This morning’s Toronto Star editoral accuses Ford’s cabinet of being his enablers

Newmarket-Aurora MPP and Health Minister, Christine Elliott, has been singing the virtues of Bill 115, saying it will allow thirsty constituents to buy a beer at their local convenience store when they want one. She makes no mention of the Bill’s treatment of the Beer Store’s owners who are to be denied any remedy for breach of contract.

There is a case for liberalising beer and alcohol sales but no case whatsoever for ripping up without compensation a contract which, in any event, expires in 2025.

The Government relies on Ken Hughes who was appointed as the “special adviser for the beverage alcohol review”. His report on the retail landscape for beer and alcohol makes compelling reading but nowhere does he advocate ripping up the contract (the Master Framework Agreement) with the three big brewers who largely own the Beer Store. Hughes tells us:

“The alcohol retail landscape is diverse and complex. The largest retailer, the  LCBO, is government-owned and provides a significant annual contribution to the provincial treasury – $2.12 billion in 2017–18. Beer sales are dominated by The Beer Store (TBS), a near-monopoly primarily owned by three of the biggest multinational brewing companies. While most Ontarians view the retail experience at the LCBO favourably, shopping at most TBS locations has changed very little over the past century.”

Hughes recommends the Government should:

“Do everything possible under the Master Framework Agreement to authorize additional alcohol retail outlets.”

The Enabler-in-Chief

Caroline Mulroney, the Attorney General, is another local MPP who seems drunk on power. Included in her long list of responsibilities and duties she

shall advise the Government upon all matters of law connected with legislative enactments and upon all matters of law referred to him or her by the Government;

shall advise the Government upon all matters of a legislative nature and superintend all Government measures of a legislative nature;

Her Ministry’s website tells us

“As chief law officer, the Attorney General has a special responsibility to be the guardian of that most elusive concept - the rule of law. The rule of law is a well-established legal principle, but hard to easily define. It is the rule of law that protects individuals, and society as a whole, from arbitrary measures and safeguards personal liberties.

The Attorney General has a special role to play in advising Cabinet to ensure the rule of law is maintained and that Cabinet actions are legally and constitutionally valid.”

Ripping up contracts

In the second reading debate on the Bill on 30 May 2019 Nathalie des Rosiers warns that ripping up the contract could incur costs of over a billion dollars. 

Not only does it (the Bill) say that the contracts are hereby terminated, but then it goes on to say that no cause of action arising directly or indirectly will be compensated. I want you to listen to that: “No proceeding ... for a remedy in contract, restitution ... tort, or for misfeasance, bad faith, breach of trust or fiduciary obligation ... for any past, present or future losses” will ever be compensated. They say that and after that add, “This section does not apply to a proceeding commenced by the crown.”

“Essentially, this is a piece of legislation that says that the other party to the contract will lose all its rights—its right to compensation, its right to legitimate expectation under the contract—but the government does not lose any of its rights to sue.”

What does the Attorney General Caroline Mulroney think about this? In her tweet today there is no mention of broken contracts. Just a glancing reference to fairness.

The way in which the Bill is progressing through the legislative assembly is nothing short of a disgrace. 

The Toronto Star's Martin Reg Cohn mocks Doug Ford's journey from buck-a-beer to Bolshevism. But the hijacking of Parliamentary conventions and procedures is deeply troubling. 

The First Reading (when the Bill is printed) was last Monday, 27 May 2019. The Second Reading - the first opportunity for MPPs to debate the principles of the Bill - followed on Thursday 30 May 2019. There is simply not enough time for MPPs to digest all the implications of the Bill and seek expert advice. In other common-law legislatures there is a convention that, outside emergencies, at least two weeks (or two weekends) should pass between first and second readings to allow Members of Parliament to think about the draft legislation in front of them. Apparently at Queen’s Park that isn’t a consideration. 


Ford’s placeman, the bone-headed Mike Harris (personally appointed as a PC candidate by Ford, not by the riding association) criticized Nathalie des Rosiers in the Second Reading debate for daring to talk about breaking contracts: 

“They can talk all they want about ripping up contracts and this and that, but they were the ones who entered into these contracts in the first place. They were the ones who brought these deals to the province of Ontario, they were the ones who bankrupted this province and they were the ones who put us in the position now where we have to come in and we have to clean up the mess.”

The NDP’s Suze Morrison says:

“We’re talking about what is the priority for Ontarians right now. Is it spending $1 billion ripping up a contract that only has six years left on it? Maybe it’s a good contract, maybe it’s not, but we can revisit it in six years when it expires, and get a new, better deal in six years. If the sky is not falling, come back at this in six years. It’s not the highest order of business on the list.”   

Last September during the furore over the cuts in Toronto council, Doug Ford told journalists:

“Democracy is going every four years to elect a government no matter whether it’s federally or provincially or municipally without worrying about your mandate being overturned.”


Ford boasts that he is elected and judges aren’t. Ford believes that Parliament is sovereign and it trumps the judges every time. But is that always the case? Even here? 

An Attorney General worth her salt would recognise Bill 115 for what it is – an arbitrary exercise in legislative authority. 

The program motion on the Order Paper today guillotines debate on the Bill. There will be no continuation of the Second Reading debate, no committee stage and no consideration of outside opinion. The debate on the Third Reading (the final stage before enactment) will last one hour.

It is a clear abuse of process.

It is also something that Christine Elliott and Caroline Mulroney, both lawyers, should be concerned about even if their boss isn’t.

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How Bill 115 will be dealt with in the Legislative Assembly. Today's Order Paper reads:

That, pursuant to Standing Order 47 and notwithstanding any other Standing Order or Special Order of the House relating to Bill 115, An Act to amend the Liquor Control Act with respect to the termination of a specified agreement, when the Bill is next called as a Government Order, the Speaker shall put every question necessary to dispose of the Second Reading stage of the Bill without further debate or amendment and at such time the Bill shall be ordered for Third Reading, which Order may be called that same day; and 

That, when the Order for Third Reading of the Bill is called, one hour shall be allotted to the Third Reading stage of the Bill, with 20 minutes apportioned to the Government, 20 minutes to Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, 10 minutes to the Liberal Party Independent Members and 10 minutes apportioned to the Green Party Independent Member. At the end of this time, the Speaker shall interrupt the proceedings and shall put every question necessary to dispose of this stage of the Bill without further debate or amendment; and 

That notwithstanding Standing Order 81(c), the Bill may be called for Third Reading more than once in the same sessional day; and 

That in the event of any division relating to any proceedings on the Bill, the division bell shall be limited to 20 minutes. 

Update 5 June 2019: The Twitterverse reports Andrew's Convenience Store was convicted last year of selling e-cigarettes to minors.

Update on 6 June 2019: You can read the Third Reading debate on 5 June 2019 here. Bill 115 has now received Royal Assent. 

Yesterday (Friday 31 May 2019) the Common Ground people staged another of their rolling demonstrations outside Christine Elliott’s office in Newmarket. 

I spot a new face behind dark sunglasses in animated conversation. Under his arm is a clip-board with a leaflet calling for an end to cuts to legal aid.

I decide I gotta speak to this guy who looks as if he has a story to tell. As I approach he thrusts a little piece of paper in to my hand which tells me about Ontario’s multi-billion dollar debt. The last line reads:

“What is it about this that you do not understand??”

Terrific! I’ve bumped into an agent provocateur. 

I suggest it is probably a bit more complicated than 17 words on a Post-it size piece of paper.

He shakes his head. No.

Remember Mike Harris?

Last year during the Provincial election campaign I recall Chris Ballard reminding us that Mike Harris spent 15.5 cents of every dollar on debt interest and the (then) Liberal Government was spending 8 cents. At the time I thought it was a good debating point. Other things being equal, it is better to have less debt than more debt but sometimes Governments have to borrow to invest. They don’t want to raise taxes or (in the case of the Federal Government) print money - the only alternatives to borrowing. Sometimes Governments choose to increase public debt by taking over (or nationalising) private debt. 

That’s what happened in the UK. I lived through it and remember it well. In September 2007 at the start of the global financial crisis, we saw the first run on a British bank in 150 years. The Government stepped in to save UK banks from meltdown, guaranteeing all deposits. Bank shareholders never lost a single penny and their private debts were taken over by the State. £137 billion of public money (around CAN $233 billion) was spent between 2007 and 2009 to stabilise the financial system and prevent economic collapse. 

In some shape or form this was happening around the globe, even in the United States where the contagion started. 

"Whatchathink of that?"  

No easy answer

The man-in-the-white shirt concedes that’s a difficult one. Hmmm.

Even in Canada, which weathered the global financial crisis relatively well, debt went up.

Stephen Harper was Prime Minister from February 2006 to November 2015 during which time Canada’s debt rose from $467,268 million to $ 612,330 million. 

Anyway… I ask the man-in-the-white-shirt if I can read the leaflet on his clipboard. He decides he doesn’t get along with me and testily says no. I am immediately given another copy by someone standing close by. I ask him why he has the leaflet and clipboard and he says he is going into Christine Elliott’s office to talk about it.

As it happens, Elliott, a lawyer herself, has spoken out about access to the justice system. Back in 2009 she was worried that plans to harmonize the PST and the GST charged on legal services would result in higher legal costs for “hard-working Ontarians”.

Harder to get access to justice

She fires this broadside at Attorney General Chris Bentley:

“Why is your government making it even harder for Ontarians to have access to our justice system?”

“Why is your government putting even greater stress on an already strained legal system and putting more vulnerable Ontarians at risk?”

She is furious: 

Access to legal services is becoming ever more remote in this province.”

Ford’s 30% cut to the legal aid budget this year will, of course, make access much easier.

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Update on 12 June 2019 from the Toronto Star.

Newmarket Council’s most talented flip-flopper, Tom “Pancake” Vegh, has been flipping again. 

On Tuesday 21 May 2019 he declares he is in favour of selling Town land to the developer, Briarwood:

 “I am in favour of Scenario 2 now because I think it is needed and it is a real opportunity and it is consistent with our Secondary Plan.”

Six days later on Monday 27 May 2019 Vegh says:

“I am going to be voting in favour of not selling the Hollingsworth site but holding on to it for future community use.”

Vegh is all over the place. He points approvingly to a story in the local press telling us he made a pitch for a library on Hollingsworth. He says:

“The debate over the need for a new library is long over. The only question now is where and when.”

Whoa! In October 2018 he told voters that if they elected him the new library would be at Hollingsworth Arena, presumably in the coming 2018-2022 term. At least that is the inference we were all invited to draw seven months ago.

"Spoken frequently"

On Monday he tells his colleagues:

“I have spoken frequently about a new library on this site.”

Total fiction.

He didn’t say anything about a new library or seniors’ centre during the Council’s priority setting exercise despite being invited by the Mayor to say whatever he wanted to say. In fact, since the election in October he has been completely silent on how he would deliver on his promise. 

What else did we learn from the Deputy Mayor’s 4 minute 15 second speech to his colleagues?

Vegh concedes there may never be a library at Hollingsworth

He now says there is no guarantee there will ever be a library at Hollingsworth.

“…the library must go through its own process that will evaluate and rank all the possible site locations in Town for a new building if that is the route that they choose to go. So there is no guarantee that going through that process the library will land on the Hollingsworth site and there is no guarantee we are looking at a library.”

He says a library is just one of the options. So why didn’t he qualify his promise to the voters saying he would push for a library at Hollingsworth if that’s what the Library Board wanted? That the decision wasn’t really up to him.

Seniors' Centre is forgotten

Vegh didn’t mention a new seniors’ centre at all. It was his very own senior moment.

He conveniently forgets the promises he made a few months ago that got him to where he is now.

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Tom "Pancake" Vegh's remarks on Hollingsworth on Monday 27 May 2019:

Tom Vegh: “There was some discussion on this regarding the Hollingsworth Arena site and for those members of the public who may not be too clear about where it is or what the issue we are dealing with … was that Newmarket Council decided to decommission Hollingsworth Arena and leaving us with two options basically. One was to sell the site to be redeveloped as seniors’ housing and some sort of community space or hold on to the property for future community use.” 

“The site itself is located at Davis and Patterson and most of the site is the old single use arena and parking lot. South west of it is the heath centre. South east corner is the Roxborough Retirement. There is a medical centre on the north west corner and the north east corner is vacant which was formerly a gas station and immediately east of the site, adjoining the site, is the parking lot for Huron Heights High School. At the north east corner, the former gas station, we’ll be building two condo buildings there.” 

“The developer who is building those two large buildings offered to purchase the Hollingsworth site to redevelop it as seniors’ housing and community space and through our Secondary Plan the site is zoned for this type of mid-rise residential development. This is very attractive because Newmarket’s seniors population has grown by about 30% in the last decade and by 2026 there will be more seniors in York Region than youth.” 

“The housing proposed by the developer for the seniors will be condos with probably some sort of assisted living component which is really important for some but, frankly, it would not be affordable to most so it would not be any type of affordable seniors’ housing. The other option was to hold on the property for some sort of future community use and with Newmarket being only being about 14 square miles land, particularly land that is already owned by the Town, is precious, precious to us. We know our population will grow and that we will have intensification and this makes the ownership of a good sized unfettered piece of property even more important for the residents of Newmarket.” 

“The plan there is to eventually demolish the arena – because we have decided to decommission it – leaving us with a significant piece of land to redevelop for future community use. Regarding seniors’ housing, I do sit on the Board of Housing York Inc and I am actively working towards more affordable subsidised seniors’ housing and as I mentioned before the seniors’ housing proposal for this site would not be affordable to most seniors. And for those seniors who do have a little bit more money and can afford it we have other condos in development which are housing options for them.”

“Looking at this site – if we are holding on to it - there are many possibilities for this site and I have spoken frequently about a new library on this site. But before anything is done with this site we would be going through a full and transparent community consultation process. People who know our library know that it is about 40 years old and has not been able to change with the times as it needs to due primarily to its facility restrictions. The library is in an older building, multiple storeys and it just packed with books and not enough space. The building is not well suited for the functions of a modern library.” 

“However – and this is a big however – the library must go through its own process that will evaluate and rank all the possible site locations in Town for a new building if that is the route that they choose to go. So there is no guarantee that going through that process the library will land on the Hollingsworth site and there is no guarantee that we are looking at a library.” 

“There are lots of opportunities for that site to build facilities, build things that we will need for our growing population concerning the intensified area but the library is certainly one of the options for them. So I am looking forward to how we can redevelop this site for needed and exciting community uses and I am going to be voting in favour of not selling the Hollingsworth site but holding on to it for future community use. Thank you.”

Ward councillor Jane Twinney follows Vegh. She says there was no decision on a seniors’ building. 

“Even though it was tabled as an idea we didn’t have any formal plans brought to us so we don’t know where it was gonna land, that particular building.” 

Victor Woodhouse says it is important to have green space close to high density and that council has made an excellent decision to go for parkland.

“Certainly green space is a very scarce commodity and as we continue to grow it will continue to be a scarce commodity. I certainly support the concept that there be those breathing areas, close to the high density… when those two towers get built.”

Grace Simon says she now fully supports Council’s decision having originally voted with Vegh. Kelly Broome pays tribute to the work of ward councillor Jane Twinney and says she is looking forward to involving the community more and having them being a part of the process. 

Summing up, the Mayor, John Taylor, mentions the developer’s contribution to parkland – in kind or in cash. He talks about competing interests and needs within the community for housing options, green space and recreation. He talks about intensification more generally. He thinks the decision on going for green space will hold up well over time. He concludes:

“The library board certainly will be involved and engaged in thought about the future of libraries in this term but ultimately the decision to build a library or a satellite or nothing is the decision of Council. And that would be our decision when that time comes.” 

(Check against delivery)

Last night Common Ground spokesperson Jon Aston took a deputation to Newmarket Council to talk about Doug Ford’s cuts to municipal and health services. 

Jon Aston and a growing number of like-minded people have also been taking the argument to Health Minister Christine Elliott who is the local MPP. But, like McCavity’s cat, she disappears whenever they turn up at her constituency office at 16635 Yonge Street (in the Nature’s Emporium Plaza) hoping to speak to her. The Common Ground people are there every Friday from 12 noon to 1pm.

Ford climbdown

I don’t know if Ford’s latest climbdown is going to change things (or Common Ground’s strategy) but there’s still plenty to protest about. In this morning’s Toronto Star Edward Keenan says it is good news that Ford is backing down a bit – but he says the war ain’t over. Just a brief respite.

Christine Elliott denies point blank that cuts are happening. She says the process is rather about rationalising health services to make them more efficient and effective.

When she appeared out of nowhere and won Newmarket-Aurora in last year’s provincial election she told voters the Progressive Conservatives would stop

“cuts to local nurses, doctors and hospitals”

"Without a single job cut"

Elliott’s Winter Update Newsletter tells us the Provincial Government will be saving $3.2 billion in program expenses by finding efficiencies

“without a single job cut, tax hike or reduction in front-line services” 

I suppose it all depends on how you define a “front-line service”. I’d say paramedics are front-line. And what about those who work on public health programs such as vaccination, school nutrition and infectious disease control? For Elliott cutting stem cell research funding is OK because it is not front-line. But what about the proposed changes to OHIP which could prevent dialysis patients from travelling outside the country. Is that front-line? 

Class sizes

The Government is also planning for a big increase in class sizes as the teaching workforce is scaled back. Going from an average class size of 22 up to 28 - is that front-line?

People in Newmarket-Aurora voted overwhelmingly for Ford Nation in the Provincial election – as did most ridings. 

Ford’s prospectus was sketchy to non-existent but the lack of detail didn’t seem to matter back then. Ford was for the little guy and not for the elites. He was going to cut taxes and cut out waste and put more money in people’s pockets (unless they were on the minimum wage). But as the cuts begin to bite there will be buyer’s remorse. Ford has no coherent plan. People didn’t sign up for this.

But the developers did.

Ford says there is no alternative to cuts. He says he inherited a bankrupt province. But that doesn’t stop him giving plum jobs on fat salaries to his army of cronies. Or setting up his own news operations unit funded by taxpayers.

Is this a front-line service?

Christine Elliott clearly thinks so.

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Update 30 May 2019: Is Ontario really open for health care business? (from the Toronto Star)

Almost a year ago in June 2018 I asked why Conrad Black was still in Canada.  

As yet I have no satisfactory answer.

He renounced his Canadian citizenship to become a British citizen so he could take a seat in the House of Lords. He was convicted of serious crimes and his recent pardon by Donald Trump does not expunge his criminality.

Or it wouldn’t here in Canada or in the UK where pardons are exercised under royal prerogative powers. A pardon is not the same as an acquittal. Only the Courts have the power to quash convictions. 

But that doesn’t stop Conrad Black shouting from the rooftops that he has been exonerated by Donald Trump's presidential pardon. Perhaps things are different in the United States.

Mockery of Justice

Eric H. Sussman, who prosecuted Conrad Black, told readers of the Financial Post that the presidential pardon is a mockery of justice:

“The pardon lays bare the fact that justice in Donald Trump’s America is unapologetically linked to who you know and how much money you have.”

Sussman says he was saddened but not surprised that Trump decided to pardon Black for his theft of millions of dollars from public shareholders and obstruction of justice.

“Nothing betrays the mockery that President Trump has made of our justice system more than the fact the Black’s co-defendants, Richard Boultbee and Peter Atkinson, Canadians who were convicted by the same jury, at the same trial, of the same fraud crimes as Black, did not receive any pardon consideration from President Trump. They remain convicted federal criminals with no pop singers or right-wing pundits to vouch for them.”

Black was released from prison in May 2012 and given a temporary residence permit by the then Minister of Immigration and Citizenship and now Premier of Alberta, Jason Kenney, to enter and remain in Canada for one year. 


In 2014 Jason Kenney told the Commons:

a foreign national who applies for permanent residence is ineligible if he has committed a serious crime.” 

He went on to talk about the process for reviewing these decisions.  But, astonishingly, because of “privacy considerations” we are kept in the dark about the immigration status of a foreign national convicted of fraud and obstruction of justice.

In my earlier blog I mentioned this must-see clip from the BBC’s “Have I Got News for You” filmed just after Black was released from prison in 2012. And here is another one where Conrad Black threatens to punch BBC Newsnight’s Jeremy Paxman in the face.

Both video clips have aged well and have lost none of their zing.

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Update on 29 May 2019: Mueller says Trump was not exonerated by his investigation.