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Q&A: Nick Kouvalis, the kingmaker behind both Rob Ford and John Tory’s mayoral wins

(Image: Claire Foster)

(Image: Claire Foster)

If you’re planning on becoming mayor of Toronto at some point, you might want to call up Nick Kouvalis. As an architect of Rob Ford’s mayoral campaign in 2010, he took a city councillor best known as a right-wing loner with occasional anger problems and turned him into a viable candidate. Kouvalis was a core player in the Ford administration until early 2011, when, after a falling out, he left his post as the new mayor’s chief of staff and returned to his private political consultancy, Campaign Research. The break with the Fords became more apparent last year, when Kouvalis switched allegiances, taking on the role of John Tory’s chief political strategist—a job where his main duty was to engineer Doug Ford’s eventual defeat in the 2014 mayoral election. Kouvalis has been called a “Ford whisperer,” a “campaign wizard” and a “dirty trickster.” Whatever the case, he has a winning record and a knack for explaining the minutiae of elections.

How did you go from being a naval reservist to being a political strategist?
I grew up in Windsor and I got a job in a factory. I wanted to be a toolmaker. So when I got married, I was working at Chrysler and also doing the naval reserve stuff. I didn’t like my job, and I got invited to volunteer on a political campaign. I worked for Belinda Stronach when she ran for leader of the federal Conservative party, and that was interesting. I liked it. Then I ran a campaign in Essex county for the Conservatives, and we won, and we hadn’t won in 46 years. So then I figured, not only do I like this, I’m obviously pretty good at it. So I started thinking about making it into a business.

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Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti gets a court fine for breaking campaign-finance laws

$17,500

—The fine levied on councillor Giorgio Mammoliti after he pleaded guilty, this morning, to four campaign-finance offences he committed during the 2010 election. This is considered light punishment (removal from office was a possible penalty), and it isn’t the first time Mammoliti’s behaviour has cost him money. In July, city council docked his pay for 90 days after he improperly accepted donations from lobbyists.

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Ontario’s auditor general says public-private partnerships may not actually be a magic source of money, after all

$8,000,000,000
$8,000,000,000

—The approximate amount of money the provincial government could have saved over the past decade if it had successfully (i.e., without any of the stunning incompetence that sometimes plagues Queen’s Park) delivered large infrastructure projects itself, rather than relying on public-private partnerships, according to a new report from the Ontario auditor general. This is startling news, because the key selling point of public-private partnerships has always been that they’re allegedly cheaper than government-run projects.

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A 14-year-old document sheds light on The Beer Store’s baffling beer monopoly

$1,015,000,000

—The amount of extra money the LCBO could make each year if it were to compete more aggressively with The Beer Store, according to a recent report from Ontario lobby group Restaurants Canada. The brief was cited today in a Star exposé by reporter Martin Regg Cohn, who claims to have uncovered a document proving the existence of a secret agreement that, for the past 14 years, has prevented the LCBO from horning in on The Beer Store’s lucrative bulk-beer trade.

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Now Magazine’s adult classifieds may now be illegal

11

—The number of pages of advertisements for various kinds of sexual services in last week’s 95-page issue of Now Magazine. The ads, which have long been a source of revenue for the alt-weekly, are now suddenly of questionable legality because of Bill C-36. In a note published on Sunday, Alice Klein, Now’s editor and CEO, says that the magazine will continue printing adult classifieds. She believes that the new law’s specific wording creates exceptions for magazines that publish only certain kinds of sex ads.

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Ontario cities are still waiting for relief money from 2013’s ice storm

$190,000,000

—The amount of money that the provincial government has yet to hand over to Ontario’s city governments as reimbursement for damage caused by last year’s ice storm. The reason the money hasn’t been distributed yet, according to the Star, is that the province is requiring cities to fill out incredibly complex applications.

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TDSB Education Director Donna Quan’s pay package is now slightly less mysterious

$289,000

Donna Quan’s current salary as director of education for the Toronto District School Board, according to a TDSB spokesperson. Quan’s salary has been a topic of speculation, because her employment contract hasn’t been available for scrutiny by politicians. Former TDSB chair Mari Rutka claims to have tried and failed to get a copy of the contract from Quan. It still hasn’t been released.

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A day into his mayoralty, John Tory riles up council’s left

“If it’s not right, not left, but forward, prove it.”

—Newly elected Ward 20 councillor Joe Cressy in an interview with the National Post, after new mayor John Tory made it known that he would be giving plum political appointments almost exclusively to right-leaning councillors. Cressy was alluding to Tory’s centrist rhetoric on the campaign trail.

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Ferguson, and why “at least things aren’t as bad here” isn’t good enough

The memorial at the location where Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, photographed earlier this month. (Image: Scott Olson/Getty)

The memorial at the location where Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, photographed earlier this month. (Image: Scott Olson/Getty)

On Monday morning, a Missouri grand jury voted not to indict officer Darren Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown. On Tuesday, a thousand protesters assembled across from the U.S. Consulate on University Avenue, in solidarity with the angered residents of Ferguson. Far from the confusion and disorder that marred Occupy Toronto, this protest was well-organized, concise and topical. Young people from all over the city showed up at six o’clock with a simple message: black lives matter. With bullhorns and chants, they expressed sympathetic grief, keeping a respectful distance from the embassy. As far as protests go, it was on the polite side of collective anger.

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Martin Short, as Jiminy Glick: “Have you ever thought of maybe getting some cranes up there?”

“Have you ever thought of maybe getting some cranes up there and doing some construction?”

Martin Short, in character as the obsequious celebrity interviewer Jiminy Glick, during an appearance alongside mayor-elect John Tory at a dinner event hosted by the Jewish National Fund. Glick’s jab at Toronto’s seemingly never-ending condo boom was only one of dozens of jokes that kept Tory laughing uncontrollably throughout the eight-minute bit. (At one point, in a fit of glee, the mayor-to-be shoves a whole doughnut into Glick’s open mouth.) The video is both awkward and hilarious.

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Placating Ontario’s teachers cost Queen’s Park almost half a billion dollars

$468,000,000

—The cost, to Ontario taxpayers, of placating the province’s teachers’ unions after 2012’s massive unrest, according to a new report from the Ontario auditor general. Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government can still claim an estimated $2.1 billion in savings left over from the austere contracts imposed on teachers under ex-premier Dalton McGuinty. Even so, almost half a billion dollars in foregone cost cuts is a big deal at cash-strapped Queen’s Park.

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Doug Ford is still really serious about winning the Ontario PC leadership

doug-ford-now-whatFor a while, it seemed like Doug Ford’s suggestion that he might run for and win leadership of the Ontario Progressive Conservative party was just post-mayoral-election-defeat braggadocio. His latest interview on Sun News, though, is a reminder that his bid for Tim Hudak’s old job is very real. Asked whether he’d be putting his name on the leadership ballot, Ford stopped just short of answering in the affirmative. “I’m confident,” he said. “We have a great team. We have the momentum.” (Was he referring to his “grassroots” backers, who may not actually exist?) Later, he made a pitch that seemed aimed at PC insiders. “Out of the 331,000 people that voted for me,” he said, referring to his vote share in the mayoral election, “80 per cent or 85 per cent have never voted PC, never would vote PC, but they would vote PC if I ran.”

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Brampton mayor Susan Fennell’s money problems just got worse

$144,150.25

—The amount of money Brampton’s city council voted on Wednesday to force soon-to-be-former mayor Susan Fennell to pay the city in compensation for her questionable use of taxpayer-funded car services. Fennell could avoid paying the penalty by coming up with proof that her car expenses were legitimate, or, possibly, by taking the city to court to have the decision overturned. She’s already threatening to sue a bunch of other people and organizations, so why not?

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City manager Joe Pennachetti: “It was a long four years”

“It was a long four years.”

—City manager Joe Pennachetti, who announced his retirement in August, speaking, during a joint press conference with mayor-elect John Tory, about life under Rob Ford. The purpose of the presser was to make public the fact that Pennachetti, a respected civil servant who kept city hall running (somewhat) smoothly during the Ford years, has agreed to stay on until the end of April, to help Tory shepherd his first budget through city council.

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Nobody believes Doug Ford’s “grassroots” supporters actually exist

doug-ford-now-whatToronto faces an acute shortage of scare quotes this afternoon as news outlets around the city report on a new “grassroots” website that’s attempting to drum up support for Doug Ford’s possible bid for leadership of the Ontario Progressive Conservative party. The website, DraftDougFord.ca, boasts sleek web design, a handy form for collecting supporter information and zero indication of the real identity of the person or group that created it. The Toronto Sun reports that the website’s mysterious operator sent out an unsigned press release to different media organizations earlier today saying only that the project is the public face of a “grassroots movement” of disaffected voters “who feel that Doug Ford would be the only person who can renew the party,” and who totally exist.