The Ontario Legislature recently resumed for its spring session.  So what was the most hotly debated issue?
Bueller? Bueller?
Apart from the political dweebs (myself and my Public Affairs colleagues included) and the comparatively few immersed in the world that is Queen’s Park, I’m sure not too many would have the answer.
The government’s management of air ambulance organization Ornge accounted for one third of the debate last week, and continues to dominate this week. The issue is of course political gold for the opposition, as it gives them opportunity to chastise the government and present them as being unaccountable.
With that said, one issue has been comparatively absent from the debate.   Remember that guy that introduced that report a couple of weeks ago?  I think his name was Don Draper – no wait, Don Drummond.  Remember that highly anticipated, extensively pontificated-upon, life-altering report everyone was waiting for him to release?
The Drummond report and its many recommendations have been raised only a few times in debate –  it doesn’t carry same political weight as a “scandal”. Granted, the debate will certainly erupt once the budget is announced as the government is expected to lay out which recommendations they will accept/reject.  PC Leader Tim Hudak has already begun posturing for the budget by calling on Premier McGuinty to keep his commitment to lower the corporate tax rate (a wedge issue that may impact PC and NDP support for the budget).
But this brings to bear an important question – is the “issue” that dominates Question Period what is top of mind for Ontarians? The legislative chamber is often times like a parallel reality. The issues discussed are important, and the spending of public dollars should certainly be a priority, but issues at Queen’s Park aren’t necessarily the same things that resonate with Ontarians.  It’s the issues that grab headlines, make catchy press releases and fit in with party lines and “gotcha” politics that dominate.
Another issue that has received scant attention in Queen’s Park debate is the government’s decision not to list (under general benefit) the prescription painkiller OxyNeo, which is a tamper resistant form of OxyContin, which will no longer be available in Ontario starting March 1. This issue, which has dominated the media, has only been mentioned once since the House resumed.   Amongst the coverage has been the issue of the great spike in opioid-related deaths since OxyContin’s addition to the provincial drug formulary. While many recognize it is as a positive step towards combating the widespread abuse of prescription painkillers, many are concerned that it will have severe consequences for addicts who may enter withdrawal or turn to new drugs if there is no support system.  It also has the potential to impede access to those who are legitimate users of the drug for chronic pain. This decision affects thousands of individuals across the province, particularly as Ontario’s opioid use remains the highest in the country. Perhaps this could become an issue for members who saw the impact of addictions through the all-party Select Committee on Mental Health and Addictions.
It’s quite commonplace to blame low voter turnouts on political apathy.  But could it be that the apathy is a result of the fact that top of mind issues are not being discussed, or are being relegated to the backbenches?  Maybe it is partially our role as GR consultants to help bring these issues to bear on behalf of stakeholders.
We commonly hear that “Question Period is not answer period”. But maybe we need to begin questioning the questions themselves.

Authored by: Natalie Tutunzis