Embattled Government and Consumer Services Minister Lisa Thompson is defending the secrecy swirling around the Progressive Conservatives’ bid to fix the blue licence plate fiasco.
One day after Premier Doug Ford angrily attacked the media for pressing him on the snafu, Thompson turned her guns on the opposition New Democrats for demanding to know why the Tories signed a nondisclosure agreement with plate manufacturer 3M.
“What we’ve just seen here in this house today is a very clear misunderstanding of what business is really all about,” Thompson lectured the NDP in the legislature Tuesday.
“The NDP do not respect commercially sensitive information.”
Ontario’s new double-blue plates have left the Tories red-faced since it emerged two weeks ago they are illegible in certain lighting conditions.
A rejigged plate should be available from 3M by March 16. Until then, the traditional white licence plates — in use for 47 years — will again be issued.
With Ford’s office again shielding Thompson from the media it was left to government house leader Paul Calandra to respond to questions about the debacle.
“We’ve worked very closely with 3M to bring forward a better plate, a more safe and secure plate …and it will be at no cost to the taxpayer,” said Calandra.
“We expect 3M to correct that problem,” he said.
Calandra could not say whether the revamped version would be blue or white.
“I haven’t seen what colour they’re going to be.”
That has left some at Queen’s Park wondering if the Tories will return to the familiar white plates with legible blue letters that former PC premier Bill Davis introduced in 1973.
The much-lampooned double-blue plate, with a design that has been likened to a Q-tip box, was unveiled in last April’s budget.
NDP MPP Jennifer French (Oshawa) said the plate controversy reflects badly on Ford, who had promised to operate in a more transparent fashion than the previous Liberal government he defeated two years ago.
“This government wants this to go away so badly that now they’ve signed a nondisclosure agreement with 3M so no one will ever know the cost, or what was or wasn’t involved in supposed testing, or any other details of this botched job,” said French.
“I would bet that the deal that they made for these plates wouldn’t hold up to scrutiny, and that’s why they want it to disappear, not unlike their branded plates,” she said.
Green Leader Mike Schreiner put it in simple terms.
“Here’s the bottom line: 3M makes transparent tape, why can’t we have a transparent agreement that keeps the people of Ontario informed of what’s going on with these plates?” said Schreiner.
Former NDP premier Bob Rae, who governed from 1990 to 1995, mocked the current administration’s problems in a tweet to his 125,000 Twitter followers.
“Question: what does every government in Ontario from 1910 to 2018 have in common ? Answer: They made licence plates without fuss, bother, or trouble,” wrote Rae.
On Monday, Ford admitted the problem has him “frustrated,” but he lashed out at journalists for querying him.
“You’ve got to be kidding me. I’m shocked you’re even asking me that … I know the media wants to pound on little things. We’re looking at the big vision,” the premier fumed.
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“You guys, the media, want to stick in this little downtown Toronto bubble and start worrying about little things …”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Ford’s anger was “completely inappropriate” and said concealing the details of the cost and scope of correcting the plate problem is wrong.
“A gag order is not the appropriate way to address this. Who knows what it is that the premier and the government are trying to hide?”