ONTARIO LEGISLATIVE HIGHLIGHTS

July 20, 2018


WEEKLY ROUNDUP

SOUND AND FURY – Within a couple of hours of the Legislature resuming this week the ostensible reason for the summer session had been checked off. An omnibus bill was introduced – the not-so-subtly titled Urgent Priorities Act – covering the three issues the new government feels require immediate legislation (see In The House, below).  It must now wend its way through the parliamentary process before the House recesses for the rest of the summer. Without any other legislative agenda, that leaves a lot of time to fill with the MPPs assembled in one place – a void that has been filled, not surprisingly, with a lot of partisan rhetoric. Both Doug Ford’s Tories and Andrea Horwath’s NDP largely reverted to their campaign themes and styles, as each aims to lay the foundation for the next four years.

SETTLING OF ACCOUNTS – Premier Ford didn’t need the Legislature to move forward with one of his key campaign promises, announcing the Independent Financial Commission of Inquiry to be headed up by former B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell. “Follow the money and shine a light on the darkest corners of the government,” Ford instructed Campbell’s team, reiterating his election mantra that “the books were cooked. The deficit numbers were false.” At the same time Ford announced that his government is seeking bids for experts to conduct a line-by-line audit of government spending. “The Commission will give you the answers about what went wrong and the line-by-line audit will give you the answers on how we can fix it,” he declared. Cue the Opposition New Democrats, who cited the short time-frame – Ford wants the reviews finished by the end of the summer – as indicative of an ulterior motive. “He’s going to want a cover for cutting things,” charged NDP MPP Peter Tabuns. “This could be the perfect cover.”

SEX CRAZED – Keeping another election promise, revisiting the province’s sex-ed curriculum, has been somewhat more fraught for Ford’s Tories. As a mixture of sex and politics (with a side of religion thrown in) it’s an issue that creates plenty of discomfort, as rookie Education Minister Lisa Thompson quickly discovered. At first she announced that the 2015 curriculum update was to be scrapped, with teachers reverting to the 1998 version for the coming school year. This naturally triggered a maelstrom of outrage, as critics scoffed that the 20-year-old curriculum mentions the Internet – source of much of the angst around sexuality for today’s kids – exactly once. Thompson retreated, explaining that the newer curriculum would stay intact, except for the “developing sexual relations” part – i.e., how and when students are taught about body parts and sexual activities, which is what opponents, primarily social conservatives, complained about. “We know [students] need to learn about consent,” Thompson insisted. “We know they need to learn about cyber safety, we know they need to learn about gender identity and appreciation. But we also know that the former Liberal government’s consultation process was completely flawed.” Horwath wasn’t buying it, thundering, “Why is the Premier more focused on keeping social conservatives happy instead of keeping students, young people and queer youth safe?” Ford himself eventually took over the messaging, resurrecting his election stance by firing back at Horwath, “The Leader of the Opposition actually believes in the nanny state. They believe that the government knows best when it comes to our students, they know best when it comes to our children and they know best when it comes to our parents. We take a different approach.” Ford promised a new curriculum will emerge through “the largest consultation ever in Ontario’s history when it comes to education,” then dug in further, chiding that in developing the previous sex-ed update, “there was next to zero consultation. Out of 14 million people, 0.001% were consulted. That is disgusting.”

POLICE BRUTALITY – Sex-ed consultations apparently weren’t the only thing that “disgusted” Ford. In yet another example of the rapid descent into incivility, Horwath confronted Ford over the new government’s decision to delay new rules around police conduct. Again, the Premier blasted back with a reboot of his election rhetoric (in this case about “radical” NDP candidates), taunting, “unlike the Leader of the Opposition and unlike their party, who are police-haters, military-haters, veteran-haters, poppy-haters and—” he was cut off by interjections and asked by the Speaker to withdraw the remarks, which he did. But he followed up later by charging, “We didn’t have any MPP like the [NDP] member from Brampton East who walked around, running up and down the streets, with a sign that says, ‘eff the police.’ That is disgusting, absolutely disgusting.” The discourse deteriorated even further when Community Safety Minister Michael Tibollo, in response to an NDP question about police checks, noted that he had donned a bullet-proof vest for a ride-along with police in the high-crime Jane and Finch area of Toronto. Horwath called the comment “inexcusably racist,” fuming, “It is absolutely unacceptable to make an insinuation that going into a highly racialized community is going to necessitate the wearing of a bulletproof vest.”

QUESTION MARK – Ford still has to decide whether to grant the Liberals some form of official party status, which they lost by only winning seven seats in June. Without it they have very limited resources for staff.  But they will at least have some presence in the daily Question Period. Speaker Ted Arnott has allotted one question per day for an independent MPP – without party status, the seven Liberals and Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner are technically unaffiliated, at least for parliamentary purposes – as long as they give prior notice. They will also be allocated time during debates. Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser was first up in Question Period, using his slot to ask about climate change. Ditto for Schreiner when his turn came.

WASHINGTON BULLET – Economic Development Minister Jim Wilson made his first out-of-town foray this week, heading to Washington D.C. to champion Ontario’s auto industry to the U.S. Department of Commerce. On his way there, he might have passed Monique Smith on her way out. Smith, the former Liberal cabinet minister, had been Ontario’s trade representative in Washington, but was dismissed by Ford as one of his first orders of business.

DANDY ANDY – Boaters in Sarnia will now forever be reminded of a former PC leader, as they moor in the Andrew S. Brandt Marina at Sarnia Bay.  Brandt, who was Mayor of Sarnia before serving as an MPP for nine years – including as interim PC leader from 1987-90 – and then led the revamp of the LCBO, helped secure provincial funding for the marina that now bears his name. Sarnia City Council voted unanimously this week to rename the facility after Brandt, then gave him a standing ovation.

IN THE HOUSE

  • Energy, Northern Development and Mines Minister Greg Rickford introduced Bill 2, the Urgent Priorities Act, omnibus legislation in three parts: The Back to Class Act (York University), to end the strike by York University staff; the White Pines Wind Project Termination Act to stop an Eastern Ontario wind farm project; and the Hydro One Accountability Act, to constrain compensation for Hydro One executives.
  • PC MPP Sam Oosterhoff had the distinction of introducing the first private member’s bill of the new session. Not that it has much chance of ever passing, his proposed Compassionate Care Act calls for a provincial framework to improve access to hospice palliative care.

FOR THE RECORD

“We agreed today to join forces and use every single tool at our disposal to challenge the federal government’s authority to arbitrarily impose a carbon tax on the people of Ontario and Saskatchewan. Carbon taxes make life unaffordable for families, and put thousands of jobs at risk. This type of taxation does nothing for the environment and hits people in the wallet in order to fund big government initiatives.”

  • Premier Doug Ford, just before stepping on to the national stage for the first time at the Council of the Federation meeting of provincial and territorial leaders in New Brunswick, issuing a joint statement with Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe.

“Mr. Ford’s going to have to explain why his insiders are better than Kathleen Wynne‘s insiders.”

  • NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, taking exception to Dr. Reuben Devlin, a former PC Party President, heading up the province’s hospital review task force.

“Maybe the Minister should sit down and have a nice cup of tea, calm down a little bit and maybe phone me and apologize for calling me unCanadian.”

  • Lisa MacLeod, the Ontario Minister responsible for Immigration, after a run-in with her federal counterpart Ahmed Hussen. MacLeod had walked out of a ministers’ meeting after disagreeing over how to treat asylum seekers.

“I think that was just politics during the election campaign. It’s always easier to blame the problem on your predecessor and assume all responsibility for any victory.”

  • Former PC Leader Patrick Brown, who is now running to be Chair of Peel Region, shrugging off the criticism of him from Ford and other Tories in an interview with the Caledon Enterprise.
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