A mayoral snub and a Liberal leadership starter
Also: Ford's tips for feds health deal, regulatory changes for emergency health workers, Deputy Ministers shindig, fundraising watch, wedding woes, Hurricane Hazel put to rest and lots more
ABOVE THE FOLD
First in Queen’s Park Observer — REUNITED, AND IT FEELS SECURED — YASIR NAQVI’s campaign team insists that his upcoming fundraising event is not the kick-off for his Liberal leadership bid — but it is another step towards making it official.
A few clues:
The MPP-turned-MP for Ottawa Centre is headlining a $100-a-ticket moneymaking event next month at The Pilot in Toronto’s Yorkville neighbourhood — a favourite Grit haunt, not least because it’s partially owned by ex-MPP ARTHUR POTTS.
Billed as a “Friends of Yasir Toronto Reunion,” the event goes down on March 1 — two days before the Liberals’ annual general meeting in Hamilton on March 3 to 5, where the party will lay out the rules of the leadership contest, including timelines and cost of entry.
It’s hosted by veteran party operatives TIM SMITHEMAN — current lobbyist at Rubicon who was tour director on the 2022 campaign — and GABRIELLE GALLANT — a prominent comms strategist and former press secretary for the previously governing Grits.
The teaser: “Yasir has been travelling Ontario in recent weeks and will recount what he has heard from provincial Liberals, both new and old, about how we can rebuild our party, mount a successful campaign against DOUG FORD in 2026 and bring a progressive government back to Ontario. All proceeds from this event will go to support Yasir’s exploratory work as he considers running for the leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party.”
Cue the speculation. Grit insiders have been blowing up my phone wondering whether the fundraiser is Naqvi’s unofficial campaign launch.
But don’t hold your breath for anything official — that won’t happen until after the AGM, when details of the race are more clear.
“It is just a fundraiser for the exploration committee,” said Team Naqvi spokeswoman BECKIE CODD-DOWNEY. (They’ve also promised to open the event to media. If you’re planning on attending, come say hi — or slip me an anonymous brown envelope!)
Why it matters: Like his fellow Liberal MP NATE ERSKINE-SMITH, who’s also seriously exploring a leadership bid, Naqvi has been soliciting donations and touring the province. Those are just the latest hints that they’re poised to formally enter the race to permanently replace STEVEN DEL DUCA at the party helm.
And unlike MPP MITZIE HUNTER, another potential contender for the top Liberal job in the province, Erskine-Smith has ruled out a run for Toronto Mayor.
Speaking of potential replacements for His Worship:
STRONG MAYOR HOPEFULS (OR NOT) — STAN CHO is out. The Associate Transportation Minister has dashed PC and Liberal hopes that he would run for Mayor of Toronto.
Meanwhile, word on the street is the Ford government could shake up the rules of the mayoral race.
Said Cho: “Though I am humbled by the outpouring of support, I will not be putting my name forward. I am committed to representing the people of Willowdale as their voice at Queen’s Park…I look forward to working with the next mayor to address the city’s significant challenges.”
Cho was floated by many PC insiders over the weekend — but now, the chatter has shifted and there’s talk of bringing in a ringer: BRAD BRADFORD.
Bradford, who represents Beaches—East York and chairs the city’s planning and housing committee, is a leading contender. His policies align with Tory’s — and therefore the PCs — especially when it comes to strong-mayor powers and legalizing rooming houses, among other things.
The big picture: The PCs have skin in the game. The Ford government granted sweeping strong mayor powers to Toronto and Ottawa in order to help fulfill their ambitious pledge to build much-needed housing. With disgraced Mayor JOHN TORY on his way out in the 416, there is a lot of uncertainty around what the next Mayor will do with the new authority.
One wild theory: Rumour has it the Ford government could also change the rules of the race. “The Ford factor will be key in the mayoral election,” one source texted. “Beyond having a surrogate as a candidate(s), this may include changes to force sitting councillors to resign their seats when they enter the race for Mayor. As it stands, it’s a no risk proposition, they can return as councillors if they lose the mayoral byelection.”
Byelection watch: More MPPs are being courted for Toronto Mayor — including MITZIE HUNTER and BHUTILA KARPOCHE — which would trigger byelections at Queen’s Park once they register for the local race. The timing will depend on when exactly Tory formally resigns — which won’t happen until after the budget process and could take weeks.
That said, Tory sticking around for the budget also gives the PCs at Queen’s Park a bit more predictability on the housing front.
DONE DEAL — It’s not what they hoped for, but the Premiers can’t say no to more health care dollars from the feds.
Canada’s first ministers are taking what they can get, signing off on Ottawa’s 10-year, $46.2-billion proposal.
But they’re worried about future funding. After the Premiers met virtually on Monday, Manitoba Premier and chair of the Council of the Federation HEATHER STEFANSON said they accepted the deal but will continue to push for “long-term sustainability.” The Premiers pushed Ottawa to cough up a bigger chunk of health care funding, from 22 per cent to 35 per cent — but the offer on the table only brings that up to about 24 per cent.
Premier DOUG FORD echoed his fellow first ministers, then broke from the pack and laid out “specific recommendations” for the feds as Ontario and the other provinces start hammering out bilateral agreements.
Details, however, are scant.
“Ford put forward specific recommendations that he is confident the federal government will accept that ensure the agreement is sustainable and provides certainty for all provinces and territories, including Ontario,” reads the statement from PO. “These recommendations toward sustainability and certainty would be data-driven based on performance and would always protect personal health information, as was always the intention of the provinces, territories and federal government.”
What’s next: Negotiations are ramping up for bilateral agreements between individual provinces and Ottawa, tailored to that province’s specific needs. Ford and Prime Minister JUSTIN TRUDEAU have suggested those agreements will come “within weeks” — just in time for spring budgets.