be behind Doug 100 per cent," said Harris.
Ottawa MPP Lisa MacLeod, who stayed neutral in the race, said Ford is doing all the right things so far and she's "very happy" with his leadership.
"He's a breath of fresh air," she said.
MacLeod said Ford has been reaching out to members of caucus and members of the party to forge unity and she also likes how he's handled himself since barely winning the job over Elliott, a personal friend of the Ford family and former MPP.
"He has been very gracious in victory," said MacLeod.
MacLeod said the PCs have a "sense of momentum" and that the Liberals are trying to distract from it with the throne speech.
Fedeli called the decision to prorogue a "stall tactic" designed to run out the clock before the campaign starts.
"This is absolutely ragging the puck," he said.
Fedeli said nonetheless the PCs are ready to respond to the throne speech.
On Monday evening, the PC caucus is expected to attend an event Ford is calling a "unity rally" that is open to the public. It will be held in Etobicoke at the Toronto Congress Centre, the same venue where Ford kicked off his leadership campaign.
The NDP is also trying to compete for voters' attention. Over the weekend the party released a main campaign platform promise: free dental care for Ontarians who don't have dental benefits. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath plans to talk more about it Monday at Queen's Park.