Tomorrow the eyes of political Canada are ready to be fixed on Ottawa, with the presentation of the first Federal Budget in over two years. With all the implications for the next Federal election (whenever it comes), it would be extremely hard to pry the attention of Canadians from what will play out after 4 pm EST in the House of Commons. Yet this afternoon rumblings are coming out of Queen’s Park that seem to be giving Parliament a run for its money, at the worst time, in possibly the worst way:
The end of the past week at Queen’s Park has been “off the rails” insane, yet if this reporting comes to pass, that might have just been the amuse bouche to the true insanity to come. Long story short, the Ontario Conservatives have a very solid majority government and in normal times, they could just do what they wanted. There really couldn’t be much that could stop them, and they’ve acted accordingly since getting elected.
It’s not been the practice of the Ford government to reach across the aisle to work collaboratively on actions like shutting down the legislature. So when they actually do it, that would naturally be approached with serious skepticism. So that raises the question: what’s different here? Firstly, according to the reporting from John-Michael McGrath of TVO, the Ford governments budget implementation bill still hasn’t received a third reading vote and hasn’t become law. If Ford were to just prorogue the Legislature (which he can do without the Opposition parties’ agreement), he’d need to pass that first because otherwise, their budget would be dead. Given the powerful levers that majority governments have, the Ford government should be able to ram through those final votes in a matter of days. Yet they don’t seem to be doing that here.
That raises a legitimate question: why not? Why aren’t the Ford Conservatives doing what the vast majority of solid majority governments would do in this position? It doesn’t add up if we assume that his majority is solid. But given everything that’s happened over the past days, how solid is that majority right now? Remember, this came out just yesterday from a member of Ford’s own caucus:
Christina Mitas, Conservative MPP for Scarborough Centre didn’t mince words when she sent that email around to her entire caucus colleagues, calling out her own governments’ actions. She’s said that, it got into the public, and nothing has happened to her yet; no punishment, no reprimand, no nothing. One has to wonder why not, especially when you consider this piece of reporting that came out at the start of the week:
So on Monday the Premier’s office warns their caucus to stop leaking to reporters, and days later this happens and that MPP hasn’t been punished? Again, the mind wonders. Add to that wonder this piece of news that came out last night about what’s happening on the staff side of things:
In my experience, you don’t see staff moves like that in moments like these without it being a panic move on some level. It’s surely not a sign of “everything being alright”. Staff are getting moved around, an MPP is openly rebelling, leaks are coming out of the caucus as a steady state and now the Premier is trying to get the Opposition parties on side to suddenly suspend the legislature, but passing his budget first. What does this all mean put together? It might mean so potentially historic trouble for the Ford government.
All of those things put together wouldn’t matter if Doug Ford had one thing; a strong, solid majority at Queen’s Park. As McGrath correctly points out, Ford’s backbenchers have serious leverage here, especially around the budget, if they wanted to use it. If the governments budget fell in that third reading vote, that Ford’s government would fall. He would have lost confidence in the House, and in a way that we’ve never really seen in Ontario, let alone Canada. It’s safe to say that Mitas isn’t alone in her feelings about what is going on with Ford’s COVID response, especially when you consider all of the leaks. Add to that Ford already correctly tossed MPP Roman Baber for his anti-public health comments and MPP Belinda Karahalios for voting against Ford’s emergency measures bill back in July. She ended up forming her own party with her husband Jim, the New Blue Party, to try to attract disaffected Conservatives. Also, don’t forget that MPP Randy Hiller was also elected in Ford caucus before getting tossed for other reasons. So if you have those three tossed, added with MPP Mitas raising concerns, it’s reasonable to assume that there are others in the Ford Conservative caucus would have similar feelings. The important question though is “are there enough of those MPPs willing to use that leverage to put Ford’s government in peril of falling?”.
Which brings us to Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath’s statement about the intentions of the Ford government and his sudden entreaties to the NDP to cooperate to help shut down Queen’s Park. That tells me that Ford knows either that he’s losing or lost control of his caucus, to the point where he can’t get these basic things done that any solid majority can do, or he doesn’t know but isn’t confident that he has that backing. Given all the insanity that’s happened in the past week, it’s mind-blowing to think that it could be getting crazier. Yet here we are.
If Doug Ford’s solid government managed to collapse under the weight of its own mismanagement, it would be historic in its own right. For that to happen during the worst of the third wave of this global pandemic, leaving Ontario without a government and most likely an election, would be a whole other level of historically bad that would boggle the mind. The idea of this government falling was one that was so far from likely that I never would have considered it possible. But as the old saying goes, “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” and right now, there’s a hell of a lot of smoke coming out of the Premier’s office. So if you thought the start to this weekend was bad enough, it looks like the end of it might not be much better. In the process it seems that due to these developing circumstances, tomorrow when Ontarians are watching the federal budget, we’ll have to keep one eye on Queen’s Park to see what happens there too.
UPDATE: Sunday April 18th, 2021 @ 4:15 pm EST: The wheels keep turning at Queen’s Park and the smoke continues to grow as more smoke billows out of the Premier’s office. What is it now? This here:
Any cabinet shuffle happening in these circumstances points to serious problems for this government. When you add the idea that Rod Phillips could be brought back into cabinet and Steven Lecce be tossed out, that sounds like much more serious caucus problems than anything else. This smells of a Premier throwing everything at the wall, praying that something sticks and smacks of desperation. And I bet these won’t be the last stories like these that we hear in the next few days. Stay tuned!