[transcript and video available from The Globe and Mail]
During the federal election last fall, Ontario Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne broke ranks with her party’s federal counterparts and refused to attend a Harper TV debate.
The federal Conservatives went on to win a majority government, but Ontario voters flocked to the Conservatives, handing them 58 of Ontario’s 63 seats and giving them control of the provincial legislature for the first time in 16 years.
Since taking office in January, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has seized on the confidence Ontario voters had given him in Ottawa.
He ordered a full audit of the federal government’s power purchase arrangements — a fallacious “corrupt” scheme to buy household power at subsidized rates so that it could be shipped to Quebec and the U.S. From Ottawa, he blasted the Ontario government and its new Premier Doug Ford, declaring the then-PC Party leader “one of the most reckless leaders in Canada” and “reckless and out of touch with his province.”
It appeared Mr. Trudeau was trying to change some fundamental electoral calculations in Ontario. After all, a majority in Ottawa was not enough for him. Not only do his party’s Conservative-branded seats need to be won in Ontario, but so do his Liberal-branded seats. By attacking the federal election result from Toronto’s national drama, Mr. Trudeau was trying to turn out his core vote in the Prairies and Ontario.
But it was the separatist NDP under Andrea Horwath that did the most damage. After Ontario parties decided they could no longer afford to keep separatists out of power, they broke ranks and backed Mr. Horwath’s party in a one-third slate of Commons seats.
Mr. Ford’s recent election victory has sent everyone in Ontario — government politicians, economists, business leaders and voters — rushing back to their former supports.
And once Mr. Ford feels like he has some votes he can count on from outside his core, he is going to decide whether he wants to continue to play with fire with Washington by lashing out at its new, economically savvy administration.
So that brings us to the recent $100 million sovereign wealth fund from the Omicron university for which Ottawa has allocated $18 million in research and innovation funds and another $60 million for health initiatives.
Mr. Ford, clearly unhappy that Ottawa made the funding available, has threatened to take the money out of his budget so as not to “scare” the Canadians who are all part of the cap-and-trade system with which Ontario is in partnership.
The problem is that the support from Ottawa was a cap-and-trade-style “safety net” to which Mr. Ford couldn’t and wouldn’t be allowed to touch.
“It’s crumbs,” Mr. Ford said of the funding, that “we will not accept as crumbs from Ottawa.”
Unlike many federal programs, the money is income-tested and intended to ensure that the initiative moves towards giving Ontario greater control over where it invests its money and gives it greater control over the way it spends it.
Mr. Ford announced that his first step would be to appoint a committee “to review those grants in order to get rid of those that are no longer needed and to provide opportunities that are needed in our province.”
Critics pounced, with two well-known anti-Ottawa thinkers predicting that Mr. Ford would do just what his predecessor Mr. Wynne threatened to do if Ottawa dared to follow through on its own audited document.
“Mr. Ford is like a thumbless gambler,” David Docherty wrote in National Post and Maryam Monsef, the minister of democratic institutions, warned that “we can only respect the decisions that the government makes in good faith.”
Mr. Ford doesn’t control the dollar that Ottawa will pump into the Omicron fund. But that dollar represents the role Canada has in Ontario politics.
With the Omicron fund, Ottawa is providing it with the means to tilt what power-purchase arrangements, and perhaps the direction of any future ones, the Ontario government gets to make.
The Harper government was prepared to include in its funding package a guarantee that Ottawa would not interfere in whatever arrangements the Ontario government comes up with.
That trust Canada’s national government can play no small role in shaping the Ontario and Canadian provinces’ energy arrangements is what the Liberals had to lose.