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Tory strategists weigh in on the battle for the party's leadership
In this edition: what to watch in the Conservative leadership race, Miller booted, mandate letters deadline, strike averted, the NDP's big campaign rally
Happy Monday. Welcome to POLICORNER — your insider’s guide to Canadian politics, policy and power. Mask mandates were lifted in most indoor public settings across Ontario today. Here is where you’ll still need one.
In this 10 minute read, three Conservative strategists on the early status of the leadership race and Doug Ford’s order to caucus. A long-time NDP MPP booted from caucus over “new information uncovered.” What the government is staying on the approaching mandate letters deadline. Plus, a strike averted in Ontario colleges.
The race to be the next Conservative leader is heating up. The slate of candidates is growing, with high-profile endorsements lining up.
Eight candidates are officially in — Pierre Poilievre, Jean Charest, Patrick Brown, Leslyn Lewis, Roman Baber, Scott Aitchison, Marc Dalton and Joseph Bourgault. More are expected to join the race in the coming days. Leona Alleslev — the Liberal-turned-Conservative MP who was defeated in the last election — has already set up leonaalleslev.ca and is a circulating petition in support of the nomination. Joel Etienne — who ran for the party in York Centre — is also gathering signatures in support.
newsBeyond spoke with three Conservative strategists on the early status of the race and what they’ll be watching for. Here’s what they told us:
Where do things stand in the race for the leadership of the party?
Andrew Brander (Former senior staffer at Queen's Park and a Vice President at Crestview Strategy): “I think it's early days. What we've seen in the contest thus far are some very big names. These are household names in various parts of the country. I think what we're seeing so far is serious contenders putting their name forward. And I think that it is an encouraging time for Conservatives. They know what is at stake. After two election cycles — where the conservatives have won the popular vote but haven't been able to translate that into seats needed to form government — Conservatives are feeling very optimistic that whoever is elected will become the prime minister. And I think that's why you're seeing such significant competitors come forward and offer themselves.”
Josie Sabatino (Former Director of Communications to Erin O'Toole and senior consultant at Summa Strategies): “It is really interesting where Pierre is choosing to go with his messaging. He's pitching more of a progressive vision for how he sees the party, in terms of the freedom messaging. Rather than reacting to the news of the day, he's really putting forward a proactive message. I think the other candidates have some catching up to do in that respect.”
Tim Powers (Chairman at Summa Strategies): “I don't think we really know where things stand because we haven't seen any data on membership sales and no polling data on voting intentions. Anecdotally, based on the behavior of the candidates, it's fair to say there's a top three — Mr. Poilievre, Mr. Charest and Mr. Brown. I think it's probably fair to speculate that Mr. Poilievre is the likely frontrunner at this point. Mr. Charest and Mr. Brown are his main challengers.”
What issues will dominate the leadership race?
Brander: “The #1 issue is going to be the cost of living. How we tackle big issues like taxes, inflation and getting costs under control. That is something every single one of the leadership contenders is going to have to tackle in a serious way. The next central theme is going to be one about the issue of personal freedom and responsibility. The real sort of sleeper issue is going to be very dependent on what happens in Ukraine. I think that it is one of the Prime Minister’s biggest weak spots. I think a number of candidates will want to capitalize on that.”
Sabatino: “What we're going to see a lot of is the economy popping up. I think Canadians want a plan to shepherd through what is happening in the world in terms of current events, and how that affects their household prices. So I think the economy and inflation are going to be the #1 issue.
Powers: “I think personality is going to be a thing. Are you conservative or not a conservative? You have Pierre Poilievre trying to make that criticism against Mr. Charest. You have character playing out. Pierre going at Patrick Brown. Brown going back at Pierre. On policy, you've seen some skirmishes around environmental policy. You've seen some on pandemic policy and mandates. You've seen a little bit on military spending and foreign affairs. I think those policy issues will be prominent.”
How will this impact the election in Ontario? What do you make of Doug Ford telling his MPPs to stay out of this race?
Brander: “Doug Ford has to stay out of this Conservative Party leadership race. He’s ensuring that everyone else does as well. I'm not surprised to see this sort of edict come down. Ford is looking at this and saying — the more people working on this federal leadership — the more resources are taken away from our ground efforts in Ontario. What I'm really watching for is what happens after June 3. It will be really interesting to see how many MPP choose to get involved.”
Sabatino: “Having fought in an election and having worked in a war room, you want your candidates focused on the issues at hand and the issues that are you're hearing about at the door. I think that it makes a lot of sense for Doug Ford. They're focused on winning a majority government in June and their hands are in the right space.”
Powers: “Ford is only three months away from an election. He doesn't want to create unnecessary animosity. He needs people who are helping in this leadership to do some work on the ground for him and his candidates. So staying out of the fray until the election is done makes good sense. It avoids unnecessary conflict.”
What will you be watching for over the next few months?
Brander: “The last leadership race happened during COVID-19. It was really difficult for leadership contenders to do the typical things that you'd like to do in leadership races — the meet-and-greets, the summer barbecues. I think there is going to be a much clearer contrast as we've already started to see develop. Ultimately at the end of the day, I think it's going to be a very clear choice for party members. We are going to have three or four various visions of what the party looks like. It’s going to be up to party members to make that choice. I'm very interested to see how the other candidates do — not even talking about the explicit frontrunners. How does Scott Aitchison do? How does Leslyn Lewis do?
Sabatino: “I will be focusing on policy. As a conservative, I'm always focused on pocketbook issues. I want to see a plan for the economy. With the events taking place in Ukraine, there’s more of an emphasis on foreign policy and defense spending. I will be keeping an eye out for that as well. I’ll be keeping an eye on how the economy will transition as we look for post-COVID recovery. I’ll be looking for more of the policy rather than a tit-for-tat between the candidates.”
Powers: “Who makes it till the end of April? I think we are going to see people drop out. Who are the early dropouts going to be and why? How will the attacks back-and-forth between Charest, Brown and Poilievre play out? Feedback on membership sales? Those will be some of the things I'll be looking for. Six months is a long time. This thing is in two tranches — pre-membership sales till June 3 and the persuasion phase after that. Who’s still hanging around until June?
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Miller booted from the NDP caucus, can’t carry the orange banner in June
Longtime MPP Paul Miller (Hamilton East—Stoney Creek) has been booted from the NDP caucus and dropped as a candidate in the June election over “new information uncovered” during the party's election vetting process.
NDP leader Andrea Horwath shared her decision in a statement on Thursday night. “I’ve been informed of the new information uncovered during that vetting process, and find it to be clearly unacceptable,” she said.
The details of the information uncovered are scant. In an interview with the Toronto Star, Miller suggested social media posts as a reason for his removal. Horwath remains mum on the information that led to Miller’s removal. When pressed on the issue, she said his ousting was “not an easy decision to make.”
Miller and Horwath have had a rocky relationship. In 2013, Horwath sent Miller to the back corner of the Legislature due to constant heckling during Question Period. Miller shared his concern last month that the party would run another candidate against him. “There's something going on and I’m not sure. You’d have to talk to the leader about it,” he told the Hamilton Spectator.
The longtime MPP — who previously served as Deputy Speaker — is seeking litigation and plans to run in the upcoming provincial election.
The Ford government has only a few days left to appeal a decision by Ontario’s top court to release mandate letters for cabinet ministers. Asked if the government will file a case at the Supreme Court or release the letters, a spokesperson for the Ministry of the Attorney General told newsBeyond “as this matter is within an appeal period and remains before the courts, it would be inappropriate to comment.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is off to Europe for a three-day trip centered around the situation in Ukraine. Trudeau’s itinerary includes an address to the European Parliament, a meeting with G7 leaders, and a trip to Belgium, where he will meet with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen. More from the Prime Minister’s Office.
Former Unifor National President Jerry Dias — who resigned due to "ongoing health issues" — is under investigation for an alleged breach of the union's constitution. The union's Secretary-Treasurer Lana Payne received a complaint about Dias in January. The union will not comment until an investigative report is completed, expected in the “near future.”
A province-wide college faculty strike has been averted. The College Employer Council and the union representing faculty agreed to enter binding interest arbitration after both sides resumed negotiations hours before the Friday strike deadline. Here’s what Colleges and Universities Minister Jill Dunlop had to say:
In-person campaigning is back ahead of the next provincial election. As newsBeyond first reported earlier this week, the NDP will hold a “major campaign rally” in Toronto on April 3. The party is teasing a "big announcement" by leader Andrea Horwath.
WHAT WE’RE READING
NATIONAL POST: “Ontario to introduce new measures to block further blockades” by Bryan Passifiume
CBC NEWS: “Federal public servants get green light for gradual return to office” by Joseph Tunney
TORONTO STAR: “Five key moments during Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s address to Parliament” by Raisa Patel
CNN: “Biden warns business leaders to prepare for Russian cyber attacks” by Maegan Vazquez, Donald Judd, Sean Lyngaas and Zachary Cohen
“Coffee with Del Duca” by Paul Wells
In our last edition, we asked about the book Conservative leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre was reading in a photo posted to Twitter that week. That would be “Indian in the Cabinet: Speaking Truth to Power” by former MP Jody Wilson-Raybould. The book was published on September 14.
THIS WEEK’S QUESTION: Who is the sitting mayor who will be running for the Ontario Liberal Party in Barrie—Springwater—Oro-Medonte? Send your answers to email@example.com or reply to this email.
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