In 2013 Kathleen Wynne, having just become premier, made an appearance on The Agenda. Much of the interview was taken up by a discussion over the gas plants scandal, which Wynne had inherited from her predecessor, Dalton McGuinty.
Despite the fact that the McGuinty government successfully sited nearly every gas plant it tried to build, the two exceptions to the rule became hugely controversial. First in Oakville, and then in Mississauga, McGuinty cancelled construction of the plants, announcing the latter in the dying days of the 2011 election campaign.
McGuinty never regretted his decision or the timing, saying “it’s never too late to do the right thing.” But when his successor came to TVO to apologize for that government's mishandling of the Mississauga gas plant issue, it was clear Wynne did not enjoy, in essence, having to clean up her predecessor's mess.
Wynne got into public life at Queen's Park 13 years ago because she wanted to have a positive impact on the education system, which she felt the previous Progressive Conservative government had mishandled. She wanted to improve social justice in the province. She wanted to make a difference when it came to poverty.
And yet, here she was in the early stages of her premiership, and all she was talking about were gas plants.
"I hate this issue," she told me in an aside after our interview ended. And I couldn't blame her.
I suspect Wynne is now having the same feelings about the Sudbury byelection, held back in February 2015. The premier and most Liberals no doubt thought it was clever to convince Glenn Thibeault to leave his job as an NDP MP and move both to provincial politics and to the Liberal Party, to contest that byelection. It not only gave the Liberals a better chance at winning the seat, since Thibeault was extremely popular in the riding, but it also had the added advantage of kicking federal NDP leader Tom Mulcair in the shins — a little gift to Justin Trudeau, if you like.
But Sudbury exploded into yet another controversy when it emerged that the Liberal Party's local fixer, Gerry Lougheed Jr., and the premier's own then-deputy chief of staff, Pat Sorbara, may have offered an "inducement" to the previous Liberal candidate, Andrew Olivier, to withdraw from the byelection nomination race.
We know this because Olivier, recorded conversations with Lougheed Jr. and Sorbara. (Olivier is a quadriplegic and often records conversations since he can’t write out notes). The police have been investigating ever since — for two years now.
No one has yet been found to have committed a crime. Previous charges against Lougheed were stayed. But the issue has erupted again with the news that the OPP is charging him and Sorbara with violating the Elections Act.
This is one of the maddening things for people in politics. As former British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan wisely answered when asked what the hardest part about politics was: “Events, dear boy, events.”
The timing of this event could hardly be worse for the Liberals. They’ve got two byelections coming up later this month, one of which they will almost certainly lose (former PC leader Tim Hudak’s old Niagara West-Glanbrook seat), and the other of which is in a seat that’s been reliably Liberal for decades.
Between the potential fallout from these Sudbury charges, plus the government’s other troubles with, for example, electricity prices, the Liberals could lose that second byelection in Ottawa-Vanier, as they lost a reliably Liberal seat in Scarborough-Rouge River in September.
Of course, the big difference between this Sudbury-based controversy and the gas plants scandal is that this one has its genesis with this premier's office, not the last one. And if the electors in Ottawa-Vanier decide it’s time to “send another message” to Wynne, the consequences could be huge.
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