#onpoli newsletter: All your questions, answered

Steve Paikin and John Michael McGrath 'each possess an abyss of knowledge that is both terrifying and exciting'
By Eric Bombicino - Published on June 27, 2019
Black and white photo of men gathered in large, ornate room
Members of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario in 1871.

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Hello, #onpoli people,

In this week’s episode, Steve Paikin and John Michael McGrath accuse me of being “obsessed” with the fact they are big #onpoli nerds.

Obsessed is probably the wrong word, guys. I find it endlessly interesting. They each possess an abyss of knowledge that is both terrifying and exciting. If you stare into it too long, you will receive complete and thorough answers about the land-use Planning Act of Ontario or Bill Davis’s understanding of power.

Two men smile and talk as they sit at a table.
Steve Paikin and producer Eric Bombicino. 

And what I find the most interesting about their #onpoli knowledge is that it’s completely different. There is almost no overlap in their expertise. They make quite the duo.

That’s why I found this episode so much fun. Instead of having John Michael and Steve fire away at one topic, we peppered them with a range of #onpoli questions we received from you.

Here’s a sampling of what we covered.

Say what?

Alan Kasperski wrote to us, asking:

Why don’t we have municipal political parties in Ontario like they do in Quebec or British Columbia, where they have had them for decades?

And Walter K. tweeted us this:

How does a Speaker get chosen? I’ve always wondered what would be required to change the rules so that a non-MPP could become Speaker.

Just to keep things fun, we didn’t prep Steve and John Michael in advance — and they still had quite knowledgeable and detailed conversations around each of the above and more. Tune in to the #onpoli podcast to hear it.

Removing the premier

In this week’s mailbag we also received a number of emails and tweets from people who were unhappy with the current Progressive Conservative government. Mark Elgers, who voted Progressive Conservative, says he felt “truly betrayed,” and wanted to know: “Is there a way to hold a majority government accountable other than waiting around three years?” On Twitter, someone asked, “How can we remove Doug Ford as premier?”

“Well, the short answer is: you can’t until the next election,” says Steve. Unlike the conversation around impeachment south of the border, there is no such similar process in Ontario politics.

Except for one that John Michael brought up. In theory, since the premier is designated by the lieutenant governor, “it’s possible for the lieutenant governor to dismiss a premier,” he says. “But it would be such a breach of constitutional practice in Canada… so it’s not really worth talking about.”

However, considering some of this government’s reversals on issues such as public health cuts and changes to autism services, Steve made the point that the notion that you can’t do anything about Doug Ford and his government’s decisions is clearly not the case.

The joy of John Michael

I had not shown Steve and John Michael any of the mailbag questions beforehand, except one. I gave John Michael the heads up on this one from Alessandro S. on Twitter: “How do we treat student loan obligations in provincial accounting? Do we assume that 100 per cent of students will pay back what they owe, or do we have more realistic assumptions?”

John Michael loves difficult policy questions and answers. This was no exception.

The day we were recording, I walked over to John Michael’s desk. The expression on his face when he lifted his head up from his computer was pure ecstasy and joy. I had seen this face, days before, on the streets of Toronto the night the Raptors won the NBA Championship.

Except in this case, this joyous expression was in response to finding Schedule 7 in the consolidated financial statements of the Ministry of Finance.

John Michael, of course, gave a complete and thorough answer to this in the podcast. The short answer is that the province accounts for student loans the same way a bank would for any kind of loan. They’re accounted for as an asset for the province to the tune of about $2.6 billion in last year’s consolidated financial statements. (Schedule 7, for those interested.)

Political ego

While John Michael is enamored with policy and planning acts, Steve has always been more interested in politicians and what makes them tick. This made the topic of politicians and power, reflected in a series of emails we received, a particularly interesting conversation for Steve.

Here’s how he broke down the simple math of what sort of power that political hopefuls can expect to have in Ontario.

“Let's remember, there are 124 ridings at Queen’s Park. If we assume that there were probably at least four or five candidates running in every riding in the last election, we’re up around 600 or 700 people who sought elective office,” Steve says. “If that 600 or 700 people ran because they wanted to be powerful, they’re really not very bright, because the fact of the matter is 80 per cent of them were gonna lose.” And even if you get elected, there is no guarantee of power.

Black and white photo of men gathered in a large, ornate room.
Members of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario convene in 1871. There were fewer than 124 seats then.

“The power,” Steve says, “is held by the premier and maybe three or four cabinet ministers, and that’s about it.”

It’s the end of the season — but not for the newsletter

As I mentioned, this was our final episode of the season. We’ll be back in September for Season 3 of the podcast, in which we will look at what will undoubtedly be a heated and interesting federal election, and what it means for Ontario.

We want to answer more of your questions in every single episode of the podcast. So please write in with questions or comments, especially as they relate to the federal election, at onpolitics@tvo.org.

As for this newsletter, fear not! It will continue all summer long. I’ll be writing once a week in July and August.

That’s all for now. See you next week!

Eric

#onpoli producer

P.S. As always, thanks for your messages and thoughtful comments. Please do keep writing in over the summer. I’d love to hear from you all. And a big thanks to everyone who sent their amazing emails for this mailbag episode. For those of you who donate to TVO, thank you for supporting our work. As a registered non-profit charity, we are largely funded by donors. If you haven’t already become a donor, please consider making a donation. Thanks for reading!

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TVO is funded as a public agency by the government of Ontario. But when we do something new, like the #onpoli podcast and this newsletter, we often rely on generous donors like you to get it off the ground.

If you like what we're doing with #onpoli, please make a donation to keep it going. We'd like to feature the donors who make our work possible on future episodes of the podcast. So, if you make a donation, please write to us and let us know what you like about #onpoli at onpolitics@tvo.org.




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