Chris Selley: Wynne’s spineless attempts to save her job drown out Toronto’s courage on road tolls

 

Chris Selley: Wynne’s spineless attempts to save her job drown out Toronto’s courage on road tolls

Chris Selley: Wynne’s spineless attempts to save her job drown out Toronto’s courage on road tolls

Chris Selley | January 27, 2017 | Last Updated: Jan 28 10:04 AM ET
More from Chris Selley | @cselley

Craig Robertson/Toronto Sun/Postmedia NetworkPremier Kathleen Wynne puts the brakes on tolls and pledges gas tax money to Toronto at press conference in Richmond Hill, Ont. on Friday January 27, 2017

TORONTO — At a quintessential Friday morning press conference at a bus terminal in Richmond Hill, Premier Kathleen Wynne announced she had spinelessly caved to her cabinet and caucus and reneged on a pledge to allow Toronto to toll the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway, for fear that her hot shambles of a government might lose votes among commuters in the 2018 election.

Sorry, I mean she announced she’s a really excellent listener: “Any leader who doesn’t listen to those voices, doesn’t listen to the team, … isn’t actually leading.”

Sorry again, I mean she announced tolls weren’t appropriate because she had suddenly realized — since last month, when she said she would approve them — that there aren’t enough alternatives for commuters. “Part of the fairness of decisions that we make has to be that people have choices. It has to be that whatever we do is more affordable, not less affordable for people,” she said.

Michael Peake / Toronto Sun files / Postmedia Network

Michael Peake / Toronto Sun files / Postmedia NetworkToronto’s Don Valley Parkway

I’m just going to pause here to note that the maximum toll anyone has thus far proposed, $5.20 a trip, is about twice as “affordable” as a GO train ride from Burlington to Union Station.

Oh hell, sorry a third time. I’m such a Douglas Downer. Wynne had good news! Beginning in 2019, Ontario municipalities will get a bigger share of the gas tax, doubling from two cents to four by 2022. That would likely net Toronto about $175 million annually — “the same money” as tolls would have brought in, Wynne said, to fund Toronto’s giant list of much-needed transit and transportation projects.

 

Kathleen Wynne focussed on her job, not the polls 2:51

In fact, there was no official estimate of what tolls might bring in. A very preliminary staff report suggested it could range from $166 million a year at $2 per trip to $336 million at $5.20. Indeed, the most basic questions remained to be answered: How quickly could tolls be implemented, and at what cost? Once the ever-increasing price of rebuilding the Gardiner was factored in, how much would be left over for sexier projects?

Crucially, however, these were the city’s decisions to make. Toronto had hitched its wagon to a big, new, plausible and sustainable funding source over which it had maximum possible control.

Jack Boland/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network

Jack Boland/Toronto Sun/Postmedia NetworkToronto Mayor John Tory responds to Premier Kathleen Wynne’s announcement about transit and then knocking out his proposed road tolls initiative on Friday January 27, 2017.

“I think that it’s important that they have the ability to raise the money to augment (provincial funding),” Wynne said way back in, uh, December. Now we’ll have to make do with a promise of $175 million a year, in 2022, from a premier who’s roughly as popular as athlete’s foot. Roll out the barrel!

A source with knowledge of the discussions between Wynne and Tory in September says the premier told the mayor to “go for it” on tolls. “I canvassed with the premier and others in the Ontario government a whole host of other options,” he said — a liquor tax, which (like tolls) is specifically contemplated by the City of Toronto Act, and others that aren’t, like a sales tax or a share of the HST. There was zero interest, he said.

“We are a global metropolis,” Tory thundered. “It is time that … I stop being treated as a little boy going up to Queen’s Park in short pants to say ‘please, could you help me out’.” And if the Liberals are going to say no to everything, he ventured, then they have “an absolute obligation” to provide their own “predictable funding.”

Craig Robertson/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network

Craig Robertson/Toronto Sun/Postmedia NetworkPremier Kathleen Wynne puts the brakes on tolls and pledges gas tax money to Toronto at press conference in Richmond Hill, Ont. on Friday January 27, 2017.

It would seem the Liberals disagree. The premier’s word is not bond, and by rights she won’t be premier for much longer anyway. There’s no love for tolls among her potential replacements: the Progressive Conservatives mount the same populist objections as the New Democrats. In a statement, Tory Leader Patrick Brown declared Friday’s announcement “a big victory for commuters.” NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said municipalities should get the gas tax money sooner — so we’ve got that going for us, which is nice. But it’s not all that much.

“We need more than ($175 million a year) to address $33 billion in unfunded projects that have been sitting around here for decades,” said Tory. “I don’t intend to be the mayor who leaves city hall with that number having (risen).”

Well, that is going to take some doing. There are other revenue options that don’t require provincial sign-off — a vehicle registration tax, a parking tax, property tax — but some are even more politically radioactive than tolls, and a smorgasbord of smaller ones might be a harder sell than one whopper. Tory showed courage in advocating tolls; that courage having vanished into the bottomless pit of Liberal cowardice and expediency, he may soon find himself more or less back at square one.

10 years of Liberal scandals

https://nationalcitizens.ca/index.php/ncc-initiatives/campaigns/a-better-ontario

SMART METERS

The Ontario Liberals have been an utter disaster when it comes to hydro rates. Over the past ten years of Liberal government hydro rates have skyrocketed and they are set to increase by another 42%.The Ontario Liberals have also forced “Smart” hydro meters on an unwilling public, which have added hundreds of dollars of errant costs to hydro bills across the province. The Smart meters have NOT saved families money – as the Liberals initially claimed. Furthermore at more than $ 1 – billion, the cost to implement the Smart meter program has been an enormous waste of taxpayers’ money.

HST

After promising not to raise taxes the Ontario Liberals surprised taxpayers with the HST in 2010. This new tax scheme has increased prices on many goods and services across the province and has hit Ontario’s families hard. Newly taxable items include: real estate sales, home heating and electricity, used car sales, internet access, as well as domestic air, rail, and bus travel. Let’s not forget the $ 45,000 severance packages for Ontario’s accountants and auditors – many of whom immediately transitioned to working for the federal government.The Ontario Liberals have ignored repeated requests from economists to make the HST “revenue neutral”. They have also ignored seniors groups and low income families that have been particularly impacted by the new taxes. Instead, the HST scandal has become the largest tax grab in Ontario’s history.

THE TIRE TAX

After promising not to implement any new taxes in 2003 – and reaffirming in 2005 that there would be no new tire tax, the Ontario Liberals again broke their promises. In 2009, Ontario implemented a tire tax that is the most expensive in North America.

Instead of calling it a tax the Liberals called it a “fee” and attempted to misdirect hardworking Ontarians. The program was designed to support an over-priced tire recycling scheme, which in itself was another Liberal failure.

MPAC

The Municipal Property Assessment Corporation was a government body that the McGuinty/Wynne government was responsible for overseeing. The MPAC significantly undervalued and/or overvalued numerous taxpayers homes resulting in either higher property taxes or a loss in home value. The MPAC refused to investigate the Auditor General’s initial findings.

CANCERCARE ONTARIO

Similar to the eHealth scandal, the CancerCare Ontario scandal involved very lax spending controls and oversight. Ontario’s taxpayers are once again expected to foot the bill for high-priced consultants performing questionable work. Over a brief two year period $ 75 – million was allocated to these consultants, many of whom are close Liberal associates and friends. Nearly $ 20 – million was directed to one organization – the Courtyard Group – without any bidding process whatsoever.

OLG SCANDAL

Allegations of widespread abuse of taxpayers’ money at Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. began to surface in the mid-2000’s. These abuses ran all the way from out of control expenses to outright theft of lottery winnings.Ontario’s Auditor General implicated the McGuinty Liberal government in the original mismanagement as well as the attempts to hide this waste from public scrutiny.Millions of public dollars that were meant to reach hard-working Ontarians were instead wasted by OLG employees on expensive dinners, gym memberships, and social clubs.Make sure you check back tomorrow for the next item on the Liberals’ “Legacy of Shame” list!

eHEALTH SCANDAL

This scandal continues to be a strain on Ontario’s taxpayers, as after more than one billion dollars of wasteful spending the program has yet to be completed. Part of the massive cost over-runs involved frequent use of high-paid consultants who performed little or no work and billed taxpayers for large sums. The McGuinty-Wynne government has been unhelpful in trying to discover any wrongdoing and they have utterly failed to provide effective spending controls.The entire eHealth boondoggle has come to symbolize government ‘pork’ and cronyism.

HEALTH PREMIUM

After signing a pledge not to raise taxes in Ontario the Ontario Liberals introduced the Ontario Health Premium, which is the largest single tax increase in our province’s history.
This was only the first of many new taxes and service fees that McGuinty and Wynne would force on Ontario’s families. The Ontario Health Premium was also implemented alongside other legislation that delisted many services covered by OHIP, which now require taxpayers to pay out of pocket.

How charges against Kathleen Wynne adviser could resonate in election

ANALYSIS

How charges against Kathleen Wynne adviser could resonate in election

As Pat Sorbara resigns post as campaign director, Ontario Liberals try to downplay how much voters care

By Mike Crawley, CBC News Posted: Nov 02, 2016 5:00 AM ET Last Updated: Nov 02, 2016 9:21 AM ET

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne's government has been rocked by another scandal that could have an impact on its prospects for re-election in 2018: bribery charges against her former chief of staff, Pat Sorbara, and Sudbury-based Liberal fundraiser Gerry Lougheed.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government has been rocked by another scandal that could have an impact on its prospects for re-election in 2018: bribery charges against her former chief of staff, Pat Sorbara, and Sudbury-based Liberal fundraiser Gerry Lougheed. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

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Premier Kathleen Wynne’s handpicked choice to run her re-election campaign has stepped aside amid charges of bribery.

No worries, insists Wynne’s deputy: the rest of our campaign team is great and besides, what voters really want to hear about is the job we’re doing on health care and education.

That’s the thrust of the message from Deputy Premier Deb Matthews, co-chair of the Ontario Liberal 2018 election campaign. She was getting grilled by reporters at Queen’s Park about charges of bribery against Pat Sorbara, the party’s CEO and campaign director (until resigning the posts on Tuesday).

I asked Matthews what Sorbara’s resignation would do to her party’s re-election hopes. Her response: “Pat obviously is a key member of our team but it’s a very strong team, and there are many people with lots of experience who can move the campaign forward.”

Matthews then faced further questions about how the bribery charges would hurt her party in the eyes of voters. She brushed off each one with a version of this: “People are looking for what we’re doing on those issues that are important to people. How’s our education system? What are we doing to strengthen health care? What are we doing on climate change?”

Assisted Suicide

Ontario Advanced Education and Skills Development Minister and Deputy Premier Deb Matthews told reporters Tuesday that Ontarians are more interested in issues such as jobs, health care and climate change than scandals. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

The Liberals would certainly far rather talk about health care, education and the environment — or heck, even the economy or hydro bills — than about the fact that one of Wynne’s closest advisers is due in court in three weeks.

It’s a delicate spin job that Matthews is trying to perform, hoping that yet another backroom political scandal ranks pretty low on the list of what really matters to voters.

Yet there’s an awful risk of underestimating how much people care about charges that reach right into the premier’s office.

“The Liberals cannot pretend that this is nothing but fluff,” said NDP leader Andrea Horwath. “This is serious. These are allegations of bribery.”

PC leader Patrick Brown says it comes down to a matter of trust.

Pat Sorbara

Pat Sorbara, who has resigned as CEO of the Ontario Liberals and the party’s campaign director, has been charged with two counts of bribery. (Mike Crawley/CBC News)

“People do not trust Premier Wynne, they do not trust her staff, they do not trust her operatives and the fact they continue to be before clouds of OPP investigations.”

It’s guaranteed that the opposition parties will continue to raise this issue until and unless Sorbara is cleared of the charges. Their objective: link the alleged bribery directly to Wynne.

On Tuesday, Brown asked Wynne repeatedly (in the protected-from-libel venue of Question Period) whether she ordered Sorbara and her co-accused, Sudbury-based Liberal fundraiser Gerry Lougheed Jr., to offer the alleged bribe.

“The fact that she won’t say that she didn’t order them to do this raises serious questions, and I think leaves everybody under the assumption that she’s complicit,” Brown told reporters at the Legislature.

Sorbara is vowing to neutralize the issue by beating the charges in court.

“I have served my entire career with integrity and a deep respect for the law,” Sorbara said in her resignation letter Tuesday to the Ontario Liberal Party.

“I continue to believe, with my whole heart, as I have from the beginning, that any charge against me will not succeed. I am shocked by any suggestion that I have done anything wrong.”

Gerry Lougheed

Gerry Lougheed, a Liberal Party fundraiser based in Sudbury, is also accused of bribery under the Elections Act. (Radio-Canada)

Wynne too insisted Sorbara did nothing wrong, from the moment the allegations first surfaced nearly two years ago.

I asked the premier on Tuesday if she still feels that way. “I’m on record, as you said, and I stand by the comments that I have made throughout.”

Wynne is obviously deeply loyal to Sorbara, described by colleagues and rivals as a talented political organizer.

“During the time that I am dealing with these matters, I do not want in any way for our Party to be tarnished,” Sorbara added in her letter.

Ultimately, whether this all tarnishes the Liberals, will be up to the voters.

Grim outlook for Premier Kathleen Wynne, Ontario Liberals in 2018 election: poll

WATCH ABOVE: Kathleen Wynne responded to reports that Patricia Sorbara, head of Wynne’s 2018 re-election campaign will be ‎charged by Ontario Provincial Police related to the Sudbury byelection scandal in 2015.

Only a quarter of decided voters would vote for the Ontario Liberals if a provincial election were held today, according to a new poll released on Monday.

The survey, conducted by Mainstreet/Postmedia, shows only 25 per cent of decided voters would vote for Kathleen Wynne‘s Liberals while 43 per cent would choose the Patrick Brown-led Progressive Conservatives and 27 per cent would opt for the Ontario NDP.

Wynne’s approval rating is the lowest among all the provincial leaders at just 15 per cent, far behind NDP Leader Andrea Horwath at 59 per cent and Brown with 51 per cent.

“There is very little good news for the current government and it may get worse as the effects of the recent charges against Ontario Liberal Party staff and operatives continue to dominate headlines,” president of Mainstreet Research Quito Maggi said.

READ MORE: Ontario premier’s top aide made alleged offer to energy minister

The poll reveals 59 per cent of Ontario voters are following the recent charges against former Wynne senior staffer Pat Sorbara and operative Gerry Lougheed, including 42 per cent either very or somewhat closely.

Sorbara, Wynne’s former deputy chief of staff, was charged last week with two bribery counts under the provincial Election Act, while Lougheed faces one count.

The charges stem from allegations that both individuals offered a federal MP – who is now Ontario’s energy minister – an incentive to run for the provincial Liberals in the Sudbury byelection.

When asked if they believe the premier was involved in the case, 53 per cent of those polled said Wynne may have been involved, although just two per cent believe she was “very involved” and 11 per cent said “somewhat involved.”

READ MORE: Liberal fundraiser, trusted Wynne adviser charged with bribery in Sudbury byelection scandal

“Almost six in 10 people (58%) said the premier should resign compared to less than two in 10 (17%) who said she should not. A quarter of Ontarians were not sure whether the premier should resign or not,” Maggi said.

The only good news for Wynne is that her party continues to lead in the coveted 416 region with 35 per cent support compared to the PC’s 31 per cent and NDP’s 27 per cent among decided and leaning voters.

“The rest of the numbers point to a possible wipe out in the 905, south central and southwest with divided fortunes in eastern and northern Ontario,” Maggi said.

The Mainstreet poll surveyed a random sample of 2,524 Ontario residents on Nov. 2, 2016 with a margin of error of +/- 1.95 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

The broken promise of Kathleen Wynne

ADAM RADWANSKI

She spoke in an unscripted, down-to-earth sort of way that allowed her to present herself as a different sort of politician.

She projected a distaste for the way her scandal-plagued party had conducted its affairs to that point. She was a champion for that party’s relative outsiders, who wanted it to embrace something more idealistic than the crass pursuit or protection of power. She had herself been one of those outsiders once, a community activist who first tried to get nominated as a local candidate by taking on a star recruited by the party brass.

So, for those of us who watched closely as Kathleen Wynne ascended to the Ontario Liberals’ helm in early 2013, it was possible to believe that she was just what Queen’s Park needed – someone who would look at the embarrassingly outdated way that business was done at the legislature, and drag it kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

A little more than three years later, as the spotlight shines on the grotesque way in which Ms. Wynne’s cabinet ministers dole out access in return for large donations to Liberal coffers, that optimism has proved terribly unfounded. Far from being the solution, she is a big part of the problem – at least as much as Dalton McGuinty, her much-maligned predecessor.

It would not have been difficult for Ms. Wynne, when she took office, to quickly identify what needed fixing when it comes to money and ethics in Ontario politics. Following the lead of the federal government, and many provincial ones, she could have banned or heavily restricted corporate and union political donations, and lowered caps on individual ones. She could have stopped the practice of assigning fundraising targets to ministers, and put an end to those ministers headlining exclusive events at which they schmooze with a small number of people who pay thousands of dollars for the privilege.

At a bare minimum, she could have decreed that there would be no more mixing of government and party business – that never again would someone seeking policy change from ministers or their staff be encouraged to cough up, with implications that deaf ears would be turned if they did not. Instead, she appears, if anything, to have upped the ante.

Under her watch, ministers are by some accounts spending even more time than previously trying to meet those targets. As The Globe and Mail has reported, there have been roughly a dozen exclusive fundraisers in the past few months alone at which a small number of attendees have paid as much as $7,500 for face time with ministers. And veteran lobbyists say the money requests from staff have become more overt. For a former grassroots activist to have started trading access in a way she once would have railed against, there are no excuses.

Ms. Wynne cannot reasonably claim that she was co-opted by pre-existing Queen’s Park culture, or that her party’s operatives have run a bit wild while she has been busy running the province. She did not enter the premier’s office as a Pollyanna – not after serving in senior cabinet roles beforehand. And she is by all accounts more hands-on with party management and campaign preparations – including, presumably, the building of a war chest – than was Mr. McGuinty.

There’s an argument that her approach is more honourable, since it doesn’t involve a phony Boy Scout act that requires others to do her dirty work, but there is little doubt that she has thought through anything significant that happens under her watch.

Nor can she blame it on other parties having done similar stuff when they were in office, and continuing to hold their own expensive and exclusive fundraisers now. The Liberals are the only Ontario party to have won a provincial election this century; at this point, everyone else is playing by their rules.

Ms. Wynne may nevertheless have justified it to herself on the basis of what she is up against, and the danger of opponents rolling back her policies in favour of those with which she vehemently disagrees. That’s a common rationalization for any incumbent. One known to be unusually competitive for someone at her level – a Premier who cannot let meaningless and sometimes unwinnable by-elections pass without campaigning in them as though her political life depends on it – may be especially susceptible to it.

From her perspective, and that of her colleagues, perhaps the end will justify the means. If they win another mandate in 2018, and are able to cement a legacy in infrastructure and climate-change policy and other things that get them out of bed in the morning, and Ms. Wynne gets to leave on her own terms – well, maybe the fact that she had to give a bit of access and favour to people willing and able to pay up will seem worth it.

She might even be able to add new campaign-finance rules, being promised for later this year, to that legacy. But as welcome as those would be, they would come only after the heat became too much to bear, and after her party had waited long enough that it had a chance to build up a big financial advantage heading into the next election campaign.

Trying to take much credit, if and when she belatedly comes around, could make her all but a caricature of the sort of politician she once promised not to be.

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