Ontario Legislature Returns
MPPs returned to Queen’s Park yesterday as the Ontario Legislature resumed after a five-month break. Over the next six weeks, the Ford government will be ushering in legislation focused on the Premier’s core promises.
Finance Minister Rod Phillips, who was moved to the portfolio in June, will deliver the Fall Economic Statement (FES) on November 6th, which is not expected to deviate from the government’s plan to balance the budget by 2023. The FES is expected to focus on measures that will improve Ontario’s competitiveness and overall productivity. The Minister has signaled a focus on addressing labour shortages by investing in skilled trades and outcomes-based studies to better target where the province already invests in job training and education. Expected are some positive measures for Ontario’s tertiary industries like mining as well as retail measures directed at consumers. During a speech to the Canadian Club of Toronto on October 10th, Minister Phillips indicated the province is on track to beat its previous 2019-20 deficit projection of $10.3-billion.
Change of Tone and Pace
After a raucous first year, House Leader Paul Calandra said the PC caucus will take a much more conciliatory tone this fall. This includes moving away from partisan squabbles and regular standing ovations which had become a fixture in the legislature.
While Premier Ford and his team have previously moved items quickly through the legislature, the six-week time frame of the fall session means only a few pieces of legislation will go through before the winter break.
Red Tape Reduction
Yesterday, Associate Small Business Minister Prabmeet Sakaria introduced the Better for People, Smarter for Business Act, 2019. The wide-ranging legislation is aimed at eliminating unnecessary red-tape and regulatory burdens for businesses. The legislation is a cornerstone of Premier Ford’s “Open for Business” approach.
The Ford government has committed to introducing two red tape reduction bills per year for the remainder of its mandate. We expect to see another bill in the first half of 2020.
After reaching a deal with CUPE’s 55,000 education workers earlier this month, Education Minister Stephen Lecce is working on negotiations with Ontario’s three main teachers’ unions: the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), The Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO).
The Minister is taking a measured approach to the negotiations and has already indicated the government has offered to lower the average high school class size projections from 28 to 25.
The agreement with CUPE avoided a strike and was seen to be a huge win for Minister Lecce and the Ford government. While all three unions are looking at strike votes, keeping kids in their classrooms is a top priority for the government. The results of the negotiations with the teachers’ unions will have a large impact on how the government is viewed by the public moving forward.
Championing a United Canada and Working with Prime Minister Trudeau
The re-election of Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party last week means Premier Ford will need to work together with the Prime Minister to move large projects forward. This includes the Ontario Line that Prime Minister Trudeau committed to funding during the election campaign.
Premier Ford has pledged to champion a united Canada after the federal election results revealed strong lines of division across the country. Ford met with New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs over the weekend to begin those discussions. This pledge, along with his strong ties to Premier Kenney in Alberta and Premier Moe in Saskatchewan, could make Premier Ford useful to the Prime Minister as he looks to engage with provinces that completely shut his party out on October 21.
The Carbon Tax
The Ontario government is continuing to move ahead with its challenge of the federal carbon tax. According to Attorney General Doug Downey, the government will move ahead with its Supreme Court appeal. The Ontario Court of Appeal ruled in June that Ottawa’s Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act is constitutional, as did Saskatchewan’s top court. Both provinces have appealed the respective decisions to the Supreme Court of Canada.
The Ontario government will announce the first Ontario Health Teams at the end of November as part of the government’s ambitious transformation of the system. During the next months, we expect to see a continued transition to create Ontario Health, the new super-agency which will ensure consistency of care across Ontario.
The government of Ontario will move forward in legislation on an agreement reached with the province’s pharmacists that will see savings for the province of nearly $438 million over the course of five years. The changes to pharmacy provide the government with a larger portion of the dispensing fees that pharmacists currently receive on drug claims. The province will move forward on a flat fee for prescriptions received in long-term care homes, rather than paying for individual prescriptions for patients that receive multiple orders. The largest portion of the savings will be derived from the elimination of the $2 co-payment that long-term care residents currently pay on each prescription.
The official opposition will continue to focus its attention on both healthcare and education cuts, as well as continued pressure for the Ford government to end its fight against the carbon tax. The opposition was not emboldened by the disappointing election results for their federal counterparts, despite NDP leader Andrea Horwath joining her federal counterpart on hustings throughout the campaign in Ontario.
Upon returning to the legislature today, labour unions organized a protest objecting to cuts and changes enacted by the government. Well- funded and well-organized campaigns from labour will bolster the opposition voice leading up to both the teachers’ negotiations and a potential move to limit wage increases to an average of one per cent a year for three years for the broader public sector later this month.
The Ontario Liberal caucus is now down to five members after Marie-France Lalonde won her seat in the federal election last week as the Liberal Party of Canada member of parliament for Orléans, the same riding she held provincially. The party will select a new leader on March 7, 2020.