What to watch tonight in Steeltown
Also: Spring Fling, Ford's bad poll, KWT's mayoral buzz, staff moves, budget asks, port-a-potty policy, and remember the Queen's Park pony?
ABOVE THE FOLD
IT’S HAMMER TIME — What started seven months ago ends tonight. Polls close at 9 p.m. in Hamilton Centre.
What we know is that it’s almost a sure bet the NDP will hang on to their stronghold seat — despite the drama swirling around their candidate.
What we don’t know is how many folks will show up. Byelections typically have lower turnout than general elections — and if the advanced polls are any indication, it’s going to be slim pickings.
Here’s what to watch.
Jama drama: Amid allegations of antisemitism that she denies, NDP shoo-in SARAH JAMA hasn’t managed to shake the controversy.
The latest: On byelection eve, MICHAEL LEVITT, who heads up the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, met with NDP captain MARIT STILES, who is standing by Jama.
On the docket: “A frank discussion on antisemitism linked to her party’s candidate,” the group said. “Levitt brought up two incidents involving Jama that have sparked anger and concerns in the Jewish community. He expressed disappointment over the failure of the Ontario NDP leadership and Jama to publicly acknowledge the harm done, apologize and communicate a commitment to confront antisemitism within party ranks despite this being but the latest in a spate of antisemitic incidents in the party in recent years.”
NDPers go to rehab: FSWC pitched “a constructive road forward and stressed the importance of tackling Jew-hatred head-on, offering antisemitism education to the Ontario NDP in the aftermath of this latest controversy.”
Dig deeper: The NDP was also on defence when a video emerged of Jama accusing the city’s police force — (to which the PC candidate belongs) — of protecting Nazism.
Who got the shaft: As first reported in this newsletter, Jama cancelled on several media interviews ahead of E-Day, including with yours truly. Add the Star, Globe and local radio station CHML to the snub list. That means it could be an intense first scrum with the (likely) next MPP when she arrives at Queen’s Park.
Recall: This reporter was reminded of another intense scrum, when then-rookie PC SAM OOSTERHOFF told us he didn’t come to ride the Queen’s Park pony — after avoiding the gallery’s questions about his social conservative stance ahead of his own election.
Beefing with Horwath? Hamilton’s Mayor has stayed out of the race to replace her at Queen’s Park — and while many say it’s par for the course to remain neutral, another theory is floating around.
A source close to the ground texts: “There was a long-standing thing between ANDREA [HORWATH] and Jama where Andrea wouldn’t let her run” as a candidate in the past.
But but but: Some context, from a longtime NDP staffer: “It’s not that odd for Hamiltonians to beef — or for New Dems. To her credit, Andrea is not from the activist side of the party but she always backed more ‘lefty’ candidates” when it mattered.
Greens are feeling lucky — and hoping to capitalize on the controversy surrounding the NDP, as well as PC PETE WIESNER’s decision to skip out on debate night and Liberal DEIRDRE PIKE’s pouncing on allegations of antisemitism (more on that below).
A local resident and self-described “soft-NDP voter” writes in: “Whatever the uphill odds LUCIA IANNANTUONO faces…she is certainly a fine alternative for left-of-centre voters…I was talked into canvassing for Andrea Horwath in the provincial election [and] I’ve taken part in various environmental rallies with Lucia, and knowing her qualities — together with the radicalism of Sarah — I’m switching from the NDP for this byelection to Lucia.”
**UPDATE**: Wong-Tam provided the following statement. The original story has not been edited.
“Friends and family can attest that my heart will always be in Toronto. Since my arrival in Queen’s Park, I have been working hard to give voice to Toronto’s issues at Queen’s Park. More and more people are encouraging me to run to become mayor, after MIKE [LAYTON]’s announcement. It was not my intention to run for mayor, but I want to respect those who believe in me and are offering advice. For now, I am actively listening and will have more to say soon,” they said.
MORE MAYORAL SCUTTLEBUTT — The rumour mill continues to churn out potential contenders for the next mayor of Toronto.
Could it be KWT? One well-placed source tells us KRISTYN WONG-TAM, NDP rookie for Toronto Centre and a former city councillor, is considering entering the already-crowded arena.
Hunting for a replacement: Wong-Tam’s bid isn’t a done deal, but the potential is enough that the NDP’s local riding association is “doing a quiet candidate search to replace” them at Queen’s Park.
Should Wong-Tam join the fray, it would trigger a byelection in the swing NDP/Liberal seat by the time they resigned, which must happen by May 12, the deadline for nominations. Wong-Tam did not immediately respond to a request for comment — but we’ll update you if we hear back.
Other MPPs that could make the jump include Liberal MITZIE HUNTER (Scarborough—Guildwood) and NDPer BHUTILA KARPOCHE (Parkdale—High Park). That makes for a crowded “left” field — much to the chagrin of the Premier.
Meanwhile: Some aren’t happy that city councillors don’t have to resign their seat to run — as MPPs and MPs do — which leaves “blurred lines” between campaigning and governing. That’s something our sources have said the PCs are looking to change.
POLL TOLLS FOR FORD — The Premier is teetering on the edge of “approval valley.” That’s the upshot from fresh Angus Reid polling that pegs DOUG FORD’s popularity at 33 per cent — placing him third-to-last among the pack of premiers.
The bad: That’s down one percentage point from the pollster’s previous poll — and a far cry from the 41 per cent approval rating that the PC party scored in a recent Abacus Data survey.
The ugly: Per the pollster, the Greenbelt drama isn’t helping. “Ford has faced criticism from the opposition and others after an investigation revealed that developers paid $150 a ticket to attend his daughter’s ‘stag and doe’ engagement party.”
The good: Bright spots include the recent health funding deal with the feds and Volkswagen’s move to build its first overseas battery gigafactory in St. Thomas.
9 a.m.: One week out from Budget Day, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce will release its asks in a new report. It’s a biggie: Staff in the business-minded Ford government will be reading this one closely.
Teaser from the OCC: “Ontario businesses are facing a challenging year ahead. In Budget 2023, we would like to see the government prioritize growth-enabling investments to address labour market challenges, strengthen health system capacity, invest in growth enabling infrastructure, and modernize services and regulation, to restore business confidence, attract investments and make Ontario more competitive on the global stage.”
THE HOUSE IS OUT. Ditto committees. MPPs get back at it Monday, March 20.
SAVE THE DATE — We’re back! Spring Fling — the Queen’s Park Press Gallery’s annual shindig for a good cause — goes down April 17 at Hart House at 7 p.m. It’s a chance for politicians, staff and everyone else who works around Queen’s Park to let their hair down, sip a tipple, and spill the tea at this totally off-the-record event.
Ticket info is TBD — but message me and I’ll reserve yours: email@example.com, or just reply to this email.
IN OTHER NEWS…
— PORT-A-POTTY POLICY: We now know why Labour Minister MONTE MCNAUGHTON was publicly reciting those toilet testimonials: “McNaughton announced Wednesday that he is proposing to amend rules about bathrooms on construction sites to make them cleaner, safer and provide some for women only.” CP got the jump.
— WHAT LIBERALS ARE READING: “Ontario Liberals should let the kids run the campaigns,” an op-ed by former McGuinty-era speechwriter LLOYD RANG.
— ALL ABOARD: “The autonomous trains set to operate on Toronto’s Ontario Line will feature on-board Wi-Fi, charging points and dedicated bicycle spaces for riders.” Story from the Star.
MOVERS AND SHAKERS
First in Queen’s Park Observer — STAFFING UP — EMILY BRADY is now Education Minister STEPHEN LECCE’s comms and issues adviser.