ONTARIO LEGISLATIVE HIGHLIGHTS

July 21, 2017


WEEKLY ROUNDUP

TRUMP CARD — It wasn’t that long ago that Premier Kathleen Wynne used to stage at the Council of the Federation — the annual meeting of Canada’s premiers — to put Ottawa on notice that her government wanted the Canada Pension Plan reformed or she would lead Ontario into creating its own pension plan with greater benefits for retirees. The ploy ultimately worked, and Wynne had designs of re-enacting her tactic this year but with a call for a national pharmacare program mimicking the one Ontario announced in its budget this past spring. But as important as the issue may be, it was, ahem, trumped by international trade when U.S. President Donald Trump released his agenda for NAFTA renegotiations on Monday (particularly pertinent to Ontario on the U.S. wish list is the scrapping of supply management in dairy and poultry farming, which are key staples in Ontario agriculture and have been staunchly defended by both Queen’s Park and Ottawa). Given that international trade is a federal concern, it is an odd issue to dominate the agenda of the Council, but given the importance of trade with the U.S. to every provincial economy, it is incumbent on the premiers to ensure they are doing what they can to protect their own interests. For her part, and she is not alone, Wynne is trying an end-around strategy by avoiding Trump and pleading Ontario’s case to state governors — she has attended 22 such meetings thus far, and is encouraged by the response: “What I have found in the United States is that there’s a very deep understanding among leaders there that the connectivity between our economies is important for both of us.”

JUMPING THE GUN — Officially, an Ontario provincial election campaign is 28 days long — that means the next Ontario election begins on Thursday, May 31st. But you would have a hard time convincing Ontarians that it isn’t already under way with still more than 10 months to go before voting day. The governing Liberals have been taking advantage of the summer break to make various announcements in an effort to shore up their sagging fortunes, such as labour reforms that will boost minimum wage to $15 and efforts to prohibit (or at least curtail) online “scalper bots” that have been the bane of concert-goers’ existence. PC Leader Patrick Brown is in the midst of a campaign-style bus tour and candidates of all stripes are plastering their social media feeds with pictures and news of them going door-to-door to build awareness, interest and, ultimately, support. Noticeably quiet amid this flurry of attempted vote garnering (with the notable exception of her critiques of the government’s labour reform legislation) is NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. (See Rumours & Rumblings for our speculation on this.)

WHAT SAY YOU? — Summer is usually pretty quiet on the political front, but that is not the case in 2017. Besides the early campaigning under way, the government is currently engaged in several public consultation efforts at the moment. Among them, the Ontario College of Trades is seeking input on the way it classifies skilled trades, there is a solicitation of feedback on the province’s Fair Wage Policy and on a proposed change that will prohibit real estate agents from representing both the buyer and seller in a home sale, Attorney General Yasir Naqvi is seeking public input to help Ontario shape its cannabis distribution policy (in advance of the Criminal Code amendment coming July 1, 2018, that will de-criminalize marijuana) and the province is in the midst of a road show of public hearings for its proposed minimum wage hike. This last one, at the very least, is not happening without some heat. Several business interests feel like they have been shut out of the process, while the hearings are dominated by labour interests and academics who typically support a higher minimum wage. It prompted Canadian Federation of Independent Business President Dan Kelly to quip, “It’s a shocking and clear sign that the province is not keen to hear anything other than what they want to hear.” There is also some question whether a consultation on raising the minimum wage is even necessary or will change anything as the legislation appears to be a fait accompli. When asked if there is a chance the Liberals may pull the idea off the table, Liberal MPP Arthur Potts said, “Oh, we’re going to do it.”

KWINT-ING TIME — For the past 33 years he has represented York Centre in Queen’s Park, and at 86 years old he is the oldest MPP to ever serve in Ontario. But it all comes to an end next year as Liberal Monte Kwinter has announced he will not seek re-election in 2018. Kwinter, who has served in cabinet with three different premiers — David Peterson, Dalton McGuinty and Wynne — has been battling health problems in recent years and missed significant time during the last session while he battled a case of shingles. But his accomplishments and commitment have been noted by MPPs across all party lines. For his part, Kwinter said he is retiring “to let the next generation serve.” The Liberals have yet to set a date for the York Centre nomination meeting to select the candidate with the tough challenge of filling Kwinter’s role.

RUMOURS & RUMBLINGS

JAG-GED EDGE

With Wynne and her ministers making policy announcements and Brown traversing the province in a branded PC Party bus, noticed by their absence have been the NDP. But there is likely a good reason for that. Former Deputy Leader and generally popular MPP Jagmeet Singh is seeking the leadership of the federal wing of the party, and that is no small undertaking. Many wags around Queen’s Park believe the excitement around Singh’s bid is drawing an upswing of volunteers from Ontario, and it is tapping the already-limited resources of the NDP. No doubt, once the federal leadership vote takes place in October, you will see activity in the Ontario NDP corner ramp up significantly.

FOR THE RECORD

“When the provinces come together they should build a respectful relationship. We are not just another special-interest group.”

  • Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde, who, along with the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Metis National Council, is calling for Indigenous People to have a permanent seat at the Council of the Federation — the annual meeting of Canada’s premiers. The three groups pulled out of a planned meeting with the Council at this week’s gathering in Edmonton.

“I saw the light, I saw what Liberals are – they’re not me, I’m a New Democrat.”

  • Seventeen-year-old Zach Hatton, who wants to make PC MPP Sam Oosterhoff’s reign as the youngest MPP in Ontario history a short one. The Grade 12 student — who turns 18 in January — is seeking the NDP nomination in Peterborough for next year’s provincial election.

“Samsung had no history in renewable energy before they came to Ontario. They came only for the subsidies, and when the subsidies dry up, they’ll disappear as quick as they landed.”

  • Energy analyst Tom Adams, in the wake of Siemans Canada (in partnership with Samsung) announcing it is closing its plant in Tillsonburg that makes blades for wind turbines and putting 340 people out of work. Adams further warned this could just be the beginning of a rough ride unless Ontario wind turbine plants start getting orders for export.
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