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The 5 most dramatic moments of the year in Ontario politics

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There’s no shortage of memorable moments in Ontario politics in 2018. The challenge is trying to pick just the top five. 

It was bound to be an interesting year, with the unpopular Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne facing an election, and the Progressive Conservatives, after 15 years in Opposition, looking to regain power under leader Patrick Brown.

And then, stuff happened, and 2018 unfolded in a way that nobody predicted last December.

Here’s my list of the five most dramatic moments of the year. 

5. Midnight sitting

Premier Doug Ford’s move to cut the size of Toronto city council came out of the blue when he announced it in late July, with the municipal election campaign already underway. The battle moved from the Ontario Legislature to court, and after a judge ruled the move violated the Charter of Rights, Ford announced that the province would for the first time in history invoke the charter’s notwithstanding clause. 

Anger over the use of the notwithstanding clause by Ontario Premier Doug Ford is creating chaos in the Ontario Legislature and Toronto city council. There were plenty of disruptions as protesters and NDP MPs had to be removed. 3:36

To push that through the legislature, Ford called a rare overnight sitting at Queen’s Park on Sept. 17. As MPPs debated from midnight onward, people watching from the gallery started shouting, and were led away by security guards, some in handcuffs. The Speaker cleared the chamber, prompting the protest to move outside and gain in volume. 

Despite all the fuss, the bill passed, the number of Toronto city councillors was cut in half, and the municipal election went ahead as scheduled. 

4. Wynne won’t win

By the final weekend of the election campaign, most pollsters and pundits had concluded that Wynne’s Liberals were not going to win. Still, when Wynne publicly said so herself five days before voting day, it made for a remarkable moment. Wynne’s declaration was the official word that 15 years of Liberal government had come to an end. 

Wynne’s voice trembled with emotion as she was asked to describe what the moment was like for her.  

Liberal leader acknowledges her party won’t win June 7 vote 1:24

“I have thought long and hard about this, believe me,” she told the Saturday morning news conference. “It’s hard, because I know there are Liberals who believe in us, and believe in what we’ve been doing and some are going to be mad. Some are going to be sad.” 

3. Election night

Election nights are often dramatic and suspenseful because of the time it takes for the results to be clear. This election, with electronic tabulators counting the ballots that had already been fed into the machine, and with the Progressive Conservatives’ strong showing across the province, the CBC Decision Desk projected only 14 minutes after the polls closed that Ford’s PCs would form the government

PC Leader Doug Ford addresses crowd at his headquarters in Etobicoke on election night. 0:46

The June 7 election night brought the first Ontario PC campaign victory this century. It also brought Andrea Horwath’s NDP to Official Opposition status for the first time since 1987. Wynne resigned as Liberal leader. And Ontario elected its first Green MPP, party leader Mike Schreiner.

When such a historic election night is not the most memorable moment of the year, you know it’s been a roller-coaster.  

2. Patrick Brown’s downfall

In 2017, PC Leader Patrick Brown was still struggling for recognition, even though he was poised to become the next premier. That all changed on Jan. 24. Brown called reporters to Queen’s Park for an urgent late-night news conference. Mere minutes before CTV News aired a report in which two women accused Brown of sexual misconduct, he delivered an extraordinary and emotion-filled statement denying the allegations, then dramatically walked away, refusing to answer questions. 

Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown denied allegations of sexual misconduct at an unexpected news conference at Queen’s Park Wednesday night. 1:27

Despite Brown’s denials, he lost the backing of his caucus and top staff and was forced to resign, in a statement sent out in the wee hours. It plunged the PC Party into chaos, with the start of the election campaign barely three months away.

But Brown did not let that be the end of his political career. He ran for mayor of Brampton last October, and won with about 44 per cent of ballots cast, unseating 4-year incumbent Linda Jeffrey.  

1. PC leadership

Leadership races usually happen within parties that are out of power, or are trying to cling on to power. The PC race was a rarity, given that the party was favoured to win the coming election after 15 years in Opposition. The battle between Ford, Christine Elliott, Caroline Mulroney and Tanya Granic Allen was therefore bitter and topsy-turvy, in no small part because of Brown’s on-again, off-again attempts to get back his old job.

Ford was named the new leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives on March 10 in Markham. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

But the biggest drama came on March 10, the day for announcing the results. It was supposed to happen at 3 p.m., but time ticked by with no official explanation from the party. Reporters learned that lawyers and senior campaign officials for Ford and Elliott were in locked rooms arguing about the vote count. 

Then, sources with direct knowledge of the results told me that although it was extremely close, Ford had won, and Elliott was disputing his victory.  

A couple more hours passed, with no official word about anything from the party. Then officials announced to the PC members that they had to clear the hotel ballroom and go home. Finally, some six hours after the result was supposed to be announced in front of hundreds of cheering supporters showered by colourful balloons, party officials anti-climactically read the numbers in a tiny meeting room to a smattering of applause, declaring Ford the new PC leader.

While the day was packed with drama, it was also the most politically consequential day of the year. The result was so close: Ford beat Elliott by just one percentage point. Had Elliott squeaked out the victory, she would be premier now, instead of Ford.

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‘Too soon to celebrate’ Ottawa’s low case count, says Etches

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Ottawa Public Health (OPH) logged just 11 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, the lowest daily total since Sept. 1.

Because of the lag between testing and reporting, the low number could simply reflect low turnout at the city’s testing sites on weekends — all month, new case counts have been lower on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. 

During a virtual news conference Tuesday, the city’s medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches said she doesn’t read too much into a single day’s report.

“I don’t think we can make too much of 11. Actually, it could be a lot higher tomorrow — I would expect that, on average,” she said. “It’s too soon to celebrate.”

Provincewide, public health officials reported 1, 249 new cases Tuesday.

OPH also declared 62 cases resolved Tuesday, lowering the number of known active cases in the city to 462. Two more people have died, both in care homes currently experiencing outbreaks, raising the city’s COVID-19 death toll to 361. 

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Santa Claus isn’t coming to Ottawa’s major malls this year

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Santa Claus may still be coming to town this Christmas, but he won’t be dropping by any of Ottawa’s major malls, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Friday, Cadillac Fairview said Santa won’t be making an appearance at any of its 19 malls across Canada, including Rideau Centre in downtown Ottawa. On Tuesday, Bayshore and St. Laurent shopping centres confirmed they, too, are scrapping the annual tradition.

“Due to the evolution of the situation in regards to COVID-19, we have made the difficult decision to cancel our Santa Program and Gift Wrap Program this year,” Bayshore spokesperson Sara Macdonald wrote in an email to CBC.

Macdonald said parent company Ivanhoé Cambridge cancelled all holiday activities “due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases across the country.”

Macdonald said families that had already booked an appointment to visit Santa will receive an email with more information.  

Virtual visits with Santa

Rideau Centre said based on customer research and discussions with public health officials, its North Pole is going online this year.

“Children will be able to have a private chat with Santa,” said Craig Flannagan, vice-president of marketing for Cadillac Fairview. “You’ll also be able to join a 15-minute storytime with Santa over Facebook Live.” 

At Place d’Orléans Shopping Centre, visitors are invited to take a “selfie with Santa” — actually, a life-size cutout of Santa Pierre, the man who’s been playing Santa at the east end mall for years.

“We understand that this is not ideal, but in lieu of this tradition we will be doing what we can to maintain and encourage holiday cheer,” according to a statement on the mall’s Facebook page.

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Ottawa Bylaw breaks up two large parties in Ottawa over the weekend

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OTTAWA — Ottawa Bylaw is investigating social gatherings of more than 10 people in private homes across Ottawa last weekend.

Mayor Jim Watson tells Newstalk 580 CFRA that Ottawa Bylaw broke-up two house parties over the weekend, with 20 to 25 people at each party.

“That’s the kind of stupidity that angers me, that’s where the bulk of the transmissions are taking place, if we exclude the tragedy of the long-term care homes; it’s these house parties with unrelated people,” said Watson on Newstalk 580 CFRA’s Ottawa at Work with Leslie Roberts.

“The message doesn’t seem to be getting through, particularly to some young people who think they’re invincible.”

In a statement to CTV News Ottawa, Bylaw and Regulatory Services Director Roger Chapman says, “There are still ongoing investigations from this past weekend that could result in charges.”

Chapman says recent investigations led to two charges being issued for social gatherings of more than 10 people in a private residence in contravention of the Reopening Ontario Act.

“In one case, up to 30 individuals were observed attending a house party in Ward 18 on Oct. 24,” said Chapman.

“The second charge was issued following a house party in Ward 16 on Oct. 31, where up to 16 individuals were observed to be in attendance.”

The fine is $880 for hosting an illegal gathering.

Alta Vista is Ward 18, while Ward 16 is River Ward.

Ottawa Bylaw has issued 24 charges for illegal gatherings since the start of the pandemic.

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