Queen’s Park Highlights - October 24, 2014

Date posted: Friday, October 24, 2014 1:57 pm

Queen’s Park Highlights - October 24, 2014 

MPPs returned to Queen’s Park on Monday, October 20, 2014. This was a later return than usual, but the commencement of the session was postponed to reflect the four-week summer session in July following the provincial election. 

With 58 seats in a 107-seat Legislature, the Liberals have regained the majority government they were so intent on achieving throughout their previous term in office. The majority will make it easier for the Liberals to move business through the House and the various committees. It will remain to be seen to what extent the government is responsive to Opposition concerns and those of stakeholder organizations like ETFO. 

1. Queen’s Park affected by Shooting Incident on Parliament Hill 

The reconvening of the Legislature this week coincided with the tragic events in Ottawa that resulted in the death of a reservist from Hamilton and a lone gunman. On October 23, NDP MPP Paul Miller achieved all-party agreement to set up a book of condolences for Nathan Cirillo, the slain reservist, in the lobby of the Legislature. 

The events had a profound effect on the politicians and staff at Queen’s Park who were concerned about their federal counterparts and the community of Ottawa. As at the federal level, the shootings drew all three parties together in a rare occasion for non-partisanship and genuine, mutual concern. 

2.PC Education Critic calls for School Trustees to post Expenses Online 

On October 20, PC Education Critic Garfield Dunlop asked whether the Minister of Education would require school trustees to post their expenses online. 

Education Minister Liz Sandals replied that the decision to adopt such a policy was currently within the purview of school boards. She indicated she would support such a policy if school boards decided to adopt it. In her answer to the supplementary question, she stated:

“…we’re quite willing to look at that as an option in our accountability legislation going forward, but right now I have no legal authority to order that to happen. When a board has not used the authority which it does have, has not complied with the law, then we have directed them to come in line with the law.

3. NDP MPP calls for Government Intervention in School Closing 

On October 22, NDP MPP Wayne Gates called on Premier Kathleen Wynne to grant an appeal of the decision of the District School Board of Niagara to close an older public elementary school in Niagara-on-the-Lake. 

Premier Wynne replied:

“I don’t think that it is in the best interests of education in this province that every local decision be made at Queen’s Park. I think it’s very important that elected school trustees work with the community to make decisions about the best delivery of programs to the students in their constituencies. I know the Minister of Education will want to speak to this specific situation.”

When Mr. Gates continued, in a supplementary question, to challenge the government’s failure to intervene, Education Minister Liz Sandals stated:

“The community did ask the ministry to review the school accommodation process that went before the school closure. The authority that we have to review is to look at whether the prescribed procedure was followed. The prescribed procedure was followed, and I have no authority to override the decision of the local school board, which is the way it should be.”

4. Education Minister promotes Benefits of Full-day Kindergarten 

In response to a set-up question on full-day Kindergarten from Liberal backbench MPP Arthur Potts, Education Minister Liz Sandals reported that the government has spent $1.5 billion on implementing the program and an additional $1 billion in capital improvements to accommodate the Kindergarten expansion.

When asked by her caucus colleague to elaborate on the benefits of the program, theMinister stated:

“Ontario families who enrol a child in full-day kindergarten save up to $6,500 per child on child care costs. With the funding that I mentioned previously, we’ve built about 3,500 new kindergarten classrooms. We’ve got 3,800 additional teaching positions and 10,000 ECEs who are working with little children in full-day kindergarten. 

“The studies from Queen’s and McMaster have shown that students with two years of FDK have been found to have significant improvement in social competence development, language and cognitive development, communication skills and general knowledge development. This is a great program to give our children the best start at future success.”

5. PC Leadership Contender attacks Child Care Reforms

On October 20, PC MPP Lisa MacLeod accused the government of planning to eliminate 140,000 child care spaces through the policies in Bill 10, the Child Care Modernization Act, 2014. A number of the provisions in the bill are focused on increasing oversight for unlicensed child care. Ms. MacLeod asked: “Why do you want to make it more difficult for Ontario parents like me, who are trying to find affordable and accessible child care that is close to their homes?”

Education Minister Liz Sandals replied:

“I’m a little bit confused by the nature of the question, because I have absolutely no plan to eliminate child care spaces. The only way I can figure out how the member opposite might have reached this conclusion is if we eliminate illegal child care spaces, because what we are certainly doing is we have created a dedicated enforcement unit to look at unlicensed home child care spaces.”

In her supplementary question, Ms. MacLeod asked: “Why do you think you are better suited than me to make a child care decision for my child and every other child in this province?”

Education Minister Sandals replied:

“If you actually look at the Child Care Modernization Act, what you will find is that for However, we also believe that, to ensure the safety of children, we should be asking unlicensed providers to follow the same rules that licensed home care providers already include, which is to count their own children in the count of children being cared for those people who are licensed home child care providers, they will actually be able to increase the number of children that they serve…”


6. Ontario Ombudsman releases Report on Child Care 

On October 22, two days after MPP Lisa MacLeod raised concerns on behalf of unlicensed child care providers, the Ontario Ombudsman released Careless about Child Care, a report on his investigations regarding the informal sector. 

The investigation followed the deaths of four young children enrolled in unlicensed home child care locations over a seven-month period last year. The Ombudsman’s report did not assign blame in any specific case, but “centered on the system for responding to complaints and concerns about unlicensed child care operations.” The report did, however, conclude that the system for receiving and responding to such complaints and concerns about unlicensed child care “has suffered from entrenched organizational malaise for years.” The report also characterized the current legislation governing child care as extremely “outdated”. 

The government has introduced the Child Care Modernization Act, to update the governance of child care prior to the June election. The Ombudsman’s report acknowledges the legislation, which is currently being debated at the Second Reading stage, and the fact that the government is already moving on a number of the issues identified in the report. 

7. Asthma-Free Schools Private Member’s Bill referred to Committee for Review

During the July session of the Legislature, PC MPP Jeff Yurek reintroduced his private member’s bill, Ryan’s Law (Ensuring Asthma Friendly Schools), 2014, which proposes to require schools to have policy and guidelines in place to meet the needs of students with asthma. The bill is in response to the tragic death of student Ryan Gibbons two years ago. 

The new version of the bill responds to concerns raised by ETFO during Mr. Yurek’s consultations with stakeholders last year. Specifically, the amended bill requires school boards to have policy that governs older students’ ability to carry their own inhaler rather than it being kept in the school office, and for there to be guidelines for the storage of spare medication. 

On October 23, the bill was referred to the Standing Committee on Social Policy for review. 

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

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