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Queen's Park Highlights - June 2, 2017

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The Legislature adjourned for the summer break on June 1.  MPPs return to Queen's Park on September 11. A few MPPs will be participating in legislative committees during the summer intersession.

1. Sault Ste. Marie By-election Win for Conservatives

The June 1st by-election to replace former Sault Ste. Marie MPP David Orazietti resulted in a win for PC candidate Romano Ross, who won with 40.4 per cent of the vote. The win represents the fifth PC by-election win since Patrick Brown became party leader.  NDP candidate Joe Krmpotich placed second with 32.9 per cent of the vote, followed by Liberal candidate Debbie Amaroso, who won 23.0 per cent of the vote. The northern riding win represents an important gain for the PCs, a big disappointment for the NDP, which had hoped to regain the seat, and a significant setback for the Liberals.

Standings in the Legislature are as follows: 

  • Liberals: 57
  • PCs: 29
  • NDP: 20
  • Independent: 1

2. PC MPP points to Local ETFO Survey of Classroom Violence

On May 29, PC Associate Education Critic Lorne Coe pointed to a survey on classroom violence conducted by the ETFO Durham Teacher Local and reported:

"…30% of teachers have said they have received no training related to workplace violence. Most alarmingly, 55% of teachers say they have been pressured by their employer not to report violent incidents."

Education Minister Mitzie Hunter replied that the government was working with "all our education partners on this issue of violence in schools." On the issue of training, she stated:

"This is an area that we are focused on. In fact, we have done training with the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario for professional development training for teachers. Our two-year curriculum for all new teachers includes aspects of classroom management to ensure that our schools are safe places for all education workers and all students."

3. Government announces proposed Labour Reforms

On June 1, the government introduced Bill 148, Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017, its response to the Changing Workplaces Review final report, released on May 23.

In announcing the bill, the government highlighted that it proposes to:

  • Raise Ontario's general minimum wage to $14 per hour on January 1, 2018, and then to $15 on January 1, 2019, followed by annual increases at the rate of inflation;
  • Mandate equal pay for part-time, temporary, casual and seasonal employees doing the same job as full-time employees; and equal pay for temporary help agency employees doing the same job as permanent employees at the agencies' client companies;
  • Expand personal emergency leave to include an across-the-board minimum of at least two paid days per year for all workers;
  • Bring Ontario's vacation time into line with the national average by ensuring at least three weeks' vacation after five years with the same employer; and
  • Make employee scheduling fairer, including requiring employees to be paid for three hours of work if their shift is cancelled within 48 hours of its scheduled start time.

The Ministry of Labour also indicated it "will hire up to 175 more employment standards officers and launch a program to educate both employees and small and medium-sized businesses about their rights and obligations under the Employment Standards Act."

The minimum wage issue was outside the parameters of the Changing Workplaces Review, but the Liberals clearly want to ensure that it isn't an issue that leaves them offside come the provincial election.

If enacted, Bill 148 would make it easier to unionize unorganized workers. It proposes providing for card-based certification for some sectors, but does not propose universal automatic card-based certification, as called for by the NDP.  The bill also includes a proposal to provide two days of emergency leave that victims of sexual assault and domestic violence can access. The two days falls short of the 10 days proposed in NDP MPP Peggy Sattler's private member's bill, Bill 26, Domestic and Sexual Violence Workplace Leave, Accommodation and Training Act, 2016.

The bill was referred to Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs for review.

4. Children and Youth Services Minister defends Provincial Autism Program

On May 30, PC MPP Gila Martow referred to a vote in the House of Commons on a Conservative motion to increase support for families and children with autism. She asked whether the Ontario government was pressing Liberal MPs "to support the Canadian autism partnership." In response, Children and Youth Services Minister Michael Coteau outlined the new provincial autism program that takes effect in June and will be fully implemented in 2018:

"This plan is going to create 16,000 new spaces here in Ontario over five years and increase the amount of spaces for ABA during the transition period. It's going to ensure that we have a wait-list of six months or less. We're also going to increase diagnosis; we've opened up five new treatment centres. We're going to make sure that if a young person here in the province of Ontario needs any type of autism treatment, regardless of age, they will get the treatment that they deserve."

In response to a supplementary question, Minister Coteau stated that when PC Leader Patrick Brown was an MP, he voted against the creation of a national autism program.

5. Opposition Parties continue Attack on Government's Energy Policies

On May 29, PC Leader Patrick Brown referred to the Financial Accountability Officer's report on the government's Fair Hydro Plan to subsidize Hydro rates. The report, released on May 24, estimates the cost to taxpayers to be $21 billion and as high as $93 billion over a 29-year period if the province is in a deficit situation and required to fund the cost through debt. MPP Brown asked:

"…is this unfair hydro scheme really about burdening Ontario with another $93 billion of debt, or is it about helping the Liberal Party?"

Premier Kathleen Wynne replied:

"Mr. Speaker, over the last 14 years, we've invested in the electricity system in this province so that we have a clean, renewable system. That had been degraded by the very party that the member opposite is a member of.

"Quite frankly, government after government had not made the investments that needed to be made, so electricity prices were kept artificially low and the system was degraded.

"We had to make these investments. We're spreading the cost of those investments over a longer period of time. That's fair today, and it's fair tomorrow."

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called the insert in hydro bills that explains the Fair Hydro Plan "shameless self-promotion at the expense of everyday families in Ontario." She also accused the insert of not telling consumers the whole story and failing to explain the long-term costs of the plan. Premier Wynne responded:

"We've been very clear with the people of Ontario and we'll continue to be clear with the people of Ontario that we understand that the investments that we've made in the electricity system in this province had a cost associated with them, that that cost is being borne right now by this generation, that this is an asset that is going to last for many, many years and that we are going to spread the costs over a longer period. Like a mortgage, Mr. Speaker, there is a cost associated with doing that. We've been very clear from the moment we brought out this plan."

For more information, check the website of the Ontario Legislature.

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