OPP called in to investigate deleted McGuinty office emails

From the Canadian Press,

The commissioner of the OPP confirmed Friday that his force is looking into the circumstances surrounding the deletion of emails in the premier’s office, concerning the cancellation of two gas plants just before the last provincial election.
 
The news came as the opposition parties clamoured for accountability over the destruction of the documents.
 
Former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty should testify under oath before a legislative committee about the destruction of emails by his former chief of staff and other top Liberals, the New Democrats said Friday.

Here is the letter that confirmed that the OPP has referred the PC request for criminal investigation,

Ontario PCs release new attack ad against Kathleen Wynne

Tim Hudak’s PC Party has released their first ad attacking the newly minted Premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne.

Predictably, her “Dalton, Dalton” cheering during her victory was used by the PCs to link the old with the new as more of the same. McGuinty has been a polarizing figure in Ontario and with an imminent election, the Tories will be looking to make the ballot question one of McGuinty’s legacy in Ontario.

The Tories have chosen to highlight debt as the first criticism of Wynne. They go back to Wynne’s days as a school board trustee and her record as a fiscal manager there and state that Wynne would not aim to balance Ontario’s books for five years.

This won’t be the last we’ll see on the Tory full-court press, however. The gas-plant and ORNGE helicopter scandals are still fresh in the minds of Ontarians.

Liberals vs. Liberals

Today, the Prime Minister stated that more Canadians are working today than before the global economic crisis hit.

Dalton McGuinty’s Chief of Staff on Twitter:

Did you know Ontario has recovered 96% of the jobs lost during the recession? It’s true, and shows the plan is working.

From Global Toronto:

The NDP would scrap $850 million a year in planned corporate tax cuts of $1.4 billion this year and $1.8 billion next year to offset the lost HST revenue, said Leader Andrea Horwath.

“The HST is simply a shifting of tax burden off the corporate sector onto the backs of individuals,” she said.

“We would claw back the corporate tax cuts the government has implemented and cancel the future ones.”

Scrapping such a big slice of corporate tax cuts would hurt the fragile economic recovery by raising taxes on the struggling forestry and automotive sectors, warned Finance Minister Dwight Duncan.

“It is about the most short-sighted, dumb public policy pronouncement one can envision,” said Duncan.

Dwight Duncan is the Ontario Finance Minister.

Meanwhile Michael Ignatieff suggests freezing corporate tax cuts. And Scott Brison is none too pleased about the Conservative record and believes that the federal Liberals can do better.

UPDATE: David Akin asks the question,

Alright, I admit it. When a journalist asked Liberal Finance Critic Scott Brison a devastatingly worded question there was no way to answer safely, I smiled.

Here’s the question put by Sun Media’s David Akin:

“The Liberal finance minister in Ontario was asked this week about corporate tax cuts, his program. The NDP there would like tax cuts to be cancelled and his response was, and I’m quoting now, ‘It is about the most short-sighted, dumb public policy pronouncement one can envision to cancel corporate tax cuts,’ and I wondered if he knows something you don’t.”

Frankly, any honest reporter would admit there is great pleasure in seeing a politician squirm because of your question. Upon hearing the question, Brison did squirm. Then his response went from refusing comment to repeating his line that the previous Liberal government in Ottawa cut corporate taxes when the government was in surplus and he called on the current Conservative crowd to adopt that same policy and cancel the cuts scheduled to go into effect next year. All in all, Brison made the best of a situation he couldn’t win. When your provincial cousins call your policy “short-sighted” and “dumb” what possible response can you give? Something tells me there were probably some interesting calls between Parliament Hill and Queen’s Park not long after Brison’s news conference.

Rob Ford – Toronto’s Next Mayor?

It’s Saturday at noon in the Rob Ford campaign headquarters in Scarborough and the background noise from the activity that surrounds me is chaotic.

However, the noise is incongruent to the scene around me. A well-oiled machine is in place and judging by recent polls, it appears that the unlikely candidate, the boorish, unpolished, yet small c-conservative and grassroots candidate is about to become the 64th mayor of Canada’s largest city. Internal nightly poll summaries of the Ford campaign are also showing the same; Ford leading by about 9 points and growing over the past couple of days.

The geography encompasses 22 federal and 22 provincial ridings, the population exceeding 5 million, in a jurisdiction that represents more people than the entire province of British Columbia. The fight for Toronto is by no means a small operation. Ford has two fully staffed offices, this one in the east end and the other in Rexdale. The Rexdale office used to be an old Swiss Chalet counter that had grease infused into the walls when I toured it a few short months ago, before I was offered and accepted work on the campaign. Thankfully, the building is all cleaned up and serves as Ford’s campaign hub west of Yonge. At the start of the campaign, when they cleaned the ducts, the office was so rank that campaign volunteers set up outdoors for a day. Ford’s label factory in Etobicoke has even served to house some campaign workers including Nick Kouvalis, Ford’s deputy campaign manager, who slept in the office and had access to a shower just off of the factory floor. The scope of any competitive campaign in the city is complex, rounds of tele-townhalls and robo-calls have been conducted by both the Ford campaign and that of his main competitor, former McGuinty cabinet minister George Smitherman. The technology is fairly new in the Canadian context. Indeed many process stories have been written about the tactics during this campaign. On the topic of tactics, a campaign volunteer told me that earlier this week, there was an amusing opportunity to acquire a huge hot air balloon shaped like a train for election day. The campaign planned to put a banner on it with “Stop the Gravy Train. Vote Rob Ford”, however, the balloon was in the Netherlands at the time and the Toronto-based owner couldn’t get it back to the city by Monday.

The “Gravy Train” has become the mainline message of the Rob Ford campaign. A huge swath of voters — prior to the municipal campaign — were found to respond strongly to messages that acknowledged waste and mismanagement at city hall. Lucky for Ford, as a city councillor he had a strong reputation as a combative figure at city hall on these same topics.

It is also no wonder that Rob Ford has become the topic of conversation around the cabinet table in Ottawa. The implications of a Toronto mayor, a conservative mayor, and an unpredictable factor in Rob Ford has the Conservatives wondering about the shifting electoral landscape in Toronto. If Rob Ford represents the populist anger of the exploited yet neglected taxpayer in Toronto, will Ford provide a safety valve to vent pressure against incumbent governments? Will he blaze a path in the Toronto wilderness for Conservatives? How anchored to Ford are federal and provincial fortunes in Toronto?

For Conservatives, their advance scout in Toronto and the evolving demographic landscape has been Jason Kenney. The Minister of “curry in a hurry” was in also in Toronto this week speaking about the Conservative government’s new human smuggling legislation. This bill is the other half of the government’s earlier and successful efforts on refugee reform, legislation that became law just a few months ago. Liberals are still scratching their heads on the Conservative pivot vis-a-vis connecting with new Canadians. Waves of immigration came to Canada under Liberal governments in the preceding decades and many by default found their allegiance with the Liberal Party. Painted as anti-immigrant and anti-ethnic by their opponents, Conservatives are finding that appealing to the values instead of the identities of new Canadians is winning them over. In religion, as in politics, the most faithful are often the converts.

A campaign worker looks up from a phone call and asks if anyone in the busy office speaks Mandarin or Cantonese, the phone is passed to Bo Chen, another worker and the call is answered without missing a beat. “She’s voting for Rob,” the mandarin-speaking Bo explains after finishing the call. Ford’s fortunes among New Canadians has been another unwritten and snidely dismissed story of this campaign. Polling among voters born outside of Canada has been favourable to Ford according to an Ekos report that was released earlier this week showing a 20 point lead among people whom have been traditionally treated as a block and as one to be pandered to by the former political establishment. Ford famously said that “Oriental people work like dogs”. Bo admits that this statement by Ford was his first exposure to the uncouth councillor. His interest was peaked and he signed up for the campaign shortly after, “We do work hard”.

For Rob Ford, the political establishment cannot fathom how the plain-talking, politically incorrect Ford is winning over ethnic voters. “Ethnic voters, like anyone else, are concerned about wasteful spending at City Hall. Where the left panders to ethnic communities, Ford has treated these constituents like anyone else. And, he provides great service,” said Richard Ciano, Ford’s pollster.

Every good campaign is won by hard work, innovation of new techniques, successful execution of previously learned strategies, understanding your voters, seamlessly passing the torch from one tired group of workers to another, and by managing the chaos of the maddening exercise of mass persuasion into an effective machine. We’ve got about 48 hours until the polls close here in Toronto. We are on our way to seeing a conservative mayor in the city of Toronto.

Tim Hudak interview at the Manning Centre Conference

I asked Hudak about principle vs pragmatism in opposition compared to government, about how he would balance the deficit, the difference between Harper/McGuinty deficits and about the renegotiation of health transfers that is rapidly becoming visible on the horizon. I spoke to the Ontario PC leader after his remarks at the Manning Centre networking conference in Ottawa this weekend.

Just where does Ignatieff stand on the HST? Or on anything?

A week ago, I wrote about BC Liberal party MP Ujjal Dosanjh’s characterization of the BC HST as the “Harper Sales Tax”. I pointed out that it was quite a stretch for the former NDP Premier of that province, given that the party he formerly led in that province put the blame squarely on the provincial policy writers — the BC Liberal government.

Dosanjh responded to my comments explaining that the BC Liberals and federal Liberals are two different parties and suggested I was trying to link the two, but yet he’s the one who went out of his way to shift his scorn from those Liberals to the Conservatives in Ottawa. Politics is local and Dosanjh — scraping by with a narrow victory in 2008 by 22 votes — is tapping into a hotly debated populist issue in that province. But is this wise for him?

Despite this, does he have a point? While Dosanjh acts as an apologist for Liberal premier Gordon Campbell, essentially decrying that “Harper made him do it”, tax harmonization was suggested and incentivized at the federal level. However, if harmonization is unpopular in BC, voters are likely to blame those that signed off of on the policy and implemented it into law — ie. the jurisdictional authority — the BC Liberal government. And while we awkwardly parse how related or non-related these Liberals are to those Liberals and which Liberals like taxes and which ones don’t, the overall story then evolved.

Dosanjh’s words rang a bit more hollow this week when Ontario finance minister Dwight Duncan — a Liberal himself — said that Michael Ignatieff had approved of the HST and would help Ontario along its path to harmonization should he become Prime Minister. These Liberals, as Mr. Dosanjh will undoubtedly note, are very much related to their federal Liberal cousins.

Yesterday, Ignatieff’s finance critic John McCallum cited a “miscommunication” when it came to his leader’s position on the HST, while today Ontario Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty said that Ignatieff gave him the “clearest of impressions” that he would support the tax.

These days it seems difficult to nail Michael Ignatieff down on any controversial issue. His position on a number of issues from Iraq, to George W Bush, to coercive interrogation, to a Liberal-NDP coalition, to harmonization have evolved drastically over time. By refusing to settle on any particularly substantive issue, Ignatieff is trying to give the impression that he supports your point of view on public policy (whatever it may be). A cynical observer might suggest that this strategy may work for the disengaged soft Liberal supporter.

However, as anyone that runs a focus group will tell you, on the issue of taxes Liberals have always had an wide credibility gap to bridge. Now that two Liberal provincial governments are implementing a harmonized sales tax while the federal Liberal leader seems to at best support it or at worse waffle on it, Liberals — of varied associations — are finding the gap becoming a gulf. For Ujjal Dosanjh, whose riding lists crime as the other top-of-mind issue — another focus group nightmare for the Liberals — perhaps its time to focus on new messaging.

Getting caught up in the syntax

Yesterday, I wrote a post with some general musings about political communications and how it complements politics and the public policy process.  In short, I argued that when one criticizes the method by which another releases news instead of the substance of the news itself, it’s already a lost battle.

The example I brought up yesterday was Ontario Premier Dalton’s McGuinty’s unsurprising leak of Ontario’s budget shortfall projecting an $18 Billion deficit over two years.  I suggested that we would be more productive debating how we got to this fiscal position and how to remedy it whereas the cheap and easy solution is to criticize the communications strategy of the leak (as the federal Liberals did when the Conservatives did this with the federal budget).

Today’s example is this business about the seal hunt and federal fisheries minister Gail Shea’s use of ministerial resources to put out partisan messaging.  The substance of the message is the suggestion that Liberals are against the seal hunt.  To be against the seal hunt may bring nugatious satisfaction to urban-dwelling self-styled sophisticates who would croak that such an industry is “dreadful” and “appalling” while it is the causus belli of the constituents of a block of Altantic ridings.  Even Stephane Dion recognized the political disaster that would come from speaking out against the hunt.  But the Liberals are not wisely measuring the risk of their latest moves against the Conservatives on the peripherals of this issue.

Yes, Gail Shea’s office made a mistake but it is perhaps a larger – yet characteristically instinctive – mistake for Liberals to criticize the method when by doing so they force wider the path to highlight the substance of the release.  While Ottawa people get caught up in the fact that Stephen Harper’s minister didn’t dot her i’s and cross her t’s in the proper and polite procedural fashion, the real folks in Atlantic Canada look right past the syntax snafu and have another news cycle to consider that the folks in Ottawa that may be taking away their livelihood and according to this “press release scandal” those folks are Liberals!

For the Liberals, this is a classic example of not seeing the forest for the trees or in this case the seal hunt for the jobs.  Instead, they’re getting caught up in the syntax of it all.

John Tory stopping by

Ontario opposition leader John Tory will stop by at 3pm EST today to take your questions on Premier McGuinty’s economic update. This space will host a live video chat where your economic questions to Mr. Tory.

UPDATE: Thanks to everyone that joined the discussion. Here is the recorded video of our townhall.

To the McGuintys is Dion a four letter word in Ottawa South?

Ottawa South is the federal riding of David McGuinty and the provincial riding of his brother, the Premier of Ontario.

On Monday, the Liberal Premier of Ontario Dalton McGuinty refused to endorse the federal Liberal leader Stephane Dion and even passed on endorsing the man’s key policy plank. From the Toronto Star,

McGuinty vowed to remain neutral other than campaigning with his brother, Liberal incumbent David McGuinty (Ottawa South).

While McGuinty said his aides would be allowed to help federal Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion “on their own time,” he took a veiled shot at the federal party’s Green Shift carbon-emission reduction program, which would tax fossil fuel consumption in exchange for income and corporate tax cuts. “I’ve got my own particular approach when it comes to dealing with carbon emissions. We believe in a cap-and-trade system.”

David McGuinty is Stephane Dion’s shadow minister of the environment. However, at the time of this writing, on his campaign website you will david-mcguinty of Dion’s showcase policy, the Green Shift. The younger brother of the Premier also supported Michael Ignatieff during the leadership race and praised him for wanting to put a price on carbon, essentially what Dion is proposing by using the taxation powers of the federal government. So why no mention of the Green Shift by Dion’s Green Lieutenant in Parliament?

Though David has eyed running for leadership of the federal party in the past, it is his brother Dalton who may be positioning himself for a run for the top Liberal job in the country (until recently that used to also almost always include the job of PM itself — it comes with a bonus and a drafty house). Dalton McGuinty is the first Liberal in Ontario to win back-to-back majority governments in 70 years and before the economy slips and as Ontario flirts dangerously with have-not status, Dalton may be looking to upgrade. As a Liberal with governing experience he would provide solid competition but clearer red-orange contrast to the presumed Liberal front-runner post-Dion, the former NDP Premier of Ontario Bob Rae. After years of government at Queen’s Park, McGuinty would also bring a solid camp of support to a future leadership race against the numbers that are grouping behind Rae.

So are the McGuintys looking to run their own campaign to Dump Dion? Though still winnable by Conservatives if they get out the vote with their candidate Elie Salibi (a Lebanese Canadian with solid community support), Ottawa South is considered safe by Liberal strategists. The McGuintys may be looking to give their 1% effort for Stephane Dion while setting up brother Dalton for a shot at the PMO.