ONTARIO LEGISLATIVE HIGHLIGHTS

May 26, 2017


WEEKLY ROUNDUP

EVERYTHING IN ITS WORKPLACE – Premier Kathleen Wynne asserted this week that her government will be “moving forward very quickly” on major labour reforms.  But this may be an issue she wants to let percolate for awhile – say, into next year’s election campaign. In this age of precarious employment, laws offering more stability and protection would surely have great appeal to young workers, part-timers and contractors – large demographics who could be a significant voting bloc. Politically, it potentially creates a nifty wedge for the Liberals, usurping territory that would naturally belong to the NDP and forcing the PCs into sounding more right-wing than perhaps they’d like. Already some of those dynamics are apparent, with PC Labour Critic John Yakabuski decrying a lack of cost-benefit analysis in the government-sponsored Changing Workplaces Review released on Tuesday. “We can’t be changing the labour laws in this province without knowing the impact on jobs and job creators,” Yakabuski said, echoing the concerns of business groups. “The best protections for workers are pointless if the workers don’t have a job to wake up to in the morning.” As for which of the 173 recommendations the Liberals will champion, Wynne was cagey, telling a business audience, “we won’t be implementing every single one.” Interestingly, while Wynne was making that statement, organized labour protestors were outside, picketing against the sale of Hydro One and other privatization of government assets.

SAULT LOOKOUT – Wynne made the above pronouncement at a meeting in Sudbury, as part of a week-long swing through Northeastern Ontario, which coincidentally (not) is the location of next week’s by-election in Sault Ste. Marie. Not surprisingly, PC Leader Patrick Brown and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath each made their presence felt in The Soo this week – the House wasn’t sitting, giving everybody plenty of time to travel north – canvassing with their respective candidates. Heading into the home stretch, most observers see the outcome as a coin-flip and, notwithstanding the multiple appearances by the party leaders, very much a local battle, with the sheer distance inhibiting the usual influx of Queen’s Park staffers swelling on-the-ground troops.

TRAIN OF THOUGHT – Before she headed northeast, Wynne had her mind on the opposite end of the province, making an announcement – or re-re-re-announcement, as the case may be – of plans for high-speed rail service between Toronto and Windsor. Specifically, Wynne was in London to commit to a $15-million environmental assessment, based on recommendations from the special advisor on the subject, former federal cabinet minister David Collenette. Wynne acknowledged that the idea isn’t exactly new, positing, “This has been talked about for decades. … We’ve got to do it this time, folks.” Notably, Wynne expressed similar support for the high-speed train corridor during the 2014 election, but it wasn’t enough to save former cabinet minister Teresa Piruzza’s Windsor seat. Shortly after that, the Liberals openly cited Southwestern Ontario as a key target for improvement in 2018.

GO YOUR OWN WAY – As noted above, protestors – led by OPSEU, the giant public sector union – have set up shop in front of many government events and facilities, as part of their ‘We Own It’ anti-privatization campaign. At a demonstration in Penetanguishene they had a surprise guest – none other than Patrick Brown. “Some people would be saying, ‘What is the leader of the Progressive Conservatives doing at an OPSEU rally?’ ” Brown mused, reading many of the minds in the crowd outside the Central North Correctional Centre. “But there’s no monopoly on a good idea. We need to learn from history, learn from past mistakes. I don’t care if it’s a Liberal idea, an NDP idea or a Progressive Conservative idea.” Brown stopped short of signing a ‘public-service pledge’ for the We Own It campaign, but offered to discuss matters further with OPSEU leadership.

CRITICAL DECISIONS – With NDP MPP Jagmeet Singh now off and running for the federal party leadership, Horwath has opted to not appoint anyone to replace him as her Deputy Leader. She has, however, filled his vacated critic portfolios. Gilles Bisson adds Attorney General Critic to his duties, Wayne Gates steps in as Critic for Government and Consumer Affairs and Teresa Armstrong takes on the Anti-Racism portfolio.

RUMOURS & RUMBLINGS

NEPEAN NO GAIN

Details are emerging about the messy nomination battles that prompted Brown to enlist private sector auditors PriceWaterhouseCoopers to monitor all future candidate selection meetings leading up to the 2018 election. Brown understandably wants to distance himself from this local nastiness, but one of the fights – which isn’t over yet – reaches directly into his own office. The PC nomination in Ottawa West-Nepean will go to the party’s executive for adjudication on June 3, to determine whether to let the nomination of Karma Macgregor stand, or agree to the riding association’s request that the results be nullified and a new meeting held. The May 6 nomination meeting saw Macgregor beat Jeremy Roberts by 15 votes – an outcome he has appealed.  Seventeen ballots were disqualified by officials in what they suspected was an attempt at ballot stuffing.  But when the final vote was tallied, it appears there were 28 more ballots in the boxes than there were people registered to vote on the day. Several observers reported suspicious behaviour, such as the groups of voters arriving in the last hour of the meeting and being ‘walked over’ directly to the appeals table (bypassing the regular registration tables), apparently in expectation that they would be challenged.  One senior PC official was overheard saying he had “never attended a more corrupt meeting.”

Adding another layer of intrigue, discontent amongst many Ottawa Tories is compounded by the fact that Karma Macgregor is the mother of Tamara Macgregor, Brown’s Deputy Chief of Staff.  And the credentials table at the nomination meeting was run by two Brown staffers, both of whom are junior to Tamara Macgregor in the Opposition Leader’s office.

In the wake of all of this, Ottawa Citizen columnist Randall Denley (a past PC candidate in the riding) wrote that Brown needs to show he takes ethics seriously by fixing the mess in Ottawa West-Nepean.  Hence the PwC contract.

FOR THE RECORD

“We’re talking about a 30-year window here. It took at least 30 years, probably 40 years, to let the electricity system degrade to the stage that it had in 2003 … There’s a cost associated with work that had to be done – and all of those costs were on the shoulders of people today.”

  • Premier Kathleen Wynne, on the defensive about deferring hydro costs to the future in order to ease consumer bills now. This came after the Financial Accountability Officer calculated that saving consumers $24 billion in the short-term will ultimately cost $45 billion, ballooning to $93 billion if the government has to borrow to pay for the plan – numbers sure to be repeated ad infinitum by the Opposition parties.

 “When you’re looking for a watchdog, you don’t shop in the poodle aisle.”

  • Toronto Star columnist Chantal Hebert, apparently not impressed by former Liberal MPP and cabinet minister Madeleine Meilleur’s appointment as Canada’s Official Languages Commissioner.

“I’ll tell you, Tory and Wynne are making it very difficult for me. Both the city and province are a financial disaster… My heart is with the city. I’d love to go back in there. I understand the city inside and out. That’s obviously a tougher challenge, to go around the city and put the campaign together versus running in Etobicoke North as an MPP.”

  • former Toronto councillor and mayoralty candidate Doug Ford, still contemplating where to lead “Ford Nation” next year.

IN THE HOUSE

For the current status of government legislation, click Government Bills.

  • MPPs did not sit this week.  They will return for four days next week, then wrap up for the summer recess on Thursday. As noted in the bill table above, there are currently four government bills awaiting Third Reading, plus the Fair Hydro Act which is currently at committee but is likely to pass before the House rises.  Assuming all five pass, that would leave almost a clear legislative slate going into the fall session – which will very much be a preamble for the 2018 election campaign.
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