Monday, December 31, 2012

Crystal Ball Gazing, 2013 Edition, Part 3: Greater Sudbury, Toronto and Ontario

In Part 1 of this blogpost, I spent some time writing about neo-liberalism, and how it will continue to effect global trends in 2013. I took a closer look at some of those trends in Part 2 of this post. Now, in Part 3, I’ll make some specific predictions about local, provincial and national political matters. And I’ll kick it off with a brief discussion of local politics in my hometown of Greater Sudbury.

Greater Sudbury

2012 was a pretty interesting year here in Greater Sudbury, politically speaking. A disunited municipal Council tried to navigate a mine-field of public issues, most of which were of their own making. Largely, they did not succeed, or at least that’s the public perception. I think it would be fair to say that there is a movement afoot in my community to discredit any and all effort made by a majority of municipal Council. And it all has to do with partisan politics playing out at the municipal level.

Here in Ontario, we don’t have a party system at the municipal level. All candidates for Council and Mayor run as indepdendents. In Greater Sudbury, we have a ward system in place (Councillors are not elected at large), and the wards themselves are geographically – well, let’s just say “strange”. Add to the mix that of party politics, largely taking place behind the scenes.

Partisan Politics

In Greater Sudbury, as in other communities, right-wing, small-government, “Taxpayers Associations” have sprung up. In the past, often these sorts of ratepayers associations were non-partisan, and actively looking out for what they perceived to be the interests of their communities. The recent wave of municipal “Taxpayers Associations” which have sprung up in North Bay, Greater Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie, however, tend to be dominated by members of the federal Conservative Party. Their goal is simple: get more conservatives elected to municipal governments. The tools at their disposal are the typical tools used by old-school political partisans: spin and character assassination. In Greater Sudbury, we’ve seen ample examples of both.

Which is not to say that our municipal Council has been blameless in moving from one crisis to the next. I honestly don’t know what’s going on – the individuals on our Council are supposed to be politicians, yet they have done a poor job explaining the good decisions they’ve made (such as implementing by-laws to limit phosphorus and vehicle idling), and an even worse job of defending themselves from the growing number of accusations of incompetence over matters such as the Ombudsman’s negative reports, the handling of lost transit ticket money, and public spending initiatives.

Healthy Community Initiative - The "Slush Fund"

And finally, there’s the Healthy Community Initiative (HCI), something unique in Ontario, we’re led to believe, in which each Councillor directly oversees spending of up to $50,000 a year on community initiatives, usually to groups who want to improve neighbourhoods. However, with little in the way of rules and oversight, this direct spending by individual Councillors has (quite rightly, in my opinion) been labelled by many as being a “slush fund”, which greatly assists an incumbent Councillor with greasing the wheels at election time, especially since in the past, some or all of the HCI money allotted to individual Councillors could be held over and spent in an election year. Recent changes to spending rules might help with this perception, but at the end of the day, each local Councillor gets to decide how to spend $200,000 of public money with little oversight, and no consideration of broader municipal priorities. As well as being just plain wrong, it absolutely galls me, because there are many worthy pan-municipal priorities which could be funded and developed through the HCI, but right now, it’s all going to Councillors pet projects.

I expect the HCI to continue to be on the front burner of municipal politics in 2013. 2014, after all, is an election year here, and already we’ve seen a couple of partisan efforts underway. The first out of the door was the Conservative’s Greater Sudbury Taxpayers Federation, who have been holding press conferences and issuing news releases to vilify those members of Council they want to see defeated. They seem to have a particular hate on for Budget Chief Kett (Ward 11) and Deputy Mayors Landry-Altman (Ward 12) and Dupuis (Ward 5).

Prepping for 2014

Recently, former Mayor (and NDP partisan) John Rodriguez announced that he will be seeking the Mayor’s chair again in 2014. Rodriguez is the first to publicly announce his attention, and by doing so, may deter other left-leaning Councillors (and citizens) from throwing their hats in the ring. But despite his early staking of the opposition ground, I expect there to be at least one more credible challenger for Mayor to step forward by 2014, and possibly a few more. Of course, if the centre/left becomes crowded with candidates, it’s going to be that much more difficult to defeat the incumbent.

It should be an interesting situation here in 2013, in a community where partisan politics largely flies under the radar, at least municipally.


But one emerging issue threatens to cross party lines in a big way in 2013. The Ontario Lottery and Gaming commission has told Greater Sudbury that it’s going to get a casino, likely operated by an outside operator (as the “North” has been grouped into one operational area, and whoever is chosen by the OLG will need to operate several casinos in geographically separated communities). Right now, Greater Sudburians have largely been focused on where the new casino is going to go (downtown, the Four Corners, or out in rural Rayside-Balfour, where the existing and to-be-closed slots are located). However, over the past few weeks there have been a number of emerging voices who have been calling for a review of whether Greater Sudbury should play host to a casino at all. The decision to go along for the ride with the OLG was made by Council many months ago, but at the time, it wasn’t at all clear what, exactly, Greater Sudbury was getting itself into. In 2013, I expect those opposing a casino in any location will start speaking with louder, more co-ordinated voices, and will likely convince a few Councillors of the need to revisit the earlier decision. Especially if Toronto’s municipal Council turns down a casino.

City of Toronto

And speaking of Toronto, how can I not turn my attention to the antics of their own municipal Council, particularly as they’ve made headlines across Canada this past year. As you may recall, Mayor Rob Ford was to be bounced from office for voting on a matter on which he had a conflict of interest. The judge said that his hands were tied, that the Municipal Act gave him only one option in a conflict situation, and that was to throw Ford out of office. Currently, the judge’s decision is under appeal, but I don’t think that Ford has a legal leg to stand on. The defences he offered to the original judge just didn’t hold water, and essentially Ford was hung with his own words. I believe that the appeal will thrown out, and Ford will be out of luck.

But – not out of office. You see, the original judge declared that Ford could be returned as Mayor. Now, everyone has been focussing on a by-election, but the reality is that Toronto City Council has the capacity to appoint a new Mayor, rather than hold an expensive by-election. Although Ford’s allies have been, well, “reconsidering their options”, polls continue to show that in most circumstances, Toronto’s voters would return Ford to the Mayor’s chair. Only current NDP MP Olivia Chow might find some traction with Toronto voters if there was to be a by-election.

And what better threat to those on Council with ambition for the Mayor’s chair is there than a new, intelligent, and capable Mayor, elected to a two-year half-term? Chow’s potential entrance in a by-election might be enough to spur Liberal Councillors to join with the Conservative Fordies to forego a by-election altogether, ostensibly on the grounds of it costing too much (but really as an effort to shut down the NDP and keep their own hopes alive). In this situation, who better to appoint to the Mayor’s Chair than Rob Ford?

So, along with predicting that Ford will lose his appeal, I’m predicting that the next Mayor of Toronto will be Rob Ford, as legally appointed by Council.  Ford himself will wisely not participate in the vote to appoint him Mayor.

Provincial - Ontario

Ontario’s political scene is going to be a very interesting one in 2013. With a minority government teetering on the brink of collapse, mired in controversies with former union supporters, and an angry electorate which has seen scandal after scandal, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that whoever is elected to lead the Provincial Liberals in 2013 will soon find themselves in the midst of a general election.

Ontario Liberal Party

We will know who the new Leader is later in January. My bet is that it will be Sandra Pupatello, as she seems to be building the riding-by-riding support needed to triumph in a delegated convention. She is the only non-GTA candidate in the race, and likely will benefit by support in Ontario’s rural ridings (most of which will remain lost to the Liberals for the foreseeable future). The Liberals’ delegated system of choosing a leader is really going to backfire for the Party this time, as Pupatello will no doubt want to run on a more rural-friendly, less urban campaign, as a sop to supporters. All of this at a time when Ontario’s rural hinterland has been irrevocably lost to the Liberals, thanks to their own actions. As much as Pupatello will want to distance herself from outgoing Premier Dalton McGuinty, the damage has been done, and Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives already own and will continue to own rural Southern Ontario.

In fact, I don’t think that the math is going to add up for any Liberal Premier in 2013. If there is an election (and just everybody, including me, thinks that there will be), the Liberals are going to be toast, and will probably slip into third-party status (but not oblivion, as some are suggesting). The next question then is, which Party will form the next government? And that’s where things get even more interesting.

Ontario Progressive Conservatives

If polls are to be relied on (and they shouldn’t be, ever!), Tim Hudak’s PC’s look as if they’ve got what it takes to collect the popular vote. But that doesn’t necessarily translate into a majority government. This next election is going to be fought bitterly in certain ridings, as really, there are only a handful which will likely be in play, especially for the PC’s. Hudak, who has over the past few months, increasingly repositioned himself to the right of, well, himself, may very well discover that his neo-liberal, divisive policies are going to run into a wall in suburban Ontario, which is after all the only place he has any hope of picking up new seats. Instead of appearing kinder and gentler to voters (which shouldn’t have been all that hard for a guy who wanted chain-gangs to clean up local beaches), Hudak’s is instead trying to make former PC Premier Mike Harris look soft and cuddly.

Ontario NDP

So what about Andrea Horvath’s NDP? I expect the NDP will be the recipients of the Liberals’ collapse, and stand to pick up the most seats in the next general election. Certainly, the Liberal fortress of Sudbury is going to fall to the NDP in the next election (the only question here is whether or not MPP Rick Bartolucci will opt to retire before the election or very shortly thereafter), and the NDP is well-positioned to pick up other small-town rural seats from the Liberals, along with a number of Toronto ridings. Even the formerly NDP-resistant GTA suburbs can count on electing a few NDP MPP’s, especially if the Liberal vote completely collapses and a Tim Hudak majority is threatened.

One way or the other, I am predicting an Andrea Horvath NDP government in Ontario by year’s end. It may not be a majority government (probably won’t be, in fact), but I just think that Hudak is going to end up turning too many voters off, while Horvath will succeed in making herself look palatable to enough voters in those swing ridings in play that she’ll be able to form government. Note that I am not even predicting that the NDP will win the most seats. Remember that back in 1985, the PC’s won the most seats in the election, but David Peterson’s Liberals governed, thanks to the Liberal-NDP accord. In 2013, the NDP might be in a position to govern with a little help from remaining Liberals, and one or two Greens.

Green Party of Ontario

Oh yes, about those Greens. I am predicting that Green Party of Ontario Leader Mike Schreiner will be elected in Guelph if the Liberal government falls in the late winter or spring. If Andrea Horvath (and it will have to be the NDP and not the PC’s) decides to prop up the new Liberal Premier instead of rolling the dice on an election, I think that the Liberals will be in better shape to fight an election in the fall, likely at the PC’s expense (but a stronger Liberal electoral fight will spell trouble for the Greens in Guelph, whereas a weakened Liberal effort under a new and untested Leader in the late winter/spring will benefit the Greens).

Mike Schreiner, the able, likable and down-to-earth Leader of the Green Party, has already received the GPO's nomination in Guelph from riding-level members.  Schreiner is going to surprise Guelph politicos and turn the heads of residents whenever an election is held.  And the Green Party will be going all-in in Guelph.  Further, I believe that one of the Green's major issues will find resonance in this election: the Green Party of Ontario is the only Party to support publicly funding only one French and English language school board. As voters throughout Ontario look around for a Party whom they can tolerate supporting, I expect to see a pretty good increase in Green votes provincially. And education reform will be a winning issue in the spring.

Rolling the Dice

So the question then is does Horvath benefit or lose by propping up the Liberals when provincial parliament returns? My gut says she loses, because a stronger Liberal Party will be better positioned to defend the ridings she has to take. Since Hudak has already pretty much committed to voting against the throne speech and plunging the Province into an election, the final decision on the matter likely will rest with Horvath (unless the new Liberal Premier decides to pull the plug on the government herself, something which Pupatello, who doesn’t currently have a seat, might be tempted to do, but I think that would be very unwise). Horvath may be counselled to play the sensible role in all of this, and decide that she and the NDP can gain by postponing an election. While Ontario voters may be happy with such a decision, I just don’t believe it’s politically expedient for her to do so. If that global recession I predicted earlier does appear to be taking hold in February or March, I think Ontarians will be headed to the polls.

Part 4

In Part 4 of this blogpost, I’ll take a look make some national political predictions.

(opinions expressed in this blog post are my own and should not be considered to be in keeping with those of the Green Party of Canada)

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