Ontario Legislative Highlights: December 21December 21, 2018
The Last Report
A note to our readers:
This is the final edition of Ontario Legislative Highlights in its current form.
We have been publishing this newsletter every Friday for nearly a quarter century, starting out as a weekly fax and evolving over the years. (How much have things changed? To the right is a copy of OLH from December 1995. The first time it was available digitally was when we scanned it yesterday.)
Early in 2019, Enterprise will launch a new digital update. We’ll still provide insights about what’s happening at Queen’s Park, along with thoughts and analysis about other sectors and new developments.
As always, our guiding principle will be to provide news and views you can use.
In the meantime, Happy Holidays! From all of us at Enterprise, we wish you the best for an enjoyable holiday season and a great new year ahead.
And now, one last time…
POWER STRUGGLE – As 2018 winds down, what has inarguably been the most tumultuous year in decades offered one more burst of commotion, as MPPs gathered yet again for an “emergency” legislative session. This time it was for back-to-work legislation – or more precisely, stay-at-work legislation – to keep 6,000 members of the Power Workers Union on the job. “We understand constitutional rights, but we’re here to talk about the lights – specifically, keeping them on,” was how Energy Minister Greg Rickford neatly explained it, after the PWU voted in favour of a strike that threatened to shut down half of the province’s electricity supply in three weeks. Beyond the practicality of avoiding blackouts, the Tories know they are on solid ground politically, recognizing that the Opposition New Democrats could never support legislation circumventing collective bargaining. It’s a wedge the Tories will happily drive, and the NDP didn’t disappoint, doing what they could to thwart the bill. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath hedged a bit, acknowledging that the PC majority would get the bill through – “We will not vote for it but the legislation will pass this week,” she conceded – but took the opportunity to reinforce her party’s pro-labour philosophy, accusing Premier Doug Ford of “meddling” and “fear mongering.”
CIVIL (SERVICE) WAR – Looking through that old edition of Ontario Legislative Highlights, one of the themes back in late ’95 was a pervasive anxiety among the province’s civil servants, as they stared into the uncertainty of the reform-driven Mike Harris government. This ubiquitous tension is back in a big way, and the early months of 2019 – if not longer – will surely be marked by bureaucratic upheaval. In the effort to cut spending, the Ford government is expanding programs offering buy-out packages for public employees, hoping this will expedite the attrition they need to reduce staff without resorting to layoffs. One vacancy that will be filled, however, is at the very top, as Cabinet Secretary Steve Orsini bids adieu. Naturally, rumours are ablaze about who might succeed him, in what will be a critically important post given Ford’s efficiency agenda. At least three other senior positions will also be up for grabs, as Orsini announced a trio of temporary Deputy Ministers while the search for permanent mandarins goes on. Veteran Scott Thompson’s pending departure leaves openings in Infrastructure and Transportation, which will be filled on an interim basis by Chris Giannekos and Shelley Tapp, respectively. Karen Hughes, who had been acting Deputy at Treasury Board, will stay on in that capacity for a while longer.
An updated chart listing government contacts is available for download at Government Contact Chart.
FUZZ TONE – “He will be the best Commissioner the OPP has ever seen!” With those words, Premier Ford summoned his vaunted hyperbole skills, going on the offensive to defend the appointment of family friend Ron Taverner as Ontario’s top cop. It could be months before Ford gets the chance to test his thesis, as Taverner opted to put his swearing-in on hold, pending the outcome of an investigation into allegations that Ford and/or his staff influenced the hiring process. That probe will be conducted by the Integrity Commissioner, but it’s not enough for the NDP, who called for an “emergency select committee” of MPPs with the authority to call witnesses. In a predictable bit of turnabout, that’s a riff on the Tories’ hearings on the previous Liberal government’s spending habits. Indeed, the Select Committee on Fiscal Transparency – which is still writing its report, amid “kangaroo court” sneers from the Opposition – figures to be evoked repeatedly, with demands for similar tribunals every time a scandal pops up.
DOC-U-DRAMA– Given the rhetoric prior to the election, it’s a safe bet that many if not most of Ontario’s doctors voted for the PCs in June’s election. They got the government they wanted, but peace remains elusive. One of Ford’s campaign promises was to send a five-year-long contract dispute to arbitration, but in the midst of warring factions within doctor groups – leading to splinters from the Ontario Medical Association – the government reneged. Ford then re-reversed that decision, with arbitration proceeding once again. All of this served to reinforce reported rifts within the government, as the Toronto Star cited “numerous sources” saying the decisions about arbitration were coming directly from the Premier’s Office, “over the objections of Health Minister Christine Elliott and other Tory MPPs.” This is not the first time money disputes with physicians have created political grief – it was a major bugaboo for the Liberal government in the 1980s and has burbled ever since – and there’s no shortage of frustration that the current impasse continues. Much as they want to make nice with what appears to be a supportive constituency, some Tories have been heard to mutter the old joke:
Q. What’s the difference between a doctor and God?
A. God doesn’t think he’s a doctor.
About IN THE HOUSE
- Labour Minister Laurie Scott introduced Bill 67, the Labour Relations Amendment Act (Protecting Ontario’s Power Supply), to prohibit strikes or lockouts between Ontario Power Generation and the Power Workers Union during the current round of bargaining, sending all disputes to mediation-arbitration. The legislation passed later in the week by a vote of 72-35, with all the Nays coming from the NDP. Three Liberals, including former Premier Kathleen Wynne and current interim Leader John Fraser, as well as Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner all voted in favour.
- The House has once again recessed for its winter break, until February 19.
For the current status of government legislation, click Government Bills.
FOR THE RECORD
“When you’re in a dogfight with everything south of the border and sometimes they’re eating our lunch we need to respond, react instantly.”
- Finance Minister Vic Fedeli, not bothered by Premier Ford’s active involvement in day-to-day decisions, which Fedeli described as “unbelievably hands on.”
“This also comes a week before Christmas – which is a little Scrooge-y if you ask me.”
- Maria Rizzo, Chair of the Toronto Catholic District School Board, angry at being “blindsided” by notification from the province of $25 million in cuts from programs giving extra support to students – a move she decried as “deplorable and despicable.”
“The era of reckless government spending is over. The era of reckless government cutting has begun.”
- Actor H. Thomson, as quoted in Ontario Legislative Highlights in December 1995. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…