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In this edition: two of Ontario's mayors reflect on the past year, resolutions from the party leaders, your holiday movie list
Happy Friday and Merry Christmas Eve. Welcome to a special edition of POLICORNER — your insider’s guide to Canadian politics, policy and power. January is seven days away. Have a resolution for the New Year? Drop us a line.
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In this 8 minute holiday read, two of Ontario's mayors look back on the year that was and discuss local governance during the pandemic. What are the party leaders looking forward to in the New Year? Plus, what to watch this holiday season.
For the mayors of two of Ontario’s largest cities, the past year was one of challenge and hope. Peel Region was one of Ontario's hardest-hit communities by the pandemic. In mid-March, COVID-19 cases soared to record heights amid a Delta-fueled third wave. The region diverged from the provincial-led response — becoming the first to close schools and high-risk workplaces in the province.
In twin year-end interviews, Bonnie Crombie and Patrick Brown spoke to newsBeyond about local governance during the pandemic, provincial and regional cooperation, the past year and what lies ahead for Mississauga and Brampton.
Local governance amid a pandemic
Local government is the closest to the people, Brown declared. COVID-19 exposed local governments to the effects of provincial policy and put them in a position to deal with the consequences of the pandemic, Brown explained.
Both mayors agree — the pandemic was not something they signed up for. “We still try to achieve our goals,” Crombie said. “How do you manage a city where you ask people to stay home and they need financial support that I can’t give,” she asked. It had to come from other levels of government, she added.
“We asked the government to provide financial support to not only individuals and businesses, but later to us. What were we going to do? What services had to be cut while you're still trying to build a city? I was bleeding 7 million a month. Meanwhile, we have to keep the city moving forward or we won't be that place where people want to invest.”
“Lots of things were keeping me up at night,” Crombie recalled.
“The last thing I want is another lockdown,” Crombie said on the response to the Omicron variant. “It had such an adverse impact on our business community. It was all the small businesses that were impacted. I felt very strongly at the time and that it was inequitable and unfair that the big box stores could be open and the small retailers have to close.”
What else can the province do? “I think the goal should be to increase capacity in the system so people can get their booster. We need to incentivize doctors and pharmacies to vaccinate and provide vaccines to them. We need a province-wide campaign to recruit more retired healthcare workers.
On schools, Crombie says she does not expect that students will return to in-person learning in early January. While the province should follow the “first to open, last to close” policy, Crombie says “it's premature,” citing high transmission rates. However, Crombie says it is a decision the province will make and Minister of Education Stephen Lecce will announce.
Responding to the pandemic
We asked Brown and Crombie for one thing they would have done differently when responding and reacting to the pandemic.
Brown said there was “too much of a burden on essential workers who continued to go to work. We should have said to officials in Ottawa and at Queen's Park that if you want your grocery stores full and medical supplies coming into the country, we're not going to keep these businesses open unless you provide us with the equipment and vaccines we require.”
On a federal level, Brown wishes airports were closed before variants entered the country. Provincially, Brown says the Ford government did not prioritize hotspots soon enough. “That created havoc,” he added.
Crombie said paid sick leave should have been offered sooner. Crombie called the situation a mess. “We encouraged other levels of government to do it. They didn't really. It was a big fight to get three days paid,” she told newsBeyond.
Regional and provincial cooperation
Brown — who had a testy relationship with Premier Doug Ford — said he has been in regular contact with the Premier and members of his government.
Regardless of political party, Brown says he will work with anyone who advocates for his city and its interests. “Hopefully this is something that can be replicated after the pandemic — a level of communication and collaboration that we don't necessarily see between levels of government,” he added.
“I have a lot of respect for Premier Ford,” Crombie said. “He's got a really tough job. He makes the decisions that I have to implement and enforce. That’s not easy. I will say that the Premier and I are not always on the same page. But I certainly respect that he has the best intentions in mind when trying to protect the health and safety of residents.” Crombie says that she has disagreed with Ford on issues like paid sick leave and the closure of small businesses.
Will they get involved in the upcoming provincial vote in June? Crombie and Brown both said no. “I believe in staying in my own lane,” Crombie declared. “I made a choice similar to John Tory to stay out of partisan activity,” Brown said.
On regional cooperation, Crombie says she hasn’t changed her mind on her desire for the city to leave Peel Region. “I think the pandemic has exacerbated the need to be a standalone city. The situation in Mississauga was very different than it was in Brampton. It was vastly different. If we had two public health units, the situation would have been handled differently here. We are the third-largest city in Ontario. We need to control our own destiny,” she said. “Don’t get me started on the region. It is fundamentally unfair for Mississauga,” she added.
Looking back — hardest moments, leadership, hope
HARDEST MOMENT OF THE LAST YEAR
Crombie: “The impact COVID-19 had on our seniors homes was just devastating. We had one outbreak at Camilla Care Community. It was heartbreaking. The other moment was the discoveries at the residential schools. That was such a low point. It's so heartbreaking to think what could have transpired at those schools.”
Brown: “The third wave when we didn't have vaccines.”
A DECISION YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF
Crombie: “Advocating for more vaccines and for Mississauga’s independence. It took people a while to understand why that was necessary. I did have people with the attitude that it’s not broken. Why fix a problem that isn’t broken? They didn't see internally how that functioned. They don't realize that their taxpayer tax dollars are being sent other municipalities. I saw that. I knew that.”
Brown: “I am proud of the fact that we're the only big city in Canada that has frozen taxes for the last three years.”
BIGGEST STRENGTH AND WEAKNESS
Crombie: “I think I'm a solid communicator. I hope I always deliver with confidence, clarity and certainty. My weakness? I'm very forthright. Whether that's a weakness or strength depends on who you ask.”
Brown: “I think my biggest strength would be my work ethic. And my biggest weakness is I want to go everywhere, and it's impossible.”
WHAT MAKES YOU HOPEFUL
Crombie: “What makes me hopeful is the resilience I see in the community. The spirit of Mississauga is alive. People want to help others who are more vulnerable — they come together to do that every day. When when I see our health care workers who are so tired and haven't had a little time off in two years continuing to do their jobs every day to fight for us and keep us healthy. That gives me hope.”
Brown: “What makes me hopeful is that we have a vaccinated city. We are on the rebound as an economy. I think the outlook is very positive right now.”
Looking ahead — priorities and a municipal election
Both mayors have a list of priorities for the upcoming year. On the top of the list: putting COVID-19 in the rear-view mirror. “I want to bring jobs and industry to our city. I want to see the hospital construction start. I am committed to trying to make sure that we are tax competitive. I want additional police resources to help deal with the challenges we have with criminal activity,” Brown said.
Crombie plans to run for re-election in October. “There is too much that has to continue. I wouldn’t want someone else coming in and changing the direction of the city,” she explained. Brown is leaning towards a run. “I enjoy my job as the Mayor of Brampton and serving the people and the residents of the city,” he said.
What the party leaders are looking forward to in 2022
With the end of the year approaching, we asked all the party chiefs at Queen’s Park and on Parliament Hill to share one thing they are looking forward to in the New Year. Here are the responses:
Andrea Horwath (Leader of the Ontario NDP): “There were lots of reasons to be hopeful in 2021, and 2022 holds even more hope. Here in Ontario, we made significant strides in the fight against COVID-19, thanks to the heroic efforts of health care and public health workers, but we also faced more challenges and setbacks than anyone wanted to see. The NDP spent the year fighting for the help people need — from giving workers paid sick days to keeping kids in the classroom safely by making class sizes smaller. Our work there isn’t done, and we look forward to making progress on our plans to help people afford homes, fight the climate crisis and rebuild the public services brought to their knees by the pandemic, including health care and education.”
Steven Del Duca (Leader of the Ontario Liberals): “2021 was an incredibly difficult year, but highlighted the resilience of all Ontarians. In the New Year, I am looking forward to releasing our Ontario Liberal Platform, and making sure Doug Ford’s first term is his last.”
Mike Schreiner (Leader of the Ontario Greens): “I'm looking forward to connecting with all Ontarians and sharing solutions on how we can take Ontario forward towards a green economy. And how we can build a better world where we have new careers, better paying jobs, cleaner air and affordable communities.”
Jagmeet Singh (Leader of the NDP): “My wife, Gurkiran, and I are looking forward to the birth of our first child.” A spokesperson for Singh tells newsBeyond that the baby is due at the end of this month. A tweet from Singh.
POLICORNER'S HOLIDAY WATCH LIST
For this special holiday edition, we asked journalists, politicians, and political staffers to share their favourite Christmas movies. Here's what they said:
Bryan Passifiume (Reporter, Toronto Sun): “A Christmas Story. I hate how it's been so overplayed and overhyped over the past few years, but it was ignored when it was released and garnered a cult following — kids my age grew up watching it on TV.”
Andrea Horwath (Leader of the Ontario NDP): “Andrea says it’s Elf,” according to a spokesperson.
Cristina Tenaglia (Reporter and Anchor, CP24): “Christmas Town. I always love the most ridiculous movies and this is the best one. I honestly loved it.”
Darren Elias (Press Secretary, Green Party of Ontario): “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer is a classic. A story of an independent small business standing up against a megacorp.”
Will Wuehr (Senior Communications, Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca): “Put me down for National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation!”
Glen McGregor (Senior Political Correspondent, CTV National News): “One of my faves is Sexy Beast with Ray Winstone, set mostly in southern Spain.”
Marit Stiles (NDP MPP, Davenport): “My all time favourite is Miracle on 34th Street. The original version with Natalie Wood as a little girl. My family would disagree. I think Elf is our new classic.”
Sean Previl (Video Journalist, Global News): “Christmas Vacation and Santa Clause are two of my favourites. But also can never go wrong with Home Alone 1 and 2 (the classics). Oh! And Scrooge (released as A Christmas Carol) starring Alistair Sim released in 1951.”
Nathan Ellis (Senior Advisor for Communications and Parliamentary Affairs, Conservative House Leader): “As much as I hate to do it, I agree with the Prime Minister — Die Hard is a Christmas movie, and I’ll be watching it tonight.”
Braeden Caley (Senior Director of Communications, Liberal Party of Canada): “Growing up, there was nothing better than having the whole family around for the constant laughs of Home Alone just before Christmas, so that’s always been the winner for me.”
Emily Haws (Associate Producer, Power and Politics): “My favourite is Home Alone. A classic!”
Andrew MacKendrick (Director of Communications, Minister Patty Hadju): “My family’s fav is Just Friends. Is very silly but we know every word.”
Alex Boutilier (National Politics Reporter, Global News): “It's hard to top The Muppets Christmas Carol. It's got everything: Michael Caine, some of the creepier Jim Henson creatures, street urchins, lessons about early capitalism applicable to late capitalism ... and the Gonzo/Rizzo the Rat narration is pitch perfect. 5 of 5, will watch again.”
WHAT WE’RE READING
TORONTO STAR: “Here’s how Ontario’s political leaders are wishing you a happy holiday season” by Robert Benzie
CBC NEWS: “Boxing Day sales threatened amid concerns over Omicron variant, retail experts say” by Christopher Reynolds
“6 members of PM's staff, security test positive for COVID-19” by Darren Major
THE CANADIAN PRESS: “The right thing to do: Canadians differ on holiday plans in light of Omicron threat” by Alanna Smith
NEW YORK TIMES: “Over 3,800 Christmas Eve and Christmas Day flights are canceled globally as Omicron spreads” by Giulia Heyward, Derrick Bryson Taylor, Yan Zhuang, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs and Glenn Thrush
CHRISTMAS TRIVIA CORNER
In Monday’s edition, we asked for the name of the MP who has taken up the tradition of reciting a Christmas poem in the House of Commons at the end of each year. The answer: Liberal MP Anthony Housefather (Mount Royal). He took over from former Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner. Here’s this year’s poem:
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