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From staffer to standalone politician
Plus: Chow says ciao to The Clamshell, Bailão and Hunter buzz, Allison's mea culpa, the doc's in, transition board drops, shoring up COI rules, patronage woes, ad watch and more
Bobbi Ann Brady is no stranger to Queen's Park.
"You don't get lost in the halls?" we ask her.
"No, no, no. We're good," she says and laughs.
We're set to interview her inside her spacious office on the first floor in the East Wing — an hour before Brady is set to ask Premier Doug Ford a question in the House. "This office is great," she says from behind her large desk, telling us about the location of her home turf. "I love where my office is because I just scamper up the steps and into the House. You don't have to go very far," Brady boasts.
She's still getting settled in. "I don't have any artwork up yet. That's a work in progress. But I don't want to just throw things up for the sake of throwing things up. We're working on that," she explains.
Brady's Surface laptop sits in front of her and her desk is piled with documents — but that's just part of the job.
It's been over a year since the longtime Tory staffer cruised to victory and took her seat as the only independent in the House. She beat out former Haldimand Mayor Ken Hewitt — who was tapped by Premier Doug Ford to carry the party's banner in the riding. After her win, Brady explained that Hewitt was a candidate "none of us as local Conservatives could condone" when we asked her why she mounted a standalone challenge in the traditional Tory riding. Catch up here.
That challenge was a big bet. "The party laughed at me," she says.
One year later, Brady has no regrets. "I feel that we have done a great job of getting our feet wet in the past year," she told us during a candid conversation, marking her first year as a politician.
We caught up with Brady to muse over the year that was and consider what lies ahead. Here are the highlights of our conversation:
How are you liking the job?
"I've spent twenty three years working for Toby [Barrett] so I knew what the job looked like and I must say that it is much better on this end than being on the staffer end. That was great, but the time had come. I feel that we have done a great job of getting our feet wet in the past year. You know, my constituents are happy and they like the position we're in, so I have no complaints."
Tell us about the transition from being a political staffer to a politician. Any differences or similarities?
"It's pretty surreal. For us, it was pretty seamless. The nice part now is that back when I contributed to helping write questions and statements, I would have in my mind how I would articulate that myself. The beauty now is that I have my own isms just like Toby had his own isms. Now, when I write something, it's with all my passion, all my heart. I can deliver it with that same passion. I really like that.
Toby mentored me so well that I think it's been very easy. One of the things that Toby always said was that there are no voters at Queen's Park. Do your job at Queen's Park but get out and back to the riding where the people are. The past year, that's what I have done. I come to Queen's Park, I don't have House duty, I don't have a house whip. I am my own whip. I pile everything into one or two days at Queen's Park and then I'm back in the riding attending events and meeting with people so that I can bring their concerns back here. Being an independent really does provide opportunities, more opportunities to engage with your constituents and the people who really matter."
You talk a lot about Toby. I sense he's played a big role in your political rise?
"Yeah, I worked for the guy for twenty three years. I saw what we did right and I saw what we did wrong. I saw where we had deficiencies. In the past year, Toby has done a good job of retiring. He's now knocking on doors and he was a big part of the municipal election. Those are things that he couldn't do before. He's taking that time to do Toby things. I think that's fantastic."
And you still reach out to him for advice? Talk to him often?
"It's probably a lot less than people would think. He came into the office a few months ago and I said 'Toby, I haven't seen you in forever.' He said 'yeah, I haven't needed to come whip you into shape because people are telling me you're doing a good job.' That was a nice kind of sentiment."
Let's look back one year ago. The Tories appointed Ken Hewitt to be their candidate — someone you said "none of the local Conservatives could condone." At what point did you decide to put your name forward?
"I'm old around the idea that it was April 9; my friend's birthday. I had cooked all day for my mom's birthday and I had family sitting around waiting for me to serve dinner. My phone rang and it was Toby. He said that he had just gotten off the phone with the Premier and the Premier was going to appoint Ken Hewitt. I told Toby I don't have time for games and he’s like 'this isn't a game, this is actually going to happen.' Weeks went by and we didn't really hear anything more beyond that phone call. We had gone back to the powers that be and said if this was the Premier’s thinking, then at least afford us a nomination night. I knew I can clean the floor with him but the party would not afford us a nomination because they knew that I was going to beat them. Sitting around the dinner table, after we got that news, I threw out the idea. Maybe I should challenge this. My family was there and they were distraught because they had known how important it was to me. For all these years, I had these aspirations, I've worked hard and I believed in my community and wanted to serve. The next day, I went to Toby's house and I met with Toby and his wife. Toby was lukewarm to this idea and his wife tried talking me out of it and..."
Thought that you were crazy.
"That I was crazy. But my family, they were the ones who said you should do this. Toby, a few days later, said you should do this. It didn't take me long to figure it out. It was natural to me. I honestly — with every fiber of my being — what the PC Party was doing was a really bad deal for the people of the riding."
In your maiden speech, you said "I will admit, I got to the decision to run after countless hours of tears of anger, frustration and sadness." Talk to me more about that emotional whirlwind, per se.
"It was the feeling of being abandoned. I had worked alongside Conservatives for over twenty three years. I had given up nights and weekends, I had given up time with my kids to serve this party because I believed in what we were doing. I felt like I had been used. But I will say that for several years prior to this, I saw this culture of disrespect to people within our own ranks. I saw decisions being made that didn't really seem like Conservative decisions. They concerned me and I spoke out and I think it's largely that speaking out that earned me the label of 'Bobbi's not a yes person. She's not going to be a puppet.' That’s fine. I was angry because the party was choosing somebody who was not a Conservative. There were all sorts of emotions. I was sad. I was angry. A combination of all those things."
Take me back to election night. How were you feeling?
"That was a different day because I think deep down, I knew I had outworked the others. I had done all my research. I had spent long hours developing my policies because I didn't have a party to hand me a platform. I had to create my own based on twenty three years as a Conservative. Were people going to buy it? Yeah, I felt on the campaign trail they did. They really connected with me on the campaign trail and so I was confident. You never know right until the buzzer goes. I woke up that day feeling that I had done everything I can and there's nothing more that I could have actually done to seal this up. So if I don't win, it's it's not something that I did wrong.
Election night was very surreal. The way the numbers were coming in was very, very difficult to decipher. On television, I was just a gray dot, despite the fact the media all had my photo. They never thought that they would need the photo of an independent. I heard a story Friday night where a very good lobbyist in this country called one of my friends said 'she'll win this riding hands down.' I wish I had talked to him because it would have put me at more ease. It's hard to believe it's been a year. It's the best thing I've ever done."
It's a big bet by constituents to elect an independent, no?
"Oh, it's brave. It's the most courageous thing the electorate could do. And I give all the credit to the electorate. They did something that was so brave, so courageous. They set an example. Since last June, I have received emails, private messages from people right across Canada, who have said the riding serves them hope and I really wish that that was true."
Are there any learning curves?
"The only thing that's really different is that you don't have the caucus support. When Toby when in the House, he was handed with what they were going to do and we'd have to figure that out. Now, we have to figure that out. It's been a bit of an uphill climb. It feels like it's always changing. I have very good staff who helped me navigate all of that. I will say that those around me who have been here and have that institutional knowledge have been very, very helpful. I've worked really well with all the caucuses. That would be the biggest change."
You don't get caucus resources or financial support from a political party. Does that impact your ability to represent constituents?
"I get the same budget as everyone else. Every member has the same budget. I don't have a House Leader's office saying 'you're going to speak about this.' That's okay. I don't want to speak when somebody else tells me to just speak. I actually want to speak about what the people want me to. While there's a challenge that we have to do our very own legwork, it's a challenge that we've embraced because we see the benefits that come with it."
What’s been your biggest accomplishment in the last year?
"I think the biggest accomplishment may have been on Bill 97. John Vanthof from the NDP and I went after this government pretty hard — along with farm organizations — on the idea of creating three lots per farm parcel of land. I was very shocked that in my supplementary, the Premier stood and answered my question and assured me that he was going to look after this. Essentially, they were backing down."
Did the Premier or anyone in his office reach out to you after that interaction?
"The Premier and I had an exchange on the grand staircase after Question Period. He assured me that he would make it right for the farmers. I told him that you have to make it right for those farmers who want to farm food and not develop. They know on the other side of the House that I'm very concerned about farmland being developed and we're seeing it all too often in rural Ontario. We're seeing it all too often in my riding — urban sprawl is a real thing. I understand they have a million and a half new homes to build but I'm very concerned about those million and a half. Who is ensuring that they're affordable? I am concerned about the cost of housing. I'm also concerned that we are in this haste to put up a million and a half new homes for people who want to make Ontario home. If we can't feed them, it all becomes a moot point."
Tell us more about your PMB. It passed first reading but was shot down later on.
"Yep, not a shocker. I think passing my PMB would have been an admission that they were doing something wrong. That's why I said last week's success on Bill 97 was actually a success because it's the first time that they've admitted that they've gone down the wrong road. I feel that if they had actually consulted with farmers and consulted with organizations ahead of time, they would have known it was a bad idea and they could have saved the embarrassment.
I have had Conservatives say to me, privately, thank you because they're concerned as well. My response to them is 'listen, I don't care how the job gets done, just get the job done, take my ideas and save our farmland.'"
Can you ever see joining the Tory ranks? Any conditions?
"I've always said the same thing. First and foremost, the House needs to be cleaned. They need to get rid of the culture of disrespect — the idea that they can take the electorate and the membership for granted. That no matter what they do, what they say and do, we will donate and we will vote the way they want us to. Second, the Premier, the leader would have to ask me and I don't see that happening. I think at the end of the day, even if those two things were in check, I'm not going anywhere until the people tell me that it's advantageous to go. And right now, the people like where I sit as an independent because there are so many professional organizations who say to me 'we've brought these things forward under the previous MPPs and to cabinet ministers and they get swept under the carpet so this is our opportunity to actually bring them into the forefront.'"
You have somewhat of a good working relationship with the government, right?
And cabinet ministers?
"Yeah, and you know, I'm not here to stick the government in the eye at every opportunity. But I'm also not here to prop them up. When they do something good, I say they did something good."
You'd often say as a child that you wanted to be a cowgirl. So, what is it that sparked your interest in politics?
"Writing. I went to school for journalism and I ended up covering Town Council in Delhi, Ontario. It always struck me that councillors would have their breaks and go behind the door and have a nip of whatever. They smoked at the Council table. There were things that happen around that Council table that I would report on and think to myself, the people who vote for these folks really need to come watch this in action because I highly doubt this person or that person would be voted in again. I guess the newspaper world forced me to pay attention to what was going on around me. Town Council is what got me hooked and then I covered provincial politics and Toby Barrett and so I developed a real love of provincial issues."
As a mother in politics, have there been any challenges? How do you overcome?
"Well, I wish I had a helicopter. I wish I could afford a vehicle for both my kids. But I'm pretty blessed because my kids are older. My kids are very proud of what I do. And I'm proud of them. So we make it work. But there are challenges that the days are long and they're not always conducive to being a parent."
I get a sense that you have a very close relationship with your family. Has it been difficult spending time with them as you're on the job?
"My mom complains. She will sneak in any little last-minute dinner or whatever. I think she's sad because she doesn't see me as often. You know, I'm not as available as I once used to be. I try really hard because I know that they're not going to be around forever. I would say my mom is probably the one who would complain the most about not seeing me as often."
Looking forward, what are your priorities going into year two?
"My primary priority would be to continue to hold this government to account financially with my role on the Finance Committee. If they're not acting fiscally Conservative, I point it out so I will continue to do that. I will continue to stand up for democracy. I will continue to protect our farmland and continue to speak out against irresponsible and not-so-moderate housing development. I've got a list of things but I'm not straying too far from what I campaigned on because those are still the issues that are very important to the people in my riding. A year after this election, the issues are still the same."
Adil Shamji has entered the race for Grit captain — becoming the last explorer to enter the fray. "I am ready to lead a new Liberal movement that puts the needs and aspirations of Ontarians first," said Shamji. The ER physician-turned-politician will headline a launch shindig with supporters at the Rally Bar and Grill on his stomping grounds. RSVP here.
The doc's team: Shamji has begun building a team to help lead his bid for the provincial Grits. Mainstreet Research's Quito Maggi — who Shamji said "brings experience, talent, professionalism and grit to our team" — has joined the crew and stepped back from his duties with the polling form.
Shamji's DVE campaign manager Patrick Smith and Malton BIA's Natalie Hart are also on Team Adil. John Ashworth is Shamji's CFO.
Ontario's ethics watchdog is asking MPPs to tighten conflict of interest rules after Premier Doug Ford's daughter's controversial stag and doe — in line with an NDP motion to alter gift rules that the Tories shot down.
Commissioner David Wake says questions are still swirling around gift receiving rules, including whether or not gifts given to family and friends should be covered by ethics rules.
Wake is calling for clarity on the application of the Members' Integrity Act "to apparent or perceived" conflicts. "Appearances of a conflict of interest are often the result of misinformation, but, unless addressed, they can lead to a lack of public faith in our institutions," he says.
Wake called on the House to consider allowing him to kick start inquiries "based on information provided to them from other sources, including members of the public."
Laura Walton — who spearheaded the fight against the use of the notwithstanding clause to block CUPE's education workers from striking in November — is looking to make the jump: running for president of the Ontario Federation of Labour. "When we organize, we build movements that win," Walton said in a statement.
She's being backed by CUPE Ontario. President Fred Hahn said the union was "proud to support this dynamic and diverse leadership team," consisting of Walton, Ahmad Gaied and Jackie Taylor.
An internal investigation into "workplace misconduct" allegations against former NDPer Michael Mantha is still ongoing. "I know it's frustrating because these things do take a while," said party captain Marit Stiles, who's not ruling out allowing Mantha back into caucus. "I am not innocent in this whole process," he said. CBC has the story.
New documents obtained by The Trillium show that core attractions at the Ontario Science Centre might not make it to Ontario Place. These attractions, including a planetarium, were left out of the design and would only be approved if there is enough space at the museum.
AT THE PALACE
— Chow says ciao: Toronto's next mayor is Olivia Chow — and Doug Ford is promising to dig up "common ground" with an "unmitigated disaster."
It was a race with plenty at stake for City Hall and Queen's Park alike. The progressive Chow is granted with sweeping authority and a veto power as a "strong mayor," a tool she's not planning to use. Chow has voiced strong aversion to the revamped Ontario Place blueprint and is expected to clash with Queen's Park on provincial cash for the city.
No more mudslinging: Premier Doug Ford — who forecasted an "unmitigated disaster" if Chow was elected — stroke a conciliatory tone after her victory. "We'll work together and we're going to find common ground when we sit down because she’s actually quite a nice person," he told reporters. "Mr. Premier, we're ready — let's work together to get it done," Chow said in her address after a call with Ford, in a nod to the Tories' slick campaign slogan.
Across the aisle: Team Stiles is using Chow's "breakthrough" victory in Scarborough as ammunition for the NDP in the upcoming race to replace Mitzie Hunter — tapping local organizer Thadsha Navaneethan to carry the orange banner in the riding. Background here.
What's next for Chow's challengers: Liberal circles are abuzz on the political future of two competitors: Hunter and Ana Bailão.
Hunter may seek to replace Gary Crawford at City Hall if his jump to Queen's Park is successful. She's kept silent on her political future, telling reporters that she's planning to spend time with family after a whirlwind campaign.
Could Bailão go Grit? The idea of the runner up being recruited to run for the Liberals federally or provincially has been floated. Bailão's team is also planning to "preserve everything so she has the option to run again in three years," according to one source familiar, pointing to buzz at her election night huddle of a second shot at the top job when Chow's term expires.
Speaking of Bailão: Team Bailão's campaign manager Tom Allison apologized to staff during a morning call after our juicy account of John Tory's endorsement of his former deputy hit the wire. Allison expressed regret over a decision to eject staff from the office so Tory could tape the video message.
"It was a huge error," a source said of the move. "People appreciated the apology," the source added. Catch up on our scoop.
— The Ford government has surreptitiously brought back the "King's Counsel" designation for lawyers — awarding it to a cohort of Tory MPPs and insiders. The title was kiboshed during the David Peterson era because it had become "corrupted." Some familiar names around the Pink Palace:
Doug Downey (Attorney General)
Christine Elliott (Former Deputy Premier)
Joseph Hillier (Chief of Staff to the Attorney General)
Stephen Leach (Independent Police Review Director)
Todd McCarthy (PC MPP)
Anthony Leardi (PC MPP)
Greg Rickford (Northern Development Minister)
Caroline Mulroney (Transportation Minister)
Ross Romano (Chief Government Whip)
Prabmeet Singh Sarkaria (President of the Treasury Board)
Effie Triantafilopoulos (PC MPP)
Michael Tibollo (Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addiction)
Stiles says: "With all the challenges that the people of Ontario are facing right now, we need a government that is focused on helping people, not themselves," NDP captain Marit Stiles shot back. More from the Star.
— MacLeod's Twitter comeback: PC MPP Lisa MacLeod is back on the blue bird app after a hiatus. She took aim at Mississauga Mayor and Grit leadership candidate Bonnie Crombie's shot at the Ontario Place Corporation's windup, thanking her for "letting us know you would continue to let Ontario Place and Ontario Science Centre rot." Her viral tweet:
— Save the date: Voters in Scarborough—Guildwood and Kanata—Carleton will head to the polls on July 27. The Star on the stakes.
Premier Doug Ford is set to headline a "Leader's Golf Classic" on Thursday morning in Brampton. Here are the deets — tickets are pricy.
The Ford government has launched an ad blitz touting redevelopment plans at the Ontario Place. According to Meta's public disclosure of advertising, the government is plugging the destination's "transformation" to Facebook and Instagram users through ads that went online in May. Radio and television commercials have been spotted. We got our hands on one of the IG ads — watch here. TV ad sighting.
Dissatisfaction but no discomfort: Fresh polling from Angus Reid shows that while the Ford government is sitting with the lowest performance rating of any provincial government in the country — it's still enjoying a "comfortable lead" over the NDP and Liberals.
Underpin: The polling firm is pointing to "the division between the centre left vote" as a reason for the Tories' big lead, with the NDP in second and Grits in third.
Topic du jour: Ontarians — like British Columbians — chose housing affordability as their top issue.
ON THE MOVE
Hot of the presses: The Ford government has appointed the transition board that will oversee the disbandment of Peel Region — with Toronto's former deputy city manager John Livey chairing the panel. Here's who's who:
Former FAO Peter Weltman (whose term as the province's fiscal watchdog was not renewed)
Toronto's former interim city manager Tracey Cook
Former York police chief Eric Jolliffe
Fasken's Sean Morley
Early reaction: "Positive overall," local Mississauga councillor Alvin Tedjo told us. "We didn't want anyone with ties to Peel or anyone with a relationship with any of the mayors and I think we got that," he said, adding that "we'd like to see the recommendations they produce to be public" before a decision is made by the province.
Rocco's out: Ontario Chamber of Commerce CEO Rocco Rossi is stepping down from the role in January after six years. The announcement.
The organization has formed an "executive search team" to recruit Rossi's replacement.
Former child advocate Irwin Elman has been named an Officer of the Order of Canada. "This recognition of the Order of Canada is also recognition of young people struggling to overcome," Elman said.
Elman carried the NDP banner in Don Valley West last year. Catch up.
WHAT WE'RE READING
THE STAR: "An inside look at how John Tory’s too-late move may have helped Olivia Chow become mayor" by Ben Spurr and David Rider
THE TRILLIUM: "Ontario hasn't studied impact of Peel split on municipal finances" by Jack Hauen
CBC NEWS: "Doug Ford vs. Olivia Chow: How will Ontario's premier and Toronto's new mayor get on?" by Mike Crawley
GLOBE AND MAIL: "RoseAnne Archibald vows to fight to reclaim her position as AFN National Chief" by Willow Fiddler and Patrick White
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