It’s Oktoberfest! You know, that German holiday about beer and lederhosen?
No. As many Germans will tell you it’s not a German thing as much as it is a Bavarian thing. It’s like saying kilts are a British thing (it’s a Scottish thing). Or that milk in bags is a Canadian thing (in Canada it’s an Eastern Canada thing).
In researching what the heck I was talking about when I was making this comparison at a recent team meeting, Alessio found a lovely study on the efficiency of milk bags as milk packaging in Ontario published by The Environment and Plastics Industry Council in 1997.
I highly recommend you skim it for its graphs and the study conclusions. The best parts for me are how it highlights that the consumption of milk (by volume) increased 22% from 1968 to 1995 while at the same time the amount (by mass) of solid waste produced by milk packaging decreased by almost 20%.
I also liked Table 8 which showed the recycling rates of the various packaging types that we’d need to reach in order to match the small amount (by mass) of solid waste generation of the (100% unrecycled) milk bags. (Interestingly, in my region you can recycle milk bags if you first rinse and dry them).
I guess what I’m trying to say about this is three-fold:
Don’t assume regional characteristics are national in your distributed team. Berliners might not look forward to Oktoberfest the way Münchner do, and it’s possible no one in the Vancouver office owns a milk jug or bag cutter.
Milk Bags are kinda neat, and now I feel a little proud about living in a part of the world where they’re common. I’d be a little more confident about this if the data wasn’t presented by the plastics industry, but I’ll take what I can get (and I’ll start recycling my milk bags).
Geez, my team can find data for _any topic_. What differences we have by being distributed around the world are eclipsed by how we’re universally a bunch of nerds.
The House met for 15 days in October and got some things done. Not much that I agree with, but that’s what I expect at this point. Let’s dive in to the bills, shall we?
Bill 4, Cap and Trade Cancellation Act, 2018, received Royal Assent on Hallowe’en. This means Ontario is without a carbon mitigation strategy or system. If you have opinions on what you think the new system should be, there is a consultation open now. I don’t expect to be listened to, but I can at least try. And in the meantime, at least Trudeau is impressing me with his commitment to climate change action by picking up the slack left by the provinces. (If only he hadn’t bought that stupid pipeline).
Bill 30, Fighting Back Against Handguns Act (Handgun Ammunition Sales), 2018, lost on Second Reading. This was the bill that would allow municipalities to forbid ammunition sales in their borders. Nothing of great value lost here, I think.
Bill 32, Access to Natural Gas Act, 2018, still in Second Reading debate. This is the regulatory framework to offset costs to reach expensive-to-reach homes with natural gas for heating by marginally increasing costs on all homes. It’s being debated, but I use that term lightly as it appears to mostly be a platform for grandstanding on particulars. Whatever.
Bill 33, Rea and Walter Act (Truss and Lightweight Construction Identification), 2018, now in committee. There’s broad support for identifying construction more susceptible to weakening in a fire using mechanisms already in use in several other jurisdictions. Fine by me.
Bill 34, Green Energy Repeal Act, 201, now in committee. This is a continuing removal of anything “green” passed by the previous government. It keeps several useful and helpful things, rolling them into other, larger acts. But it enacts barriers to renewable energy projects and generally loses a lot of the stuff that made it green. The Government says the changes are necessary to reduce regulatory burdens (in the face of a growing energy economy, especially in renewables? Bah.). I think it should be left alone, but with it already in committee it’ll be passed whenever the Government wants it to be, so I’d best make my peace with that now.
Bill 36, Cannabis Statute Law Amendment Act, 2018, received Royal Assent just in time for Legalization Day. This was a rushed piece of legislation that tore up the Liberal’s plan to run pot like the province runs alcohol (public stores, public education, public reach, public profits). Instead it replaced it with a plan to run pot like the province runs tobacco (private stores, public education, private reach, private profits). It’ll be fine, but it’s just such a wasted opportunity for a stream of public revenue.
Bill 37, Liability for Climate-Related Harms Act, 2018, was introduced and killed. This would have established liability for corporations found to be causing climate harms. Good in idea, a little vague in details. Shut down because of course the Government would shut down something applying restraints on enterprise.
Bill 38, Tax Fairness for Real Estate Professionals Act, 2018, went from First Reading through Second and into Committee. This allows Real Estate Agents to incorporate in the way that doctors aren’t allowed to anymore. Broad support for this legislation across the aisle, but I can’t see how this helps the province at all.
Bill 39, Accessible Parking and Towing Industry Review Committee Act, 2018, went from First Reading through Second and into Committee. Stands a committee to review accessible parking systems that are in use and are available. The committee will also look at training and licensing tow truck operators, and into protection of their customers. Seems like a good idea to me.
Bill 40, Human Rights Code Amendment Act (Genetic Characteristics), 2018, went from First Reading through Second and into Committee. Includes “Genetic Characteristics” as a protected class at the provincial level. Good.
Bill 41, Highway Traffic Amendment Act (Helmet Exemption for Sikh Motorcyclists), 2018, went from First Reading through Second and into Committee. Exempts Sikh from the requirement to wear motorcycle helmets (as those who observe the tradition of unshorn hair often wear turbans which make helmets impossible). I hope this doesn’t lead to increased mortality on our roads, but this is what tolerance demands.
Bill 42, Ending Discrimination in Automobile Insurance Act, 2018, received First Reading. This will prohibit automobile insurers from pricing differently based on your location.
Bill 44, Ending Automobile Insurance Discrimination in the Greater Toronto Area Act, 2018, also received First Reading. It is materially similar to Bill 42, but is about treating the GTA as one giant zone instead of permitting insurers to price differently. This bill was killed in November.
Bill 43, Freeing Highways 412 and 418 Act (Toll Highway Amendments), 2018, received First Reading. This prohibits the connector highways between the 407E toll highway and the 401 untolled highway from being toll highways. This is a bit wasteful as the 412 has already been built and has been operating as a toll highway since February 2017. Also, it may be already be too late to recoup any costs for the under-construction 418 to account for its changed designation. I’ve previously been in favour of roads being free for use, but tolls are an excellent means of internalizing costs of maintenance (and to the environment, if we chose) that otherwise would be external. And I’m offended by the pandering.
Bill 45, Child Care and Early Years Amendment Act (Not-for-Profit Corporations), 2018, received First Reading and failed Second in November. Forbade corporations from receiving public childcare funding unless they were not-for-profits. Killed because of course it was. Seemed like a reasonable requirement to me.
Bill 46, Terrorist Activities Sanctions Act, 2018, received First Reading. This is about forbidding anyone convicted of terrorism charges from being eligible for provincially-funded stuff (like welfare, health insurance…). It also marks their children as “is need of protection” (which means they’d likely be removed from the home). Seems legit so long as the definition of terrorism crimes in the Criminal Code of Canada is narrow enough and applied sparingly enough that we never falsely convict. (Yes, even if that means some terrorists can only be convicted of lesser charges)
Bill 47, Making Ontario Open for Business Act, 2018, received First and Second Reading. Basically undoes all of the good stuff workers had thanks to last year’s Bill 148 which finally, after two years of investigation and consultation, expanded protection to workers in Ontario. In addition, it applies sweeping restrictions to how unions can be formed, operate, and provide capable oversight of employers. I think this is blatant and foolish garbage that doesn’t belong in Ontario. We should be extending workers’ rights in this province. We should be improving protections and mandatory benefits. GAH.
Bill 48, Safe and Supportive Classrooms Act, 2018, received First Reading. It’s a bill that codifies what sexual abuse is and ensures any teacher so abusing a student will have their license revoked. Good. So long as it’s careful.
Bill 49, Charter Rights Transparency Act, 2018, received First Reading. It’s a bill that requires the Attorney General examine any Bill with a notwithstanding clause for any contravention of the Charter Rights granted to all Canadians. No way is this going to see Second Reading.
Bill 50, Cutting Red Tape for Motor Vehicle Dealers Act, 2018, received First Reading. It’s a bill that allows auto dealerships to get stuff online in addition to by mail. Good. Welcome to 2018.
Bill 51, Long-Term Care Homes Amendment Act (Preference for Veterans), 2018, received First Reading. As it says on the tin, it prefers veterans for placement in long-term care homes. This is fine by me. I’d prefer we adequately care for our veterans so that by the time they need long-term care they aren’t as much veterans as they are just Old Canadians like the rest of us will be. Y’know, instead of making our guilt in failing to do this manifest in ways like this kind of preferential treatment. Just a thought.
That’s about it for government business. I’ve likely missed out on entire scandals worth of nonsense by only looking at the Bills, but that’s about all I have the energy to do each month, so here we are.
The House met for 10 days in September. My previouscoverage 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.
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.
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:
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…
I’ve been lax in preparing this update as I had to travel for work in August and I wasn’t expecting anything of substance to happen until the Legislative Assembly reconvened around September 24.
I was wrong about that, but that’ll be a subject for a subsequent update. For now let’s focus on what the Ontario Legislative Assembly did in the two weeks (7 meeting days) it pursued its business in August.
We left off with the Government in a snit about who may have said what and the Opposition trying gamely to carry on but I found no one bothering to bring it up again on August 1st so I guess the matter must have been settled out of the chamber. So let’s talk about Bills.
Bills 6, 7, 8, 10, 12, and 13 have all stalled at First Reading. The Government didn’t move forward on the post of Poet Laureate, regulating gas prices, publishing large health care salaries, making firefighter training safer, closing an employment standards loophole for the auto sector, and imposing minimum standards of daily care for Long-Term Care Homes.
Bill 9 and 11 were referred to committee, so PTSD Awareness Day and regulations requiring that movable soccer goals be firmly attached to the ground should go ahead in a timely fashion, once committees have a chance to meet.
Also of marginal note are Bills 14 through 23, 25 through 27, and 29. All of these bills are about counting the invasive Zebra Mussel populations in Ontario waterways, handfuls of waterways in each bill.
The Second Reading hasn’t completed and the debate is ongoing. The terms of the debate seem to be:
Opposition: “Climate Change is real. Cap and Trade sucks, but it’s better than the nothing the Government aims to replace it with.”
Government: “We agree that Climate Change is real. Cap and Trade is worse than nothing since it grants large polluters free passes and harms people who drive.”
Despite the Speaker asking for the debate to adjourn after 6 and a half hours (!!) across all the days of debate, the PC Minister for Education Thompson asks that the debate continue.
Which is peculiar to me. If cap-and-trade is so bad, why aren’t they just ramming it through legislature without debate? They have a majority, they can just do it. I mean, look at the omnibus Bill 2 which was proposed and passed in a little over a week.
On the final day before recess, and a scant two months and one week before election day in Toronto, Bill 3 carried on division and received Royal Assent. This reduced the number of Toronto City Wards down from 47 to 25.
There was an immediate court challenge that attacked the bill on a couple of fronts. The first was that the previous law said no amendments or changes were to be made without public consultation (which in this case was not done). The NDP was quick to point out that the Government was quick to bring up lack of sufficient consultation in terms of the sex-ed curriculum (we’ll get there) to which the Government rejoined that the NDP was only whining because they stood to lose some councillors in the election. The second was that it infringed the Charter of Rights and Freedoms both for the Right to Free Expression of the candidates currently trying to be elected and for the Right to Representation of the electorate, whose individual votes suddenly decreased in weight.
Didn’t realize Toronto City Councillors had party affiliation. Interesting.
I’ll devote a whole post to the snafu that came out of this, but for now it’ll suffice to note the Government position that this will save money and make Toronto city governance more efficient, and NDP position was that it was a vindictive personal attack by the Premier and would have neither of those effects.
Establish a research commission to advise the government annually about how to adjust the rates of provincial financial assistance from the Ontario Works Act and ODSP based on the cost of living in different geographical regions of Ontario.
I like that, of members in the the commission, at least one must be or must have been receiving “basic financial assistnace” under OWA, and another must be or must have been receiving ODSP. I’d have gone for two of each, making “people who know what it’s like” a smooth four out of the nine spots… but I guess we want more space for economists in there, too. Seems like standard governmental business, so long as the geographical regions end up being broad enough that this can’t be used to funnel money away from or towards specific ridings.
First reading carried on August 9. I don’t expect too much motion on this too quickly, going by the speed of other Bills.
Allow owners of agricultural land to set aside parts of their land to lie fallow and return to a natural state, or to act as a windbreak or other natural feature.
Not sure why we need legislation to allow farmers to not farm their land. Maybe this way it doesn’t exempt them from some sort of tax benefit proportional to the number of acres of agricultural land they farm?
First reading carried on August 13. I don’t expect too much motion on this too quickly, going by the speed of other Bills.
Allows municipalities to prohibit sale or delivery of handgun ammunition within municipal limits.
Not sure whether this is a good idea. Prohibition can lead to bootlegging, if the supply is easy enough to come by. If this is supposed to reduce overall ammunition purchasing I’d have thought a better mechanism would be taxing the sale as a vice (like tobacco).
First reading carried on August 14.
Without needing a bill the Government through the Ministry of Education required the teaching of the 1998 Health Curriculum (partially revised in 2010) in all public and catholic elementary and middle schools starting this September.
I’ve read some of the reissued curriculum. It isn’t bad, but it doesn’t contain the word “consent”, and the mentions of the word “Internet” are mostly using it as an informational resource (like CDs and DVDs) with one mention of the dangers of being predated upon and one mention of privacy and security concerns. The solution to the dangers of the Internet in the curriculum is to always tell an adult “when you’re on the Internet”.
Because in the early 2000s it was possible to not be on the Internet all the time.
These aspects concern me, as does the invitation from the Government for parents to snitch on teachers found to be teaching the 2015 curriculum instead. I was going to talk to my daughter’s teacher about how he was going to handle the situation but I couldn’t ask him to expose himself to the risk of other parents tattling on him to the Government.
I should remember to tell him that I would bring up any concerns I have with material with him first and with the principal second, to hopefully put his mind at ease about us… and I’ll see if I can get him to promise to teach the kids the meaning of consent. Y’know, in English class. Words have meanings.
There’s a lot of other motions and business. Mr. Piccini wants more people to elect to be organ donors, Mr. Kramp wants a monument for the CAF’s sacrifices in the war in Afghanistan, Mr. Walker wants Ontario to use the Modified International Symbol of Access for new accessible parking spaces, Miss Taylor wants the Ontario basic income pilots to be uncancelled, …
It’s really surprising how many words get output by the Assembly each day it is in session, but how little actually gets done. Committees haven’t had a chance to more than determine their organization, let alone scribe proper copies of the bills referred to them.
All the time seems spent talking past each other in a large wood-panelled room, and the Government doing what they want at the speed they want it done. Which makes me question why I’m bothering to look into this. Why am I writing these thousands of words and spending time reading and watching and becoming ever more frustrated over matters over which my last influence was exerted in June?
I should look into what step comes after “Get informed”.
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.
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).
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.