SCOOP: A critical billboard and family connection
Plus: Sources spill on schools and patios, and big news from the Library
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Good Wednesday morning. This is Queen’s Park Observer — and today marks one year out from the next scheduled election and the start of a prolonged pre-election advertising period for third parties. I don’t make the rules.
ABOVE THE FOLD
BIG NEWS on schools reopening — or not — but first, a billboard in Belleville caused a stir on Tuesday as it was taken down hours after going up. It depicted an ominous-looking Social Services Minister and local Bay of Quinte MPP TODD SMITH with the caption, “46,000 Autistic kids left behind. Todd Smith: All talk NO ACTION.” It was put up by the parent-led Ontario Autism Coalition as part of an awareness campaign to push the government on a needs-based program for kids on the spectrum.
According to OAC president ANGELA BRANDT, the group was told by the billboard company that it had to be taken down because of a clause with the landlord stipulating “no political advertising.” The company, which reportedly had the billboard design a month in advance, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“We have felt so silenced that this is the only way we felt we can be heard,” Brandt said in a phone interview.
A family connection: Adding political drama to this saga is that the landlord appears to be realtor JOE LETERSKY, who is the parent of SARAH LETERSKY, who up until last summer was Smith’s chief of staff (she’s currently a registered lobbyist and a vice president at Rubicon Strategy).
Reached by phone yesterday afternoon, the elder Letersky said he had “no comment” on the matter. Smith’s office said they became aware of the billboard when photos were shared that morning on social media and didn’t know it was being removed.
SCHOOL’S OUT: Cabinet is expected to weigh the latest recommendation to keep schools closed to in-person learning for this last month before summer, sources confirmed to Queen’s Park Observer. That means the possibility of reopening region-by-region, something the Science Advisory Table green-lighted, is out the window, with sources citing too-high risks — projections had warned of a potential six-to-11 per cent increase in Covid cases, and the government may not want to jeopardize its economic reopening plan.
The final word is expected as early as this afternoon, prompting Opposition critics to lament that “it’s been dragging on for far too long.”
UPDATE: Premier DOUG FORD, Health Minister CHRISTINE ELLIOTT and Education Minister STEPHEN LECCE are up with an announcement at 1 p.m.
PATIOS IN: Meanwhile, the stay-at-home order comes to an end today, and Solicitor General SYLVIA JONES clarified the lay of the land for the limbo period until Step 1 kicks in, initially slated for June 14. Not much will change in terms of day-to-day restrictions, though the NDP said lifting the eviction ban is “unethical, callous and unsafe” because the pandemic isn’t over.
That said, revenue-strapped restaurants are preparing to open their patios as early as Friday, as the province reaches its requisite 60-per-cent vaccination threshold for first doses and hospitalizations trend down — and while PC sources say that could happen before June 14, nothing is set in stone.
— At 9 a.m.: NDP Leader ANDREA HORWATH will hold an end-of-session press conference on the south lawn to discuss Premier DOUG FORD’s plan to “call it quits for the summer.”
— 9:30 a.m.: Liberal Leader STEVEN DEL DUCA will host a Zoom presser looking ahead to the next vote on June 2, 2022.
— 10 a.m.: Liberal Health critic JOHN FRASER is up in the Media Studio to tease his forthcoming private member’s bill to make the Patient Ombudsman an independent officer of the Legislature.
— Remember NOEL SEMPLE, the Liberal nomination contestant in Etobicoke Centre who initially ran in Etobicoke—Lakeshore? He’s set to be acclaimed the candidate at a virtual meeting tonight. The Grits will also nominate MANAL ABDULLAHI in Scarborough—Rouge Park.
— Also tonight: the NDP is hosting a virtual “Rally for Ontario” to rev up for 2022.
ON THE ORDER PAPER
MPPs continue to zip through the agenda as the House winds down for the summer recess on Thursday. Third-reading debate on the red-tape reduction bill kicks off today, while a final vote on the skilled trades legislation is expected after Question Period. Two commemorative backbench bills are also on the docket: a PC bill to proclaim Frontline and Essential Service Worker Week and an NDP bill to make July 10 Nikola Tesla Day.
TUESDAY’S RUNDOWN: It’s official — there’s a new top doc in town: the motion appointing Dr. KIERAN MOORE passed with cross-partisan support, though not before the Opposition parties criticized the lack of transparency in the hiring process. During the debate, critics pointed out that the chief medical officer is typically chosen via an all-party committee, which didn’t happen this time around.
Lots of fiscal scrutiny at Public Accounts and Estimates today — the former committee reviews the Auditor General’s report on acute-care hospital patient safety and drug administration — the latter looks at the Education ministry’s spending plan.
— MIX AND MATCH: Ontarians who got a first shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine will be able to choose an mRNA vaccine — such as Pfizer or Moderna — for their second. Health Minister CHRISTINE ELLIOTT confirmed the policy during an unrelated announcement Tuesday ($31 million to boost mental health supports for children and youth) following the advice from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.
— Political experts tell the Canadian Press: “This election is going to be crazy hard to predict…The stress and challenge of Covid has aged this government more prematurely than normal, so it could be that people are unusually ready to debate the merits of the incumbent.”
— POLL WATCH: A fresh public-opinion survey from Abacus Data pegs negative impressions of Premier DOUG FORD at 45 per cent.
— FORD dons a Habs jersey, conceding a bet to Quebec Premier FRANCOIS LEGAULT after the Leafs got knocked out in Game 7. “This is killing me putting this jersey on.”
Interjections abound — things got testy between House Leader PAUL CALANDRA and turfed-PC-turned-Independent ROMAN BABER, a theme so far for this week. Heritage Minister LISA MACLEOD also got in her fair share of heckles as the House closes in on the summer recess. Premier DOUG FORD ditched the debate again.
THE HIGHLIGHTS: Conceding Covid spread in schools — A chance for the Education Minister to get shuffled out — Prioritizing kids with special needs — “A real plan” for an Indigenous-led survey of former residential schools — Vaccination thresholds for normalcy (or lack thereof) — “Nightmare” in Brampton’s health system — Opioid crisis reaches “alarming” heights — Take the McVety bill off the books — Given harm and so-called lack of transmission, why aren’t schools open? — Make WSIB help injured workers again — Fix vaccine bookings for 80-plus crowd — 28,000 kids on mental health wait list.
Here are the new, renewed and amended registrations over the past 24 hours:
— Richard Ciano, Sandfields Corporation: Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario
— Stephanie Gawur, Santis Health: Ontario Association of Naturopathic Doctors
— Robyn Gray, Sussex Strategy Group: CEM Engineering, TC Energy Corporation
— Naomi Shuman, Sussex Strategy Group: Edwards Lifesciences Canada Inc.
— Vince Amodeo, Global Public Affairs: Wealth Stewards Inc., Nortal AS
— Rick Roth, Global Public Affairs: Affirm Inc.
— Ikram Farah, Hill+Knowlton Strategies: OnX Holdings LLC
— Christopher Froggatt and Nicholas Pozhke, Loyalist Public Affairs: SBG - Skill Based Games Inc.
— Felix Wong, Public Affairs Advisors: U.S. Grains Council
— Warren Kinsella, Daisy Consulting Group: LiUNA Local 183
— Devan Sommerville, Counsel Public Affairs: Ontario Judicial Service Summons Office, Architectural Woodwork Manufacturers Association of Canada - Ontario Chapter
— Jan O'Driscoll, Rubicon Strategy: Providence Therapeutics
IN-HOUSE ORGANIZATIONS: Ontario Chiropractic Association — Ontario Trial Lawyers Association — Trent University — Ontario Dental Association — Canadian Hearing Society — Ontario Principals’ Council — Tilray — Newmont — Terra International (Canada) — Honda Canada.
🥳 HAPPY BIRTHDAY: BELINDA KARAHALIOS, ex-PC, now-New Blue Party Independent MPP for Cambridge.
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