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The 5 most dramatic moments of the year in Ontario politics





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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Dreessen: Ottawa has to shed its image as a town that doesn’t like fun





Ottawa has long held a reputation as a place that fun forgot. People who live here know that there is a lot to love about the city: its history, the Rideau Canal, proximity to parks and rivers, excellent clubs, museums and galleries all make Ottawa a great place.

More spontaneous fun things are harder to come by. We’ve created a process that makes it hard for small businesses to thrive and where the process is more important than the outcome.

In 2016, a local artist planned to give away free T-shirts celebrating Ottawa 2017 on Sparks Street, until the local Business Improvement Association (BIA) asked him to move, squashing a fun event to bring people together.

In 2017, business proposals to the NCC executive committee made a business case to open cafés at Remic Rapids, Confederation Park and Patterson Creek. In the summer of 2020, two opened; the Patterson Creek location, opposed by neighbours, has yet to see the light of day, though the NCC website indicates it may happen in 2021.

In each case, the cafés are only open for a few brief summer months. Despite the fact that Ottawa celebrates itself as a winter city, we can’t, somehow, imagine how people might want to enjoy a café in the spring or fall, or during winter months while skiing along the river or skating along the canal. Keeping public washrooms open, serving takeout and, yes, using patio heaters, could make these cafés fun additions to our city for most of the year.

More recently, Jerk on Wheels, a food truck with excellent Caribbean chicken and two locations, has run intro trouble. The one on Merivale Road continues, but the Bank Street location in Old Ottawa South has to close. According to social media posts from the owners, despite the business having all permissions in place, local restaurant franchises of Dairy Queen and Tim Hortons have objected to its presence.

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Ottawa businesses frustrated with slower pace of Ontario’s Roadmap to Reopen plan compared to other provinces





OTTAWA — As Canada plots its roadmap to reopening, each province is choosing their own path to reopen the economy and lift the COVID-19 restrictions.

Some are moving towards loosened restrictions at a faster pace than Ontario, which is frustrating for business owners who say they are ready to receive customers safely.

Patio season is upon the city, and at Banditos Restaurant on Bank Street, owner Matt Loudon is staging the large outdoor dining area to prepare for the summer rush. But the patio will have to remain closed until at least June 14, when it is expected Ontario will move into Step One of the three-step Roadmap to Reopen plan

“I hope they push it up a little bit,” says Loudon. “It’s beyond frustrating all the other provinces are opening up before us, we’ve been locked down longer than anybody else.”

Loudon, who owns two restaurants, says their outdoor seating has always been safe and that they have invested in added measures like sanitization stations and personal protective equipment for the staff. Indoor dining will continue to remain off limits in Ontario until Step Three. When patios do open, tables will be limited to four people. 

Unlike British Columbia’s four-pronged approach that began May 25. Residents in the province are now allowed to dine both inside and out, with a maximum of six per table, not restricted to one household.

Quebec will enter into its first step Friday, where outdoor dining will be available for two adults and their children, who can be from separate addresses per table. This applies to red and orange zones in the province. The curfew will also be lifted. 

In Gatineau, hair salons opened their doors to customers last week. Ten minutes away at Salon Bliss in Ottawa, all owner Sarah Cross can do is hope she can reopen sometime in July.

“Most people think that government funding covers all the bills but it’s far from it,” says Cross. Her upscale salon has nine chairs and over the course of the pandemic, in order to comply with regulations and keep staff and patrons, safe, only three chairs can now be filled. She says the hardest part is that the rules constantly change and vary in each region, adding it doesn’t make sense how one is better than the other.

“Our livelihood is dependent on what the decisions are made and if they were aligned with one belief system then I think they would have the trust of the public to follow these protocols.”

Many Ontario business owners say it’s not only a matter of necessity they open, but can do so safely. Infectious disease physician Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti agrees, and says the province needs to expedite its timeline.

“Especially with the fact that we are in the post vaccine era,” says Chakrabarti.

“It’s important for us to remember that we have been following this case count very closely for the last year and certainly we’ve had some experiences with opening things, especially with the second and third waves we have to remember that as we go forward now vaccines are a huge difference maker to the situation. Cases may go up but that doesn’t mean the most important thing will go up which is hospitalizations.”

Chakrabarti says while people will still get infected with COVID-19, with the reduced risk of hospitalization in large numbers there is no reason to restrict the community. He says while it’s not time for packed stadiums, it’s also not time for lockdowns and Ontario should re-think its strategy.

“We have to faith in the vaccines. We have seen in the other parts of the world like Israel, the U.K.,and the U.S. our neighbours to the south,” says Chakrabarti. “They are very safe and effective and our ticket out of this pandemic. We really should be taking that.”

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$2.9 million tax break for Ottawa Porsche dealership receives the green ligh





OTTAWA — Ottawa city council has given the green light to a $2.9 million tax break for a new Porsche dealership in Vanier.

Council voted 15 to 9 to approve a grant under the Community Improvement Plan initiative to build a Porsche dealership at the corner of Montreal Road and St. Laurent Boulevard.  The project by Mrak Holdings Inc., a.k.a. Mark Motors of Ottawa, would be built at 458 Montreal Road.

Under the Community Improvement Plan approved by Council, business owners can apply for a grant equal to 75 per cent of the municipal tax increase attributable to the redevelopment. A report says the goal of the Montreal Road Community Improvement Plan is to “stimulate business investment, urban renewal and property upgrades in the area.”

Coun. Catherine McKenney was one of nine councillors who opposed the tax break for the Porsche dealership.

“I agree with the Community Improvement Plan, but I know and what people see here is that this application does not meet the criteria,” said McKenney about the CIP proposal for the Porsche dealership.

“A car dealership, no matter whether it’s Honda, or a Porsche or a Volkswagen, it does not first off belong on a traditional main street. This does not the meet the criteria of a CIP, it will do nothing for urban renewal.”

Approximately 70 people gathered at the site of the proposed Porsche dealership Tuesday evening to oppose the tax grant.

Coun. Diane Deans told Council she doubted any councillors who supported the Community Improvement Plan when it was developed in 2019 thought it would support a luxury car dealership.

“I don’t think it fits. I don’t think a clear case has been made that this incentive is required for the Mark Motors project to move forward at all,” said Deans. “I don’t believe there’s a clear community benefit.”

Coun. Riley Brockington, Deans, Jeff Leiper, Carol Anne Meehan, Rick Chiarelli, Theresa Kavanagh, Keith Egli, McKenney and Shawn Menard voted against the tax break for the Porsche dealership.

“It will lead to a $17 million investment on Montreal Road, it will create about 20 jobs in that neigthborhood,” said Mayor Jim Watson.

Watson noted auto dealerships were not excluded from the Community Improvement Plan when approved by committee and Council.

A motion introduced by Watson was approved to use property tax revenue generated by the redevelopment for affordable housing.

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