Tuesday marked the end of a raucous first session for Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government.  The Legislature spent much of the session in a standstill, with issues from the previous session tying up Question Period and standing committees and ensuring that the only pieces of legislation to reach third reading were the Supply Act, 2013, and the 2013 budget.

Political action will continue through the summer with two by-elections to replace former Ministers Chris Bentley and Dwight Duncan, who retired following the selection of Kathleen Wynne at the Liberal leadership convention in January, as well as a third expected to replace former Premier Dalton McGuinty, who announced his retirement shortly after the budget passed third reading.

There is widespread speculation that the government will try to maneuver an election call in the fall.  One scenario has the government calling the by-elections in August for a September date and then rolling those into a general election for late September.  Ministers’ offices have also reportedly been told that to have all of their major initiatives in play by Labour Day.

Notwithstanding the threat of an election, the fall is already promising to be a very busy time for the minority government.  Several pieces of legislation sit on the order papers, the budget will need to be implemented, and questions around the way forward for Metrolinx’s GTA transit strategy remain largely unanswered.  A new approach may be required if the government plans on moving its agenda forward in the fall more than it did in the past session.

“I want to know how many of you thought we were going to be able to get here.”

—   Premier Kathleen Wynne, to reporters regarding the end of session

Legislation

Budget bill only legislation through third reading

The budget was the only bill passed into law during the Spring session, requiring negotiations between the government and the NDP and a condensed review by the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs in order to make it through committee in two days and be debated for the minimum number of required hours.

There remains a significant amount of government legislation on the order papers, including:

Bill 6, Great Lakes Protection Act, 2013

Introduced by Minister of the Environment Jim Bradley

Second reading debated March 6, 2013

Bill 11, Ambulance Amendment Act (Air Ambulances), 2013

Introduced by Health and Long-Term Care Minister Deb Matthews

Considered by the Standing Committee on General Government May 15, 2013

Bill 14, Non-profit Housing Co-operatives Statute Law Amendment Act, 2013

Introduced by Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Linda Jeffrey

Ordered referred to Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly May 14, 2013

Bill 21, Employment Standards Amendment Act (Leaves to Help Families), 2013

Introduced by Minister of Labour Yasir Naqvi

Second reading debated on June 5, 2013

Bill 30, Skin Cancer Prevention Act (Tanning Beds), 2013

Introduced by Health and Long-Term Care Minister Deb Matthews

Second reading debated on April 30, 2013

Bill 34, Highway Traffic Statute Law Amendment Act, 2013

Introduced by Minister of Transportation Glen Murray

Second reading debated April 16, 2013

Bill 36, Local Food Act, 2013

Introduce by Minister of Agriculture and Food Kathleen Wynne

Ordered referred to Standing Committee on Social Policy May 15, 2013

Bill 51, Security for Courts, Electricity Generating Facilities and Nuclear Facilities Act, 2013

Introduced by Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Madeleine Meilleur

Second reading debated April 24, 2013

Bill 55, Stronger Protection for Ontario Consumers Act, 2013

Introduced by Consumer Services Minister Tracy MacCharles

Second reading debated June 11, 2013

Bill 60, Wireless Services Agreements Act, 2013

Introduced by Consumer Services Minister Tracy MacCharles

Passed first reading April 29, 2013

Bill 78, Electronic Personal Health Information Protection Act, 2013

Introduced by Health and Long-Term Care Minister Deb Matthews

Passed first reading May 29, 2013

Bill 83, Protection of Public Participation Act, 2013

Introduced by Attorney General John Gerretsen

Passed first reading June 4, 2013

Bill 85, Companies Statute Law Amendment Act, 2013

Introduced by Consumer Services Minister Tracy MacCharles

Passed first reading June 5, 2013

Bill 91, Waste Reduction Act, 2013

Introduced by Minister of the Environment Jim Bradley

Passed first reading June 6, 2013

The implementation of the budget will likely result in legislation to reduce auto insurance rates, create an office of financial accountability, and enact other promises made as part of the government’s dual economic and fairness mandates.  While the NDP will likely be supportive of most of the new legislation, the third party has shown a willingness to stall or amend legislation when it does not meet their expectations.  The PC party will also draw out debate on most legislation, reducing the speed of the legislative process to a crawl.

Retirements/By-Elections

Farewell to former Premier McGuinty

Former Premier Dalton McGuinty made headlines when he announced shortly after the budget passed that he would be retiring from his Ottawa South seat on June 12, 2013, despite his commitment to sit until the next provincial election.  Media and opposition awareness of his absence from the Legislature – he has been in Question Period twice and appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice Policy once – has been high throughout the session.  The announcement drew attention from the passing of the budget, and will remove a continuing distraction for a government already dealing with a number of issues.  McGuinty joins his former Finance Minister Dwight Duncan and former Energy (among other portfolios) Minister Chris Bentley in retirement.  By-elections for Windsor-Tecumseh and London West will take place this summer, and Premier Wynne is expected to add McGuinty’s riding of Ottawa South to the list to avoid a late fall by-election drawing attention from her efforts in Queen’s Park.

Several other MPPs are suffering from health issues, including:

Harinder Takhar (Liberal, Mississauga-Erindale)

Takhar stepped down as Minister of Government Services due to undisclosed medical issues

He has not declared whether or not he will run in the next election

Margarett Best (Liberal, Scarborough-Guildwood)

Best has been absent from Queen’s Park since February 2013 with undisclosed health issues.

She has not declared whether or not she will run in the next election

Minister of Northern Development and Mines Mike Gravelle

Minister Gravelle is suffering from aggressive lymphoma

He has remained active in his duties as Minister and as an MPP

Summer/Next Session

A rare summer by-election

Premier Wynne has promised to call the two by-elections for Windsor-Tecumseh and London West after the budget has passed, and is expected to add Ottawa South to the list following the retirement of Dalton McGuinty.  While the dates have not officially been declared, candidates are being selected, and the party leaders have been making their rounds in the battleground ridings.  Windsor is expected to be a two-way race between the Liberals and the NDP, while London has been cast as a three-way race between the parties.  Ottawa is likely a safe seat for the Liberals, with McGuinty’s constituency manager John Fraser expected to run, but could face a challenge from PC candidate Matt Young.  Despite this, a strong campaign will be waged in all ridings between the three parties, who are looking for an edge in the minority Legislature.

Summer Committee Meetings

The Standing Committee on Justice Policy is scheduled to meet twice in June, four times in August, and once in September while the Legislature is in recess.  It has been focused exclusively on the gas plant cancellations and the issues that have derived from the two cancellations.  It is the only committee that will be meeting over the summer.

Conclusion

Given that most pundits and many MPPs didn’t expect the government to reach the summer break intact, the Spring session is an affirmation of Premier Wynne’s ability to lead a government through difficult times.  While the gas plant cancellations continue to stick to the government with recent revelations about the destruction of potentially sensitive emails by former staffers, Wynne has effectively ended the discussion on Ornge and chemotherapy drug dilution.  Her government, most notably, was able to pass a budget with the support of the NDP – all with far more tact and less drama than her predecessor.

Despite these successes, the challenges that wait in September will put the minority government to the test.  Both opposition parties have taken aggressive stances against the proposed transit funding formula, on which Premier Wynne has declared she is willing to go to an election.  Budget promises will need to be turned into laws, and one bill every five months will not be enough to move the government’s agenda forward.

The PCs have made their desire for an election and their unwillingness to support anything put forward by the government abundantly clear.  Whether their stance will pay off with the Ontario voters remains to be seen.  The NDP find themselves in a precarious position, caught between voting against a government which has adopted its policy positions (and the credit for their implementation) and supporting a party that  it has called corrupt, unaccountable, and working against the interests of Ontarians.  The internal struggles of the NDP will remain an item of interest for both of the other parties at Queen’s Park as well as the pundit class, as it could ultimately decide the timing of the next provincial election.