Chris Ballard, fighting for his political life here in Newmarket-Aurora, pledged last night that “by hook or by crook” he would bring a 15 minute GO train service to Newmarket’s proposed new rail station at Mulock Drive.  For the moment, the service is planned to stop at Aurora.

Ballard was speaking to an engaged and well-informed audience at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Newmarket on a wide range of social issues. He was joined by the NDP’s Melissa Williams with the PC’s Christine Elliott and the Green’s Michelle Bourdeau giving their apologies.

What did I learn that was new and interesting?

Keep Calm and Carry On

Melissa Williams has two businesses. One a marketing consultancy and the other, yoga and meditation. This might explain why she always appears so calm and unruffled. 

I know she resents paying so much for her hydro but it comes as news to me that she has had to re-mortgage her house to meet all her expenses. It is, of course, her choice to make these details public but it gives us an idea where she is coming from. She comes across as open (perhaps disarmingly so) and absolutely genuine.

She is not a politician (at least not yet) and has never learned the art of dissembling. 

There was a good crowd at the Lutheran Church to hear the candidates. But, unfortunately, no Christine Elliott

Chris Ballard puts in another strong and confident performance, answering questions directly with no equivocations. I learn he is coming up to 60 and spent 25 of those years in the far north. Clearly, he knows and cares deeply about the issues facing first nations, giving us reams of examples. 

Someone from the audience asks why the two candidates – and the two parties – can’t get together and everyone laughs.

But there is a difference.

Ford rejects Ballard's briefing

Chris Ballard is blunt. He says an NDP Government would damage the economy. He says a strong economy funds the social programs we all care about. As for the PCs, he is dismissive. He says Ford would destroy the social safety net and roll back key programs on climate change. He reveals he offered Doug Ford a briefing on cap-and-trade but it wasn’t taken up. Ford, he says, doesn’t know the difference between a carbon tax and cap-and-trade.

At home with all the issues

There are questions on precarious employment and both agree that not everyone is benefitting from growth in the Ontario economy. And what about income security? And truth and reconciliation? The questions keep rolling in. And now there is one on how best to promote critical thinking! Terrific! I am in the company of people who are light years away from Doug Ford’s bumper-sticker politics. This meeting should have been streamed to a wider audience. 

Melissa Williams has touching faith in Andrea Horwath’s ability to deliver. That is not a criticism, merely an observation. Melissa sees the NDP platform as a program for Government, fully costed, with no mention of the black hole uncovered by the Liberals. Her list of spending commitments prompts one member of the audience to ask what many people are thinking. How will the NDP pay for it all?

Ticking all the boxes

Chris Ballard reflects on his four years at Queen’s Park, comparing his promises to the voters in 2014 and what he has delivered. GO Rail expansion, OMB reform, protection of the Greenbelt and so on. He feels he has ticked all the boxes. 

He gets energised about the Jobs and Prosperity Fund which Doug Ford has promised to abolish with the inevitable loss of 650 local jobs. Christine Elliott has been silent on this.

Now I hear someone say she is going to tweet Christine Elliott with the questions she couldn’t answer tonight because of her absence.

I shall keep an eye on my Twitter feed.

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Former PC leadership contender and candidate for the bell-weather riding of Newmarket-Aurora, Christine Elliott, told a breakfast meeting earlier today that the Progressive Conservatives would be producing a fully costed platform before the election. She cannot say precisely when but says it is on the way.

She was speaking to an audience largely drawn from the Newmarket Chamber of Commerce at the Cardinal Golf Club just outside the riding. 

In front of me I see the Liberal, Chris Ballard, defending the seat he first won in 2014, flanked by the NDP’s new kid on the block, Melissa Williams, and PC hopeful, the veteran Christine Elliott.

The audience is well behaved and the atmosphere respectful, almost reverential. This would have suited the buttoned-up Newmarket Mayor, Tony Van Trappist, who I see at the back of the room, chin resting on his chest. At public meetings he would often warn members of the public not to applaud. 

The MC, Ian Proudfoot, tells us there are 18 questions with strict time allocations involving red cards and a bell. The questions are all supposed to be business related except when they are not.

First question is, inevitably, about the cost of energy. Melissa says the NDP will buy back Hydro, return it to the public sector and cut energy bills by 30%. Just like that! Terrific!

Brownouts

Chris Ballard recalls the bad old days of brownouts in Aurora. The whole creaking electricity system badly needed investment and this is what the Liberals have been doing. He’s happy with the public owning a 40% stake in a well-run company rather than 100% of a basket case. (My words). Christine Elliott says the high cost of hydro is forcing companies to consider relocating in the United States. She said the same thing at the Aurora Chamber of Commerce meeting last week.

Now we are on to spending and debt interest. This is a difficult one for the Liberals but Ballard comes out of his corner swinging, reminding us that Mike Harris spent 15.5 cents in every dollar to service debt and the saintly Kathleen Wynne is spending a manageable 8c. I consider this a good debating point and have Ballard ahead in these early rounds.

Now we are on to Bill 148, the Better Jobs Act. Christine Elliott says everyone wants to see an increase in the minimum wage – but not now. The PCs want to delay the implementation of next year’s $15. Melissa and Chris trumpet their small business credentials saying they understand the pressures facing businesses but sticking with the increase is the right thing to do. 

There is no Carbon Tax!

Now we are on to the environment and a question from the floor. What is the PC line on climate change? Woo Hoo!  

Elliott denounces the Carbon Tax as a tax grab! The alternative is green energy, not taxing people. Sunshine and wind is the way forward!

Now Chris “Clark Kent” Ballard rips off his suit jacket and, transformed into Superman, zooms into the stratosphere. Our Climate Change expert yells:

“This is a question I love.”  

John Taylor: Lapping it up

He says there is no carbon tax. The Province has “cap and trade” which targets major greenhouse emitters, driving down pollution and bringing billions of dollars into the Provincial Treasury.

Now we are on to heath care and whether, with rising costs, it is sustainable. Melissa makes me feel as if healthcare is already on life-support with people unable to get a hospital bed and unable to get their teeth fixed. The NDP is gonna pump in cash. Ballard lists all sorts of good things that are happening at Southlake and Elliott laments there is no plan for dementia. This concerns me. I think.

We are rattling along at quite a canter and the politicians are making some good points but, for me, the audience remains too well behaved. No laughing or groaning. Just respectful silence. Occasionally a partisan table (like the NDP one behind me) allows themselves some polite, nervous applause.

Lavishing praise

Now we are reaching mid-point with a question on Places to Grow, land use policies and affordable housing. Ballard points to 212 Davis Drive as the first purpose-built rental in Newmarket since Confederation. He lavishes praise on the Town and mentions the key role played by Mayoral hopeful John Taylor who is grinning from ear to ear.

Melissa, casting caution to the wind, says the housing situation is in a complete mess. She tells us there should be a land speculation tax and a crack-down on property flipping. The many estate agents in the audience are now getting palpitations.

Now we are back to the minimum wage. In my experience, people who earn much more than the minimum wage are often the most strident when it comes to capping it. Ballard sums it up quite nicely:

“People on $14 an hour are not parking their money offshore.”

They are spending their money here in their own neighbourhoods and communities.

Christine repeats her earlier claim that the minimum wage – pitched at too high a level – is a jobs destroyer with people with disabilities being laid off first. I find myself wondering if this is legal.

Early onset 

Now in a sign of early onset dementia, the Chamber of Commerce is beginning to repeat itself. We are back on hydro. Now a super-charged Ballard blasts the “gas plant stuff” (which no-one has mentioned) demanding it should “be put to bed”.

He is now going on about Ontario having the fastest growing economy in Canada, outpacing all the G7 economies. The Provincial Government is investing in infrastructure which is needed to support growth. 

Christine says if there is all this growth the Province shouldn’t be running a deficit. All this spending:

“It’s just to get votes!”

Surely not?

Andrea will be looking at it

Now more repeat questions on topics we’ve had already. Some in the audience – here from the beginning - are nevertheless probably hearing the questions for the first time. But now a question on transit and transportation and whether there should be a single transit authority across the entire GTA.

This allows Chris Ballard to embark on a long answer taking in GO trains, 15 minute train services and the new station at Mulock Drive. Christine says the PCs are going to spend $5 billion on something or other and, yes, parking is a problem.

Melissa Williams says:

“Bringing everything under one roof is something that Andrea will be looking at.”  

If Melissa is stumped for an answer we know that Andrea will be looking into it.

Back to hydro

Unbelievably, we are back to hydro yet again.  

Now we are into the closing statements with Melissa promising a touchy-feely NDP where everyone in Ontario can feel at home and cared for.

Chris Ballard, the man with the ever-present smile, says: 

“I’m not happy until the folks in Newmarket-Aurora are happy!”

Christine Elliott says we are not getting the best value out of our health care dollars (those efficiency savings again) and that she lies awake in bed at night worrying about the deficit. (I made the last bit up.)

Oh, yes. And she tells us the PCs will be producing a fully costed platform before the election.

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In tomorrow’s Toronto Star former PC leader, Patrick Brown, boasts of his legacy. He says the Party was not left in a mess. There’s cash in the bank and the Party is much more diverse. Membership soared from 12,000 party members to either 136,000 or over 200,000 depending, he says, on who you believe.

But there is a darker side. Brown lied through his teeth about his finances to the Province’s Integrity Commissioner who said these lies were deliberate and not inadvertent. 

So why should we now believe anything he says?  

Brown and McGrath at last year's Aurora Street Festival

Brown says by-election wins triggered an avalanche of interest in becoming a PC candidate:

We were not prepared as a party for the lengths people would go to win nominations. We had to shut down attempts to print fake ballots, produce fake ID’s, stop fistfights and even the stuffing of ballot boxes. I was beyond frustrated to hear these ongoing stories.”

This is Canada for goodness sake! Not Syria, South Sudan or Somalia. Stuffing ballot boxes is not something that is supposed to happen here.

We should be outraged.

For a while the PC’s interim leader, Vic Fedeli, was determined to root out the rot. Then the moment passed.

Brown makes it sound as if he, as Party Leader, was an innocent by-stander when in reality he was in it up to his armpits.

Often, he looked the other way, choosing to ignore the cheating, malpractice and fraud. He now tells us:

“We took steps to ensure these nominations were run fairly and free from abuse. I personally ordered the party to bring in PWC to observe and certify our nominations. I have been as shocked as anyone else to hear about allegations that a candidate stole private 407 data. In retrospect, I am increasingly of the opinion political parties are ill equipped to handle nominations and that it is time to have Elections Ontario manage this part of our democratic process.”

As usual, he is being economical with the truth.

Before Brown brought in Price Waterhouse Coopers he ruled that the nominations of the 64 candidates, already endorsed and approved, would stand even though many were challenged. PWC was brought in after the fact, checking on cheating in all nominations "going forward".

Here in Newmarket-Aurora Brown left the cheat Charity McGrath in place as the official PC candidate despite the resignation of the riding’s entire board. 

On 28 May 2017, the provincial nominating committee told the Newmarket-Aurora riding Board it proposed to take no action on the documented allegations of cheating and fraud.

When Ford took over as Leader McGrath was dumped to make way for Christine Elliott.

That's how we ended up with Ms Elliott, the PC Leadership's three time loser.

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Ford’s at it again. 

Making up policy as he goes along.  

Now he is promising to exempt Royal Canadian Legion halls from property taxes. 

But municipalities already have that power if they choose to exercise it.

Ford’s latest trumpet blast was prompted by NDP candidate Laura Kaminker who doesn’t much care for Remembrance Day poppies.

Ford leapt on the candidate’s comments and immediately rolled out his new commitment to exempt the Legion. It was a headline grab.

Pure Ford.

The policy commitment didn't rate a mention in Patrick Brown's "People's Guarantee".

NDP's Laura Kaminker

The Globe and Mail’s Adam Radwanski comments today:

“The PCs, who at the moment are still best-positioned to win government but find the New Democrats unexpectedly breathing down their necks, have been trying hardest to make hay of the candidate controversies. That included, on Tuesday, delegating a pair of their candidates to decry the NDP’s nominees as “radical and extreme”; later the same day they announced a new pledge to spare legion halls paying (municipal) property tax, presented without detail and seemingly concocted solely to keep the poppy-related controversy alive.”

That hit the nail on the head.

Ford's Press Release says:

"While Ontario’s Assessment Act provides some exemptions on property taxes for certain organizations, the Ontario Command of the RCL does not qualify for the exemption."

It seems to me that the Assessment Act 1990 already gives a specific exemption to land that is used and occupied as a clubhouse by people who served in the armed forces. Municipalities have the power to exempt Legion Halls if they choose. (See below.)

If Ford wants to remove that discretionary power from Municipalities he should simply say so. 

The mandatory exemption of Legion Halls from property taxes will come at a cost but, for many people, that Is a price well worth paying.

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Assessment Act 1990 

Exemption for land used by veterans

6.1 (1) Land that is used and occupied as a memorial home, clubhouse or athletic grounds by persons who served in the armed forces of His or Her Majesty or an ally of His or Her Majesty in any war is exempted from taxation in the circumstances and to the extent described in this section.  2006, c. 33, Sched. A, s. 7.

Land in municipalities

(2) The council of a local or upper-tier municipality, as the case may be, may pass by-laws exempting land described in subsection (1) from taxation for its purposes on such conditions as may be set out in the by-laws.  2007, c. 7, Sched. 1, s. 1 (1).

Restriction

(3) An exemption under subsection (2) must not exceed 10 years but may be renewed at any time during the last year of the exemption.  2006, c. 33, Sched. A, s. 7.

Exception

(4) An exemption under subsection (2) does not affect the obligation to pay fees or charges that have priority lien status.  2006, c. 33, Sched. A, s. 7.

Update on 23 May 2018. I am told the Legion on Newmarket’s Srigley Street is exempt.

The Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario is deeply corrupt. 

Doug Ford with Snover Dhillon "Ford says he has never met Dhillon."

Under Patrick Brown’s leadership there was cheating, ballot stuffing and voter fraud on an Olympian scale. The rights of ordinary PC members were casually ignored as the then Leader smoothed the path for his favourites. The National Post told us on 13 March 2018 that Brown:

“appointed candidates himself in about 60 constituencies and refused to hear appeals of those that were clouded by controversy.”

As newly elected leader, Doug Ford, told the National Post:

“There were a lot of indiscretions in a lot of nominations. I spoke to people who were disqualified the day before (the nomination election) and that’s not being transparent.”

Now we have the jaw-dropping revelations from yesterday’s Globe and Mail which chronicles the disgraceful actions of the convicted fraudster Snover Dhillon who, by all accounts, hired himself out to people seeking PC nominations. 

“Dhillon played a controversial role in a number of the candidate-nomination votes that have resulted in accusations of voter fraud, ballot stuffing and other irregularities.”

Now both the Liberals and the NDP are calling for a police investigation into PC nominations.  

On top of all this we now have the scandal of Simmer Sandhu and the theft of identities from the privately-owned Highway 407 ETR. It is alleged 60,000 names, addresses and phone numbers were stolen from the company’s internal systems with the thief then distributing or selling the data to candidates in GTA PC nomination races. 

Until last Wednesday Simmer Sandhu – who was employed by Highway 407 ETR - was the PC candidate for Brampton East. He protests his innocence.

Sandhu has now been replaced by another Ford appointee, Sudeep Verma.

Ford refuses to back calls for a police probe.

Clearly Vic Fedeli didn’t root out all the rot.

Ford has now appointed 13 PC candidates including the notorious Meredith Cartwright who is running in Toronto Centre. She took the rap for hiring actors to masquerade as Ford supporters outside the TV studio where the Party leaders debated.

And he’s dumped nine candidates.

And six days away from the start of advanced polling on 26 May 2018, the official PC website still doesn't show a photograph of its candidate for Brampton North, Ripudaman Dhillon.

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Update on 22 May 2018: Snover Dhillon says PC candidates paid for memberships, breaking Party rules.

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