'Unprecedented': Staffers drown out reporters by clapping at Doug Ford news conference - Canadanewsmedia
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'Unprecedented': Staffers drown out reporters by clapping at Doug Ford news conference



When reporters tried to ask Ontario Premier Doug Ford questions at a Tuesday news conference about new funding to prevent gun violence, they were once again intentionally drowned out by applause.

The premier's government was criticized last week when staffers applauded Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod's announcement to scrap Ontario's basic income pilot program. 

Cynthia Mulligan, a reporter for CityNews, attempted to ask the government employees whether they were instructed to clap. She spoke to As It Happens guest host Matt Galloway about what she learned.

Describe what's going on there. Why are those staffers applauding?

Essentially, what they're doing is drowning out reporter questions.

We are being kept under a very strict protocol, and even today I noticed it more so than usual.

A Doug Ford spokesperson telling us over and over again, "You are only getting five questions in," and there are way more reporters than just five questions.

At the end of the five questions — and this started during the campaign, actually — but at the end, when they say last question, staff at the back of the room start clapping.

Reporters are still trying very hard to get more questions in … but the clapping drowns it out for any live news feed, so it's not heard in the background.

And again it happened today, but with way more staff in the back than I've seen before. I counted about 50. All young staffers and I'm told that they work in the different ministers' offices.

Ford speaks as Ontario Attorney General Caroline Mulroney looks on during a press announcement at Queens Park. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Who's telling them to do this?

I was trying to find that out today. They wouldn't answer the question. They sort of hurried away and didn't really want to talk to me, as you can see from the video. 

I was asking Attorney General Caroline Mulroney — she had acknowledged that some of her staff were there — but she said that she has not instructed any of her staff to do so, but she was not answering questions as to who is, you know, instructing them.

How different is this from political announcements that you have covered in past?

This is unprecedented. No government has done this before. I've never seen this before.

There's always a testy relationship at times between media and governments. Governments don't want to answer a lot of hard questions. Media want to ask a lot of hard questions. So, there's always a little bit of a tussle in terms of finding a balance.

But this is a different way of managing media.

How does it affect your work in terms of being able to ask those questions that you want to ask?

It makes it much tougher. There are always way more reporters than questions allowed, so you sort of have to try and weasel your way in to try and get your questions.

I wanted to ask him about [the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy] and I did. But he didn't answer the question, so I asked the follow-up question and his spokesperson said, "Well, that counts as a second question." 

And the rest of the media got quite upset because a follow-up has never really been considered question No. 2 before.

Your colleague, the journalist and host Steve Paikin, has suggested that these staffers who are applauding overtop of the journalists' questions should be named and shamed. Is that the way forward?

I personally would rather find out who is instructing them, one, to be there, and two, to clap.

I think that is far more pertinent to this issue because, look, they're young. These might be their first jobs — certainly at Queen's Park. They're probably trying to make their mark and work really hard for their bosses.

I think it's the people who are instructing them that need to be held to account.

The other element here is that as Premier Doug Ford recently unveiled something called Ontario News Now, which is a series of taxpayer funded videos, almost like it's own channel, that pushes the government's agenda. … How does that all fit in with what you're describing happening in the room this morning?

It's so easy now for laypeople to create their own news video that I think what they're trying to do is skirt around us. Because they know we're critical. 

They know we're going to ask the tough questions and they want to reach their base unfiltered with their own message.

Journalists might be upset about this but for the average voter, whoever that happens to be, does it matter to them? Should it matter to them?

It should matter. I really, truly believe it should matter.

I do think that journalists are supposed to hold politicians to account and if no one is holding them to account, who is watching to see how they are spending money and what policies and reforms they are making?

I think that it's an important part of democracy to have journalists asking questions.

Written by Jason Vermes with files from CBC News. Interview produced by Ashley Mak.

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John Tory, Doug Ford exchange terse open letters ahead of special Toronto city council meeting




Toronto Mayor John Tory and Ontario Premier Doug Ford have engaged in a public war of words days ahead of Monday’s special meeting of Toronto city council, called to discuss legal options to fight the province’s plan to cut council nearly in half.

The two previously disagreed publicly after Mr. Tory sent a letter to Queen’s Park on Aug. 9 urging the Premier not to cut Toronto city council from 47 seats to 25. Their back-and-forth picked up again ahead of this weekend, when Mr. Ford called on Mr. Tory to put funding for gun violence on the special meeting’s agenda.

The Premier has pledged $25-million over four years to combat the issue, and in an open letter asked Mr. Tory to raise the issue at Monday’s meeting, and to match the funding.

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“I strongly believe that this issue requires rapid and decisive action from the City of Toronto and the federal government,” Mr. Ford wrote.

Mr. Tory agreed to match the funding, but wrote in his own open letter on Friday that rules dictate only one topic can be addressed at the special council meeting he called for on Monday.

The Premier responded with another letter on Saturday, saying it was “disappointing” that Mr. Tory wouldn’t bring up the issue before council.

“The fact that the special meeting you have called will focus on saving the jobs of politicians, instead of addressing options to deliver more resources to the fight against guns and gangs is telling,” he said.

Mr. Tory told reporters on Sunday morning that he and the Premier had a “positive” conversation on Saturday and are working together on gun violence solutions.

“I just think what people really want to see from us – they don’t want to see letters, they don’t want to see speeches, they don’t want to see meetings – they want to see action,” he said.

Mr. Ford’s office declined to comment, saying the letters speak for themselves.

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Mr. Ford’s decision in late July to slash council and cancel regional board chair elections threw multiple Ontario elections into disarray as soon as it was announced. Candidates who had already begun door-knocking struggled to determine how to move forward. Toronto chief city planner Jennifer Keesmaat entered the Toronto mayoral race partially because of the decision, she said.

While some councillors, mostly suburban or Ford-allied, supported the Premier’s plan, many were incensed. Long-time councillor Joe Mihevc likened the move to “throwing a stick of dynamite at council and saying: Figure it out.”

Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam called it “an affront to our democracy.”

Monday’s meeting will hear a report from the city’s legal team on options for a legal challenge of the province’s move, and council will decide whether to move forward – although as the Toronto Star reported, the battle looks to be challenging. What few legal arguments can be made rely on unwritten constitutional principles or arguments which have little preceding case law, according to a city report.

Toronto lawyer and Rocco Achampong, who is running for council in Toronto’s Ward 13, filed an application with the Ontario Superior Court to stop the law from taking effect before the 2018 election.

The court will hear Mr. Achampong’s arguments on Friday, Aug. 31. If the city decides to mount a challenge as well, its arguments will be heard on the same date.

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What is the most democratic and effective way to govern a city the size and economic import of Toronto?




Richard Florida is University Professor in the University of Toronto’s School of Cities and Rotman School of Management. Alan Broadbent is chair of Avana Capital and Maytree, and author of Urban Nation.

It’s not every day of the week that one of the world’s great cities turns into a political football. But that is exactly what is happening in Toronto.

Late last month, newly installed Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced his plans to cut the size of Toronto’s city council in half. Mayor John Tory pressed the case for shifting from the city’s weak mayor system – where the mayor is little more than a councillor – to a strong mayor system where the mayor has more significant power. Jennifer Keesmaat, the city’s former chief planner, entered the race for Toronto mayor in large part to fend off attacks by the province on the city’s ability to govern itself.

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There have also been calls to de-amalgamate the megacity, which has created a host of problems – the unwieldy council structure, the deep political divide between the old city and what were once its suburbs and a difficult public service restructuring – that remain with us to this day.

Fortunately, the current brouhaha opens up the possibility for having a more serious discussion about the best ways to govern the city. In fact, it begs a deeper and more fundamental question: What is the most democratic and effective way to govern a city of the size and economic import of Toronto?

Toronto surely needs more power to govern itself. It simply cannot be manipulated by the whims of the provincial leaders with political agendas. It is economically bigger than five provinces and makes up half the size of Ontario’s economy. With a population of three million people, Toronto is the fourth largest in North America, bigger than Chicago and roughly the size of Boston, Washington, San Francisco and Seattle combined. With economic output of some US$300-billion, Toronto’s economy is bigger than that of Finland, Portugal or New Zealand and approaching the size of Singapore, Denmark or Ireland.

Most large American cities have far more economic and fiscal power than the City of Toronto. Other countries around the world have moved to devolve economic and fiscal power to their cities and metro areas. They recognize that nobody wins when their leading cities falter. The United Kingdom has established its metro mayors program to shift power from the national level down to cities and metro regions. Toronto is big enough and important enough to be granted the economic and fiscal powers of a province.

The issue goes far beyond the city. While outsiders may resent it, Toronto has an outsized impact as a magnet for the country’s immigrants and the source of the innovations and startup companies that drive the Canadian economy. The province and the country as a whole can’t afford to have an economic entity of this size and economic importance kicked around like a proverbial political football.

It makes little sense to break apart the amalgamated city. It provides the size and scale to compete in the modern global economy. Small hemmed-in cities ringed by more affluent and expanding suburbs have been a recipe for fiscal disaster across the world.

In fact, the amalgamated city is a much better platform for generating the revenue Toronto needs to address its mounting problems of inequality, housing affordability, congestion, transit and public safety.

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But we clearly need a more effective system for governing the megacity and overcoming our current divides. This cannot be done by provincial fiat, which by definition weakens the city. It can only be accomplished via open and objective process led by the city itself along with its provincial and federal partners. Fortunately, even as the province attacks the city, the federal government has shown that it is willing to partner and structure new and more effective relationships with Toronto and Canada’s cities.

Few would argue that Toronto city council is a model of good governance. It’s messy, councillors meddle in operations and incumbency is too much the norm. Indeed, hasty amalgamation produced a council that is at once too large and too small: too large for effective discussion of the big issues; too small for effective representation of ward concerns. The community councils established at the same time have not taken root as effective channels in the public process.

It’s time to put everything on the table: the fiscal powers of the city including the ability to levy income and sales taxes, strong mayor versus weak mayor, the size of city council, term limits, the role of community councils, the role of political parties at the municipal level, the possible election of key public servants such as the budget chief or city manager and other matters of governance.

We need to create a new governance system that enables Toronto to truly govern itself, act on its strengths and address its many problems and challenges. The future prosperity of our city, province and nation depends on it. It’s an issue that must be front and centre in this mayor’s race and beyond.

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What We're Watching: How the “Albertan from Quebec” will be received in Halifax




Tories descend on Halifax to talk policy, party politics at final pre-campaign convention 

As trumpeted by the exclamation mark-festooned countdown clock on the official event website, there are less than three days and five hours to go — at least there were when this post went live — until card-carrying Conservatives converge on Halifax for the party’s final extended family reunion before the next election. This election is one that most of those in attendance firmly believe — or, at least, hope — will make Andrew Scheer Canada’s next prime minister.

Over the course of the three-day gathering, delegates will engage in vigorous — at times, possibly even more vigorous than some senior party officials would prefer — debate about grassroots-initiated proposals to amend, update and, in some cases, reverse, current party policy on everything from supply management to abortion. Along the way, it’s also possible there will be changes to the party’s internal governance system and leadership process.

Conventioneers will get to elect a new slate of national council members and attend hands-on workshops on various aspects of campaign prep, including voter outreach, canvassing, volunteer mobilization and fundraising. And of course, if they have the time and energy, even check out the ever-popular hospitality suites. (Most people make time for this!)

As for the unofficial agenda, given the now seemingly constant stream of headline-generating tweets emanating from Scheer’s erstwhile leadership rival Maxime Bernier, reporters and party operatives alike will be keeping close tabs on just how warm a reception the self-described “Albertan from Quebec” gets from the rank-and-file Conservatives on the floor. There’s likely to be a fair number of Conservatives who backed him during last year’s leadership race among them on said floor.

The party’s rapid response crew will also be on high alert for any major twists in the plot leading up to Saturday’s plenary session.

As for Scheer, he’ll be under pressure to wow the crowd when he takes the stage for the first time since he took over the post left vacant by Stephen Harper. Although polls suggest the Conservatives are slowly but steadily creeping up on Team Trudeau, Scheer himself doesn’t seem to have made much of an impression with the public as yet. While that’s not yet sufficiently alarming as to cause an internal crisis of confidence, it is something he’ll likely want to address when he speaks to the crowd.

 Team Trudeau heads to Nanaimo to prep for the fall sitting

Meanwhile, just before the festivities get underway in Halifax, a far more exclusive — at least as far as the invite list goes — gathering is set to take place on the other side of the country. Team Trudeau’s front bench will spend two full days sequestered behind the closed doors of a makeshift cabinet room somewhere around Nanaimo. The location hasn’t yet been disclosed.

Unlike the Conservative convention, there’s no formal agenda for this working session — which the official PMO notice points out is the first full meeting of the current ministry since the prime minister rearranged the lineup in July. But it’s not hard to guess what might be topping the topic list: the continuing Canada/U.S. trade tensions, for one, as well as those on-again-off-again NAFTA renegotiations, the state of Canada’s border security after a sudden upswing in irregular asylum-seekers and the sudden outburst of diplomatic rancour emanating from Saudi Arabia.

On the domestic front, there’s the renewed call for action on gun crime, particularly in Toronto and Montreal, as well as the looming legalization of marijuana.

And while the likelihood the Liberals are setting the stage for a snap election is widely believed to be sitting somewhere between slim and none (as Trudeau said himself last week), there’s still a chance — possibly even a fair-to-moderate one — that a good chunk of those in-camera conversations will be on the pros and cons of proroguing the House before the scheduled mid-September recall.

Such a move, while potentially controversial given how many bills are still languishing on the order paper, would give the government the opportunity to both recap its successes thus far, and preview what’s on the legislative priority list between now and the next election. Barring the aforementioned-and-summarily-dismissed surprise writ drop, that’s now approximately one year away.

Finally, given the choice of locale, it’s a good bet there will also be considerable focus on issues of particular concern to British Columbia, both inside and outside the confines of the cabinet confab, including the latest developments on the Trans Mountain pipeline front and the wildfires ravaging the province’s interior.

Veteran and newly minted ministers hit the West Coast circuit  

Aside from the traditional pre- and post-retreat press conferences and the occasional ad hoc scrum in the hallway outside the meeting room, up-close-and-personal ministerial sightings will likely be frustratingly few and far between for reporters tasked with covering the working session, as virtually all of the official business will, as always, take place far from the prying eyes of the press.

According to the flurry of advisories that have come out over the last few days, however, a full contingent of ministers is set to fan out across the province, promoting the government’s record and handing out fresh installments of federal funding in advance of the cabinet retreat.

Among the appearances currently scheduled before the ministerial get-together kicks off on Tuesday:

  • Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains drops by the Vancouver Island Conference Centre to chat with tech experts, industry representatives and entrepreneurs as part of his recently launched cross-country consultations on “digital and data transformation.” As per the background release, that “engagement process” is set to wrap up by mid-September.
  • Also set to meet with “stakeholders and organizations” is newly installed Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez. He will survey regional representatives on “priorities facing various cultural communities” during back-to-back meetings in Vancouver, Surrey and Burnaby on Monday, as well as pay a visit to an “important Indigenous heritage site” — the Ye’yumnuts Village on Vancouver Island — Tuesday morning.
  • Environment Minister Catherine McKenna makes her way to a water works facility in Ty-Histanis to mark the completion of an “investment infrastructure project” within the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, while Treasury Board President Scott Brison will do the honours on Ottawa’s behalf at a similar event to “celebrate” a now-completed project at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops.
  • Employment Minister Patty Hajdu will “highlight” Team Trudeau’s much self-ballyhooed boost to the Canada Child Benefit at a Victoria community centre before meeting apprentices at Camosun College.
  • Elsewhere in the Victoria region, Seniors Minister Filomena Tassi will trumpet her government’s “commitment to seniors” during a tour of the welcome gardens at the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society, as well as stop by the Victoria West Lawn Bowling Club and the Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary, all of which have benefited from federal seniors’ funding.
  • Small Business Minister Mary Ng ferries a fresh batch of federal support to Richmond-based Sable Shortbread, a “gourmet artisan” bakery that, as per its website, “believes in the simplicity of good food made with love.”

Finally, after the cabinet retreat wraps up, Finance Minister Bill Morneau will hit the party fundraising circuit in Vancouver Centre, where he’s set to headline a $500-per-head reception alongside veteran Liberal MP Hedy Fry on Thursday evening.

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