Ontario’s 42nd Parliament, 1st Session: September 2018

Logo used for education and illustrative purposes. This is not an official publication and I am not an agent of the OLA.

The House met for 10 days in September. My previous coverage only takes us up to day 4, so let’s start over.

The biggest topic early in the month was the Better Local Government Act and its successor, “Bill 31, Efficient Local Government Act, 2018” which was materially the same but included the Notwithstanding Clause so it could be passed despite being ruled unconstitutional by the courts.

But then the appeal was upheld, and the original act was ruled constitutional. Bill 31 remains on the books, but is unlikely to see further debate. Toronto will have 25 wards this coming election. And Ontario’s government has shown its willingness to invoke constitutional privilege over such a matter.

But what else did the Legislative Assembly do this month besides start a constitutional challenge?

Bill 4, Cap and Trade Cancellation Act, 2018, saw two days of debate in September. It’s the same thing going in circles: The Opposition says it is better than nothing and The Government says it is worse than nothing. I’m with the Opposition on this: make polluting industries pay and use the collected money to improve lives for people.

Bill 6, Poet Laureate of Ontario Act (In Memory of Gord Downie), 2018, was referred to committee. I like the idea of having a Poet Laureate of Ontario to champion the arts in the province.

Bill 7, Fairness in Petroleum Products Pricing Act, 2018, was referred to committee. This is pretty much as expected as it’s adapting what other provinces do to regulate consumer gasoline prices and there’s broad political support for it. I fret a little about anything touching the carbon economy, but I haven’t read anything against it.

Bill 28, Alternative Land Use and Services Program for Agricultural Land Act, 2018, which allows farmers to use parts of their fields as snowbreaks, windbreaks, or other natural features passed second reading and is referred to committee for implementation. It appears to be the first step towards funding farmers for doing so in specific ways. Broad support across the aisles, except on the details of where this might lead. I struggle to understand what this is even about given it doesn’t have funding and it doesn’t actually seem to do anything.

Bill 32, Access to Natural Gas Act, 2018, was introduced. Gas distributors need to invest in infrastructure to deliver natural gas to consumers. Some consumers are cheaper to deliver to than others. This act allows the Energy Board to protect the more expensive-to-deliver-to consumers from paying too much for distribution by allowing the gas distributor to raise rates across its customer base instead of requiring the expensive-to-deliver-to consumers to bear the full weight of the cost of delivery themselves. I’m okay with this so long as it doesn’t give gas distributors the leeway to raise rates in excess of what is necessary to deliver natural gas to consumers.

Bill 33, Rea and Walter Act (Truss and Lightweight Construction Identification), 2018, was introduced. Volunteer firefighters have died when roofs have collapsed on them earlier than expected. This is because lightweight trusses can burn through faster than wood. The bill requires buildings with such faster-to-burn construction to be identified with decals so that firefighters know what they’re facing. This is following the example of other municipalities and state jurisdictions in North America so I guess it’s a good thing? I have no strong opinion on the matter.

Bill 34, Green Energy Repeal Act, 2018, was introduced. It repeals the entirety of the Green Energy Act, 2009 in paper, but keeps several provisions in spirit by moving them to other Acts. The repeal seems mostly concerned with taking all the parts of the Green Energy Act and putting them in different Acts. I’ll need to read the debates to figure out whether there’s anything being left out. If not, I have no problems with the reorganization.

Bill 35, Human Rights Code Amendment Act, 2018, was introduced. It adds “immigration status, genetic characteristics, police records and social conditions” to the list of protected classes. I am 100% behind this and I hope that the fact that it was introduced by a Liberal MPP (Nathalie Des Rosiers of Ottawa-Vanier) doesn’t torpedo it.

Bill 36, Cannabis Statute Law Amendment Act, 2018, was introduced. It sets out a licensing scheme for private cannabis retail stores, administered by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission, while simultaneously forbidding the Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation from opening retail stores. Online it will be the OCRC that holds the monopoly. The OCRC will also be the only supplier to the licensed private retailers. It also makes it so the Government appoints the board of the OCRC, not the LCBO board, and separates the LCBO and the OCRC more firmly. I worry this will diminish provincial income from cannabis sales. I also worry this could result is less adherence to regulations of sale, but given that these are basically the regulations under which tobacco is sold these days I’m not too torn up about that part.

Other miscellaneous governmental business:

  • The province put 220 new GO trains on the Lakeshore corridor. It doesn’t help me (on the Kitchener line) but I’m glad to see improved transit.
  • The government scrapped the Anti-Racism Directorate, the Ministry of International Trade, and the Poverty Reduction Strategy Office.
  • The Premier posed for a picture with a far-right Toronto mayoral candidate with ties to neo-Nazi groups. The Premier, after being pressed, denounced “anyone who wants to talk hate speech.”
  • The Minister of Finance released a report that Ontario has $338B of debt, and reclassified $15B of line items in previous budgets that had been improperly classified as assets.

All in all it seems to be more of the same. No one’s answering the others’ questions (except when the Government asks questions of itself). The House continues to fly into disorder whenever the Premier is asked a question.

It continues to be discouraging to keep up with the assembly month-after-month. But I plan on continuing, because I think it’s important.


Ontario’s 42nd Parliament, 1st Session: Midnight Sessions

Logo used for education and illustrative purposes. This is not an official publication and I am not an agent of the OLA.

Well that’s weird. Remember when I said that the House stood adjourned until Wednesday, September 19?

Remember when Mr. Stephen Lecce, the Deputy Government House Leader said it?

Remember when Acting Speaker Ms Jennifer K. French said it?

Well, apparently we were all wrong? Because the House had an afternoon session on Saturday September 15, and had a midnight session this morning, Monday, September 17 which will continue through the day today.

The Saturday session was a so-called “emergency session” inasmuch as it was called abruptly and against the stated calendar. There were a couple of points of order raised by the Opposition House Leader (on Standing Order 23 that maybe the House shouldn’t debate something currently before the courts, and on Standing Order 52 that a second Bill shouldn’t be proposed in the same Session if it is concerning the same subject matter as a previous Bill in that Session), and the Speaker said they’d take a look at it and make a decision later.

The house then adjourned until 1030 on Monday the 17th.

And at 12:01am the 17th, the House met again. Stop messing with my schedule, dagnabbit!

( The Speaker ruled that neither Standing Order 23 nor 52 apply in this case so debate about Bill 31 can proceed while Bill 5 is appealed in the courts (SO 23g), and Bill 31 isn’t out of order because it is sufficiently different from Bill 5 (SO 52). )

I’m getting a little frustrated. It is hard to be engaged in the process when they keep playing with the schedule.

Ontario’s 42nd Parliament, 1st Session: Better Local Government Act, the Superior Court of Ontario, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Notwithstanding Clause, and Bill 31, Efficient Local Government Act

Logo used for education and illustrative purposes. This is not an official publication and I am not an agent of the OLA.

Hoo, that’s a title. Let’s start with a timeline, shall we?

You’ll remember from my first post in this series a rather peculiar Bill that reached the floor of the Legislative Assembly on July 30: Bill 5, Better Local Government Act, 2018. It, amongst other things, cut the number of municipal wards in Toronto from 47 to 25 a little over two months before its municipal election.

It sustained heavy debate in August and, on the final day before recess, was carried through both its second and third readings (with division). There were immediate court challenges and Ontario Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba was asked to examine the legality of the Bill.

In Ontario, as in the rest of Canada and in the United States, we have multiple branches of government designed to keep each other in check. The legislative branch is allowed to change the laws, yes, but only if the change is constitutional according to the judicial branch.

In this case Justice Belobaba ruled that it was not constitutional. By changing the terms of the election while it was ongoing, it interfered with the candidates’ Right to Free Expression. By increasing the number of residents per councillor it impinged on residents’ effective representation in municipal politics (which the Justice argued was a form of Expression so infringed).

The Government announced its intent to file an appeal, as is expected. If you don’t appeal, you’ve given up, and no politician I know of would dare give the impression of giving up. But as the Toronto election was a mere month and a half thence, it was unlikely that a legal argument would occur early enough to matter for the election currently under way.

What wasn’t expected (by me at least) was that the Premier announced his intention to reconvene the Legislative Assembly two weeks early from its recess and use the “Notwithstanding Clause” of the Charter to assert the Province’s right to govern itself despite the provision of the Charter.

If you’re familiar with the politics of the United States, think of it like this: If a State Government wanted to ignore certain provisions of the Bill of Rights all it had to do was vote for itself to be allowed to do so. Certain rights (term limits, voter eligibility) would be inalienable, but certain other ones (fundamental freedoms of religion, expression, press, peaceful assembly…) could be voted away five years at a time. One of its intended uses was to operate in case the judicial branch overstepped its bounds, but to my knowledge that has never actually happened. (Well, the Government party alleges it has now, of course, but only history will tell if this argument has merit.)

It’s been 18 years since the last time a Province attempted to vote on a Bill that invokes the Notwithstanding clause (Alberta tried and failed to use it to prevent the recognition of same-sex marriage. Wrong side of history, folks.). And now Ontario has one on the books:

Bill 31, Efficient Local Government Act, 2018

This is identical to Bill 5, Better Local Government Act, 2018 except for a few twiddles. There’s some adjustment of related acts because there were things that were supposed to happen in August that now need to be redone with the new ward territories… but the big one is the inclusion of lines like “The amendments to this Act made by Schedule 1 to the Efficient Local Government Act, 2018 apply despite the Human Rights Code.”

You know it’s a good bill when you have to specify that it needs to happen despite Human Rights.


This is not suspending the Charter, this is using the hard-negotiated rights of the Provinces to enact a segment of the Charter to suspend parts of itself in the course of provincial business. It is legal.

But as we have seen and continue to see with people arguing that “It’s a free country, so I’m allowed to say <terrible thing to say>”, if your only argument is that it’s legal, you already know it isn’t right.

Chaos in the House:

In Ontario we have an adversarial Legislative Assembly. The Opposition is there to debate motions on their merits (or lack thereof), and generally try and cajole the Government to explain itself and maybe change its approach.

When the Premier called the Assembly back in on September 12… well, things became a little bit more than adversarial. The Premier and several MPPs (notably in the Hansard the member for Essex) broke decorum, the gallery began demonstrating and had to be cleared… and all that within the first fifteen minutes of Question Period:

After lunch, the MPPs themselves interrupted parliamentary proceeding and some  “warning and naming” happened. If the Speaker determines that a member cannot maintain decorum, that member is named by their name (not by their riding, ministerial title, or title (like “Premier” or “Leader of the Opposition”)) by the Speaker and must leave. Or be escorted out.

The first to be escorted out was the MPP for my riding of Waterloo, Ms. Catherine Fife. The second was the Leader of the Opposition, Ms. Horwath. Over a dozen MPPs were escorted from the house, and then the first reading of Bill 31 carried (on division).

The next day, September 13, after a duration of further debate on Bill 4, Cap and Trade Cancellation Act, question period started back in with the NDP MPPs back in the house:

This is a level of acrimony I didn’t expect to see, and the Speaker seems pretty tired of it all. It’s getting so bad that even the MPPs aren’t willing to put up with talking past each other anymore, the member for Mushkegowuk-James Bay filed a notice of dissatisfaction under Standing Order 38(a) about the Government’s answer to their previous question about school infrastructure.

And this is all without even debating further Bill 31 and its Notwithstanding business. This is since the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Green Party are working on a Reasoned Amendment to the Bill (sometimes used as a delaying tactic, mostly intended as a way for the non-Government members to suggest alternative Bill implementations), so debate on that to-be-written Amendment must happen first.

So what’s next? Well, the Legislative Assembly stands adjourned until next Wednesday the 19th. Why? Because of, and I kid you not, the International Plowing Match in Chatham-Kent.

So we won’t hear more about the Amendment until then, and we can’t hear more about Bill 31 and its use of the Notwithstanding clause until at least then…

…which means Toronto limps on in a quantum superposition. It had 45 wards, it was growing to 47, it was ordered to have 25, and the order was struck down.

I imagine voter turnout is going to be weak-to-middling when October 22 comes around, and there may even be grounds for a legal challenge of its validity given the confusion all this nonsense is causing…

But we’ll see.


Ontario’s 42nd Parliament, 1st Session: July 2018

Logo used for education and illustrative purposes. This is not an official publication and I am not an agent of the OLA.

In an effort to keep informed and politically active I’m watching the proceedings of our new provincial government here in Ontario. This is new for me. The closest I got to reading about governance was skimming a copy of Robert’s Rules of Order to help me chair meetings while I was President for three years of the anime club in University.

Yes, your nerd alert is working just fine.

Anyhoo, given my newness to all this please forgive as I belabour explanations or express confusion of long-held parliamentary weirdness. I’ll try to confine them to procedural notes so they aren’t too bothersome.

So, following the Ontario General Election in June, we ended up with the 42nd Parliament comprising a majority government of 76 Members of Provincial Parliament (MPPs) from the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario (PC), the official opposition of 40 MPPs of the New Democratic Party of Ontario (NDP), and eight independents: seven from the Liberal Party of Ontario and one from the Green Party of Ontario.

Procedural Note: How are the Liberal MPPs and the Green MPP at the same time members of political parties (and having amongst them the heads of their parties, no less) but listed as independent? Governing the Legislative Assembly of Ontario are rules and regulations including Standing Orders. Standing Orders govern Members of the House differently if they are part of a “recognized party” (defined as a caucus of eight or more members). Since neither the Liberals nor the Greens have eight members, they are not “recognized parties” and are thus independent. This means they have some restrictions placed on their participation in legislative business. For instance they don’t have a right to as many questions as they’d like to field during Question Period (current practice is to give one member one question and one supplemental question each period), and they have much less time to do things like debate the Throne Speech and make inaugural remarks and other Statements.

As the party with the most number of MPPs the PC Party formed the government. Since they have a majority and we have strong party discipline in Ontario, they will not be defeated by a lack of confidence and instead will (barring unusual events) remain in power for their full term of four years and will likely implement their party’s platform citing a strong mandate from the people.

Procedural Note: With 76 of 124 seats it would seem that the PC mandate is strong, but Ontario is a First Past the Post system of representative democracy (each district elects a member to represent that district using a plurality vote). This results in some disproportionality. The Ontario General Election in  2014 had a Gallagher Index of 12.46 (the Canadian Government’s 2016 Special Committee on Electoral Reform recommended the reform of the federal electoral system to choose a method with a typical index less than 5). The election this past June had a Gallagher Index of 17.75, so it isn’t exactly proportional, but the PC Party did receive the highest proportion of the votes.

Even before the 42nd Legislature sat on July 12, the new government took action. Controversially they hired for $1M an ex-head of the PC Party known for underfunding and then shutting down hospitals to oversee an advisory panel charged with helping improve healthcare province-wide. This has featured in many Statements of Members and Questions, which is why I bring it up.

Eventually on July 12 the new government gathered to sit in Queen’s Park in Toronto to start official business. There’s technically a first Bill read and passed by the legislature, the pro forma “Bill 1” that shows we don’t need the Crown in order to legislate, but things really start going with the Throne Speech.

In Monarchies the Throne Speech is the Monarch handing down the priorities for their government to focus on in the coming years. In a Constitutional Monarchy like Canada, the Throne Speech is written by the Cabinet Ministers of the Government and is just read by the representative of the Crown. This was particularly interesting as Ontario’s representative of the Crown, Lieutennant Governor the Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, is a staunch environmental conservationist (has been since the 80s) and she was given a speech to read that announced the end of carbon taxes and cap-and-trade without any particular replacement to keep polluting industries in check. This was commented upon by the Opposition.

The Throne Speech was just about what was expected from the Election. The priorities of the Government will be to: “reduce gas prices”, “lower your hydro bills”, “provide… tax relief to parents, small businesses and the working poor”, “scrapping the cap-and-trade carbon tax”, “make sure Ontario’s best interests are reflected in the NAFTA negotiations”, “reducing the regulatory burden”, “[call] a commission of inquiry into the financial practices of government”, “[perform] a thorough line-by-line audit of all government spending”, “return Ontario to a balanced budget”, “15,000 new long-term-care beds over the next five years and a historic new $3.8B investment in mental health and addictions”, “[replace] failed ideological experiments in the classroom with tried and true methods that work” (here meaning “discovery math” and the current sex-ed curriculum), “build a world-class transit system [in the Greater Toronto Area]”, “[cancelling] green energy contracts [imposed on rural municipalities]”, “freeing [police officers] from onerous restrictions that treat [them] as subjects of suspicion and scorn”, “expand the sale of beer and wine to convenience stores, grocery stores and big box stores”

Notable absence: Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.

Some of these priorities can be enacted through general Government business, but most of the big stuff will require legislation. And that’s where I expect to focus most of my time unless something from the Hansard (the parliamentary transcripts) sticks out.

So, Bill 1 was pro forma and we can ignore it.

Bill 2 is titled “Urgent Priorities Act, 2018” and is an omnibus Bill (a Bill that deals with more than one thing) of three parts:

1. “Hydro One Accountability Act, 2018” will require Hydro One reform and publish executive compensation amounts subject to the wills of the Treasury Board (which is now chaired by Peter Bethlenfalvy who sharp-eyed readers might remember as co-president of DBRS Ltd. when it decided to downgrade Ontario’s debt ratings in 2009). These provisions expire at the beginning of 2023 for some reason.

2. “White Pines Wind Project Termination Act, 2018” requires that the nine-turbine wind generation project in Prince Edward County be scrapped mid-construction. This’ll cost around $100M, and may result in lawsuits (despite clauses in the legislation that hope to curtail legal action).

3. “Back to Class Act (York University), 2018” appears to be standard back-to-work legislation for the teachers at York who have been striking since March.

Bill 2 received Royal Assent on July 25 (with division, meaning that not everyone was happy with this), so these things are happening. Schedule 1 is a big ol’ shrug from me… it will discourage Hydro One from being able to hire competent leadership to replace the ones that are being ousted, but I don’t really have a problem with the publication requirements. Honestly I think we’d be better served with a return to public ownership. Schedule 2 is a sad waste of money and will cost us in contractor trust (would you accept a contract knowing the last one was scrapped without consultation?) and in forwarding our green energy plans (we need something to replace the 18% of our electricity generated by burning gas/oil). Schedule 3 isn’t my circus, so I don’t have an opinion on it.

Bill 3 is titled “Compassionate Care Act, 2018” and is general government business instructing the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care to set out a framework for hospice care with reporting requirements. No members dissented the readings and it has been referred to committee for implementation.

Bill 4 is titled “Cap and Trade Cancellation Act, 2018” and is a straight-up repeal of “Climate Change Mitigation and Low-carbon Economy Act, 2016”. The only nod to environmental caution is that the government must now set new targets for greenhouse gas reduction, and must develop a plan to meet them. There are no timelines on those requirements. The outstanding cap and trade credits will be bought by the government at some cost. First reading was completed July 25 (with division).

Bill 5 is titled “Better Local Government Act, 2018” and messes with the wards of the City of Toronto and how the heads of councils of Regional Municipalities are selected: Muskoka, Niagara, Peel, and York will now be appointed. Durham, Halton, and Waterloo by general vote. This confuses me. Why mess with these things? Is Premier Ford still tied up in how he couldn’t win the Toronto City election? Why bother with this at all? First reading was completed July 30 (with division).

Bill 6 is titled “Poet Laureate of Ontario Act (In Memory of Gord Downie), 2018” and establishes the post, selection criteria, and responsibilities for a Poet Laureate of Ontario. First reading was July 30 (no division this time).

In addition to the big-ticket Bills, we also have Motions. They can be of the Government, or they can be of private Members.

The Government Motions of the month are fairly boring. Most are procedural (including the creation of Standing Committees), there’s one fast-forwarding the acceptance of Bill 2 by limiting debate and division (which may give political leverage later if these things blow up, which White Pines may do), and there’s one expressing the opinion of the House that it has a clear mandate of the people (grandstanding on the Party Platform).

Strangely of more interest are the Private Members’ Motions. Many of these are filed and ignored, some of them are passed. The ignored ones fell in three camps: there were a flurry of them asking that Bill 2 be paused until the extent of financial and legal liability under the bill might be assessed, which were all ignored. Bill 4 was also asked a few times to be sent back until it can be found in compliance with the Environmental Bill of Rights, 1993 (which provides many rights to citizens to challenge bills like Bill 4). We’ll see if any of those stick before Second Reading. Similarly, Bill 5 was challenged on the grounds of needing public consultation. To me this seems a weaker argument of challenge, but maybe the Opposition is building a case that the “Government For the People” really isn’t that interested in the people as much as they claim.

Of passed motions there were two: one from Mrs. Fee (PC of Kitchener South — Hespeler) expressing the opinion of the House that the Federal Government owes $200M related to the costs of illegal border crossers. (that choice of language is atrocious both morally and grammatically). The other was Jill Dunlop (PC of Simcoe North) moving that the Government of Ontario should “expedite the creation of sufficient skilled trades people to make skilled labour a competitive advantage for Ontario”, which carried without division (and I can see why as this is the reality we face).

The most circus-like aspect of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario is the Question Period where the Opposition is given an opportunity to call the Government into account, and the Government answers the questions by speechifying, reiterating talking points, and failing to answer the question. The Government also asks itself questions as an opportunity to do the same without having to think on its feet. All this grandstanding results in several standing ovations and lots of failure to keep to temperate language, remember to address comments through the Speaker, and maintain the decorum of the House. A recent illustration of this came on July 31 when the Speaker had to call a Recess early in Question Period. Relevant portion is 25:50 to 35:28:

At 27:57 the sound mix was adjusted so we could only hear the Speaker, but what happened (as the Speaker tells us at 34:43) is that something may have been said that caused general uproar in the House including the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition. The Speaker couldn’t get the House to order by asking so called a 5-min Recess (from 29:00 to 34:43). And from then on the Government refused to answer the Opposition’s questions under Standing Order 37(h) which simply states “A minister may, in his or her discretion, decline to answer any question.”

Reading of later answers by the Government paints that they heard a comment mocking the Member for Mississauga East–Cooksville (the one asking the question) from Gilles Bisson, the Official Opposition’s House Leader. Specifically I think the comment heard was to do with diversity or the Member’s Pakistani heritage since the Government’s House Leader keeps reiterating the Member’s ethnicity and the PC’s diversity of Members.

The Opposition continue on with Question Period gamely. Mr. Bisson denies the charge and as a point of order references Standing Order 23(h) and (i) which states you can’t make “allegations against another member” and impute “false or unavowed motives to another member”.

We’ll see if this continues in August 1st’s Question Period.

And that’s the extent of government business this month. The Opposition’s current points are extremist views are behind repealing the sex-ed curriculum, short-sightedness is behind Hydro One meddling, cronyism is behind everything, and the Premier’s insecurities are behind the municipal election meddling. The Government’s current points are respecting the taxpayer, respecting the ratepayer, Toronto needs provincial meddling to break its political deadlocks, cap-and-trade costs taxpayers, smaller government at all levels, and a little bit of gloating that they have a majority and the NDP doesn’t.

Some general governing, some truly annoying failure to answer questions, some truly peculiar nonsense, and just enough bad ideas to remind you why 60% of Ontarians voted against the Progressive Conservatives.