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A man of many hats
Plus: insiders on Amato's "inevitable" exit, more city cash at AMO, a Team Adil exit, cell woes, Grit debate sked, Mantha's out, strike watch, swap spillover, a special birthday and more
It's a special birthday around here. We just turned two.
We launched this newsletter two years ago today on the heels of a flashy yet humdrum snap election in the nation's capital — with big implications on political playmaking in Canada's most populous province. A year later, a provincial vote that saw the Tories return to power with a super majority.
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Here's a sample of our biggest stories: the behind the scenes of Bailão's big Tory endorsement (which led to a mea culpa from a senior staffer the next day). The scoop on Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie jumping into the provincial Liberal leadership race — as well as her competitor. An account of how the Grits handed the Tories a double defeat in Bytown and Scarborough. A candid conversation with Christine Elliott after she quit politics. And many more.
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Yasir Naqvi is a man of many hats.
He's an Ottawan. A centrist. A federal politician. A provincial politician — twice unbeaten, once defeated. A former top prosecutor. An erstwhile cabinet minister. A past Grit president. An international trade lawyer. A volunteer. A single father. An immigrant who settled in Niagara during his boyhood.
Ask him what he is, Naqvi will tell you one more: a foe of "the status quo." Fighting back against stagnancy is in the veteran's bloodline — and it's motivating his next big skirmish: running for the provincial Grit leadership.
Born in Karachi to two lawyers, there was never a snoozy moment in the Naqvi household — always under surveillance and always around hotshot activists despite living a "very comfortable" life. "Imagine late night meetings where political leaders show up in disguises, fake mustaches and wigs because they cannot be seen," he says during an interview at a local coffee bar in Mississauga.
"Mom and dad did not send us to bed. They let us sit and be part of this."
The age of ten marked a "profound" moment in his life — eventually serving as the impetus for his political career. Young Naqvi watched as his father bid farewell to the clan, knowing that he might not come home, as he set off to lead a march for democratization.
"We knew that he most likely wouldn't come back and he did not," the seasoned politician says, with his father captured, tried by the army and sent to nine months in jail two hundred kilometers away. The Naqvis still made the visit each weekend but what they saw was the fallout of his dad's brawl. "As a political prisoner, the man aged in front of our eyes," he recalls, emotional.
Looking back, it's a bit that formed the province's future chief legal adviser — and candidate in the doozy race for the Grit leadership. "I was shaped by my early experiences of living in a country where there was no democracy and seeing firsthand what it means to stand up and challenge the status quo," he explains.
Five years later, Naqvi left the motherland for Canada. His parents settled in Niagara and bought a motel during a grueling economic stretch that forced them to move into a two bedroom unit. "My bedroom was this little — not even a couch because I slept on the floor since it was uncomfortable," he described. "It was a used couch that we bought."
Despite the challenges the fam faced, Yasir's focus pivoted to education. He graduated with a degree in political science and life science from McMaster University while getting entangled in Grit politics — joining the provincial and federal party while volunteering in his riding.
It isn't all red for the Naqvis. While his mother and sister are staunch Liberals, his dad and brother are loyal Dippers.
"How are the dynamics?" we ask.
"I'm the red sheep of the family — and the successful sheep," he quips. "We live in a democracy and we accept the fact that we can pursue whichever political party we want to."
But with family endeavors, the Naqvis pull together. They're close — and don't let the politicking get in between. "I'm spending a lot of time on this campaign trail with my brother. He's much older than I am and has family and his own professional pursuits," Naqvi says. "I said to him the other day 'we haven't spent this much together in a long time' so it's really fun."
He then went on to study law at the University of Ottawa, before being called to the bar. He began practicing international trade law before landing at the Centre for Trade Policy and Law at Carleton. Before jumping into the political arena, he sat on the board of directors for the Centertown Community Health Centre and volunteered with the local food bank.
His entry into politics came from the top. Naqvi ran for the presidency of the provincial Liberals — and won. He oversaw the successful leadership race that propelled Kathleen Wynne to the party's top job after Dalton McGuinty's resignation. He later made the jump himself, quitting to carry the Grit banner in Ottawa Centre.
"I loved it. It was amazing," he says of his time at the Pink Palace, joining the party's super majority. "Every time I walked through those doors. I feel a chill. Good chill, right? This is my home. This is my country. I'm part of this institution. I'm helping change this institution, for better."
At the time, Naqvi sat on the Opposition side as Grits spilled over due to their supersized majority. "That's where I started my political journey," he says. He later joined cabinet — serving in a mishmash of positions on Wynne's front bench. His last act was at the province's attorney general.
"When I became the attorney general, I had the closest seats to the Premier and the Speaker. I liked to tell the pages that I started way back there," he recalls. "That's hard work."
Then Naqvi was nixed.
With Team Ford surging to a majority and the Grits washed — for the most part — across the board, the veteran lost the stronghold red riding to by over ten points in a stinging defeat to NDPer Joel Harden. "Losing is never fun," he says. "I remember waking up the next morning and I got up as usual, very early with a big smile on my face," he adds.
But for him, the loss was a reminder of how it all started. "Government had just changed. There were no riots. Nobody was challenging the result. Police weren't waiting outside to arrest me because I'm now a member of an Opposition party. None of that."
The day after was "beautiful," he described. "People were literally walking up to me, people who had voted for me in the past and did not this time, thanking me for my public service," he reminisces. "It was just so civilized."
He took time away from the public eye to focus on his private life. Naqvi and his ex split soon after his defeat.
The political world can take a toll, he confides. "I realized that I was very neglectful to my family," a solemn Naqvi recalls. "I started getting a sense that my marriage may not be in as good of a shape as I thought it would be at that time. I really needed to realign myself and be a husband and a dad again — and to relearn to be those two. When one thing wasn't successful, being a dad became even more important."
Three years later, he was back at it.
His strong foundation in the riding helped him in making a comeback — running for the federal seat he held provincially.
He now has Queen's Park in his sights. But this time, don't call it a comeback because Naqvi is hoping to make a rebound.
After the provincial Grits' last two gruesome election cycles, Naqvi is gunning for the party's top job to oversee the "necessary transformation," he argues, the Liberals need to become a political party focusing on "practical solutions that will make people's lives easier."
"I was really devastated by the loss in the last election, more than the 2018 election," he explains. "I thought we would do better, I thought that we would be able to regain party status. It really highlighted to me the gravity of the work that needs to happen to transform our party."
Armed by a camp of key Liberal strategists and campaign operatives, Naqvi is hoping to win this battle — one of vision, cash, memberships and votes — to go onto the next: defeating the Tories.
"I did not get into politics to get comfortable," Naqvi says. "I was raised to do difficult things by parents who never took the easy path and who taught me that real leaders step up and challenge the status quo when it's needed," he adds. "The status quo right now is not working for people."
What does that status quo look like? Look around, Naqvi says. "Everywhere I go, every person I speak to in this province, they're telling me that they're struggling. Families are struggling to find family doctors and nurses. Young children are struggling in overcrowded classrooms, young people working two or three jobs and struggling to pay for the rent and groceries. That's the status quo right now. People don't feel that they're moving ahead."
Critics might say he comes with his political baggage, but Naqvi is quick to refute it. "I was part of a government that did a lot of good things in this province," the former Queen’s Park Liberal says. "I'm really proud of a government that brought in programs like full day kindergarten, that got rid of coal from our electricity system, and ensured pension safety. That's the kind of work we did. Me individually? All my work challenged orthodoxy and the status quo."
Is his experience an asset? Absolutely, Naqvi argues.
"I am the most experienced candidate in this race. I am the only candidate who actually has served in cabinet. I know how decisions are made," he adds. "They're not black and white but it's about making choices."
"I always talk about the fact that we did a lot of good things and I think we need to remind people of that but every government makes mistakes. I'm the first one to recognize the mistakes we made. In fact, I've learned from those mistakes and the key question is, how do you not repeat them?"
Naqvi is now turning his focus to policy — and he has a list. "It's about health care. For me, education is very, very important. Third is around economic opportunities and affordability. I will be talking about policy ideas — not to say that these are the policies that we're only going to work with because I want to empower party members to help me shape the precise policies — to demonstrate my compass."
And as the race heats up and with the membership cutoff less than a month away, the avid runner is hoping to run to the finish line.
"Who will your biggest competitor be?" we ask.
A diplomatic Naqvi gives a corny answer — literally.
"This is a really good group to be part of," he responds.
"I'll say this: I keep saying to the team that if we could blend all of us into one, we'd get the perfect unicorn candidate."
The Grit leadership debate schedule is out with under a month before the membership cutoff. Candidates will go toe to toe during six showdowns — including five official debates and one hosted by the Toronto Metropolitan University's Democracy Forum.
Here's the official lineup:
September 14 in Thunder Bay: 7 PM
October 1 in Stratford: 1 PM
October 24 in Toronto: 7 PM
November 9 in Ottawa: 7 PM
November 18 or 19 in Brampton: 1 PM
"In addition to having an in person component, each of these five debates will be live streamed so you can catch every moment," the party wrote in a note to members.
The fallout from Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk's report into the Tories' Greenbelt land swap carries on. In a memo to public servants, Ford aide Peter Sackville and cabinet secretary Michelle DiEmanuele say a "working group" is being established to support implementation of the majority of Lysyk's recommendations.
On cabinet submissions: staff must make "complete" submissions to cabinet, including "risks and options." "Submission timelines for cabinet and all cabinet committees including Treasury Board" must be followed "to allow for due diligence by officials and appropriate consideration" by committee members.
On government emails: "Please ensure adherence to records retention requirements, including the documentation of materials received by third parties and only use government emails for work related matters."
Staff at Ontario's public broadcaster have walked off the job over a strife on wages and contract work — with the local union sending out an urgent warning on dwindling living conditions and "the future of journalism" at the agency. Get the rundown on the dispute.
Ontario's three largest teachers' unions will hold strike votes in September and October with no progress at the bargaining table with the Ford government.
"Bargaining has stalled," the elementary teachers' union says.
"The provincial executive will seek a strike mandate from the membership early this fall. A strike mandate will demonstrate our unity and determination to achieve fair and favorable terms for our members and students," the secondary teachers' union wrote in a memo we've obtained
AT THE PALACE
— The House is out for the summer. No committee meetings are on the sked.
— "Maximum damage:" The staffer at the centre of the explosive Greenbelt land swap probe has bit the dust. Ryan Amato is out as Housing Minister Steve Clark's top aide. He resigned as Clark's chief of staff "effective immediately," wrote spokesperson Ivana Yelich in a gruff communiqué last night.
Amato had just returned from a vacation in Italy to a blistering audit of the Tories' controversial development plans on the protected green space, implicated for his role in the "biased process."
In Amato's words: "I am confident that I have acted appropriately and that a fair and complete investigation would reach the same conclusion,” he wrote in his notice. "These public statements have made it impossible, as a practical matter, for me to continue in my present role."
The reaction: "It has been inevitable," said one Tory insider. "Problem with delaying it is you buy yourself a day or two of 'why now?' process stories."
"I keep thinking how bizarre it is to have this happen right before the 6 PM newscasts," texted another source. "That causes maximum damage. Tells me that this was not managed properly and perhaps more sudden than the Premier's Office could track," the source added. "Someone had to take the fall," a third said.
— Mantha's out: Former NDPer Michael Mantha is out of caucus "permanently" after third party investigators were brought in to parse through allegations of "workplace misconduct." Catch up here.
ON THE MOVE
Natalie Hart is out as a member of Adil Shamji's senior Grit leadership campaign crew. Hart — the GM at Malton BIA who ran for the Grit's presidency — has exited as deputy campaign manager over "personal reasons," we've learned, though she's staying on as a campaign chair. Catch up on the who's who on the doc's team.
Team top ups: McMillan's Anushka Kurian is now directing operations for Team Adil.
Curious Public's Jordan Ray is heading up communications on the camp.
In other news: Ana Bailão's mayoral camp spokesperson Taylor Deasley has joined Team Crombie, where she's acting as press point person. Crombie has scooped up a number of Team Bailão members — including campaign manager Tom Allison.
Karin Schnarr is the new CEO of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario. Schnarr is an associate professor at Lazaridis School of Business and Economics at Wilfrid Laurier University.
WHAT WE'RE READING
GLOBAL NEWS: "'No transparency': Premier Doug Ford faces questions over use of personal phone" by Colin D'Mello and Isaac Callan
CP24: "Ontario Place spa developer releases updated designs following public criticism" by Jordan Fleguel
TORONTO STAR: "Bell is ending its long standing TIFF sponsorship, sources say" by Robert Benzie
iPOLITICS: "Ontario finance minister grilled on Greenbelt during Q1 fiscal update" by David Legree
ORILLIA MATTERS: "Tributes pour in for 'proud' Rama FN member, James Bartleman"
THE TRILLIUM: "Strong mayor? Don't care, say many small town mayors" by Aidan Chamandy
"Bonnie Crombie running a risk with developer campaign donations, experts say" by Jessica Smith Cross
CBC NEWS: "Ontario to expand 'strong mayor' powers to smaller cities, launches $1.2B home-building incentive fund" by Ryan Patrick Jones
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