Queen's Park Highlights - April 17, 2015

Date posted: Tuesday, April 21, 2015 9:32 am

1. PC Education Critic asks Education Minister to “get Serious about Negotiations” 

On April 16, PC Education Critic Garfield Dunlop pointed to the looming OSSTF strike in Durham, accused the government of being responsible through its “mismanagement”, and asked what the Liberals were doing to prevent a strike. In responding, Education Minister Liz Sandals stated that OSSTF had “suspended their participation,” not walked away from the talks. In answer to a supplementary question, the minister emphasized her commitment to a negotiated settlement:

“Well, the first thing I would say to the member opposite, and to everyone in the province, is that I continue to believe that what we need are negotiated settlements. We have nine central tables. Discussions are currently ongoing at eight of those central tables. I fully anticipate that we will have discussions ongoing at nine of those central tables when we get over this “suspension,” and that we will work very hard to negotiate collective agreements. And we will negotiate them at the table, because everything I’ve learned about collective bargaining over the years tells me that when you negotiate in the media, negotiations fail. 

“So our goal is to get to the table and to negotiate settlements, because negotiating is the way we deliver programs for students.”

2. NDP MPP says Provincial Government responsible for Teacher Layoffs 

On April 13, NDP MPP Jennifer French pointed to news that the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board had issued 118 layoff notices to contract teachers. She said the government had handed the teachers the pink slips. She asked: “…if the Premier isn’t making cuts to education, how does she explain taking 118 teachers out of the classroom?” Deputy Premier Deb Matthews responded by referring to the NDP MPPs who were former school trustees and pointing out the record of when they voted to close schools. 

Ms. French replied that as a former teacher, “I’m pleased to say that I know first-hand just how squeezed our schools already are. I also know that we should be giving our students a leg up and not trying to balance the budget on their backs.” She asked whether the Premier would stay true to her word and stop cutting and gutting our education system.” 

The Deputy Premier refuted the accusation of funding cuts:

“In fact, the funding in the last school year was $22.5 billion. The funding this year is $22.5 billion. It doesn’t sound like a cut to me. The funding is stable. 

“In fact, we’ve done some really interesting things this year. We’ve actually doubled the funding for school renewal projects. That’s for that major repair of the roof, fixing the leaky window, replacing the boiler. Last year, there was $250 million. This year, there’s $500 million so that boards can—boards have been telling me for ages that there’s a backlog. We’re going to fix that backlog.”

3. NDP MPPs raise School Closure Issue 

On April 14, NDP MPPs Taras Natyshak and Lisa Gretzy referred to recent community meetings on school closures in their region. Ms. Gretzy accused the government of failing to take a “proactive” approach to the creation of community hubs. In her response, Education Minister Liz Sandals returned to citing examples of whenMs. Gretzy had voted in favour of closing schools when she was a trustee. TheMinister concluded by stating: “What she’s failing to recognize is that, in fact, we have put in the budget a $750-million school consolidation fund to help local boards do exactly what she’s asking: create community hubs.” 

4. NDP attacks Government over Proposal to Privatize Hydro One 

On April 16, the government announced two new initiatives in one news release: the expansion of beer sales to grocery stores and the partial privatization of Hydro One. The policies are both part of a report prepared by the Premier’s Advisory Council on Government Assets headed by Ed Clark, former chief executive officer of TD Bank Group.

Both Opposition parties made the Hydro One proposals a priority issue during Question Period this week. On April 16, just prior to the release of the Clark Report, PC Acting Premier Jim Wilson asked whether the proceeds from the partial sale of Hydro One would be used to pay off the utility’s $27 billion stranded debt. Government House Leader Yasir Naqvi replied that “it would not be wise to pre-empt what’s in the report.” 

The most vociferous opposition to the privatization plan has come from the NDP benches. On April 13, Ms. Horwath asked why the Liberals thought holding a “fire sale” of Hydro One was a good idea. Finance Minister Charles Sousa replied:

“The member opposite, in her own platform, during the election made reference to the very things that we’re talking about right now. She based her projections on the ability for us to maximize the value of our assets, to reinvest and repurpose those very issues so that we can afford the things that matter to Ontarians like transit and infrastructure, and ensure that we actually gain even greater value from those assets. That is what Mr. Clark and the advisory team are doing in looking at those opportunities…”

On April 14, Acting Premier Deb Matthews cast the NDP as becoming “the party of the status quo”:

“They don’t want to change; they don’t want to build for tomorrow’s economy. They are rooted in the past. I have to say that they have opposed changes to the LCBO, opposed changes to the Beer Store, opposed changes…When they oppose any ways to fund transit, they are opposing infrastructure investment. You cannot have it both ways; if you want to build it, you have to pay for it.”

On April 15, Premier Kathleen Wynne responded to Ms. Horwath’s accusation that the Liberals were making a “sharp right turn” through their hydro policy by pointing her finger at the NDP’s attempt to reposition itself on the political spectrum:

“I completely understand why the leader of the third party would want to get into an ideological debate right now, because it’s necessary for her to reposition herself as a progressive. She lost that brand completely when she decided not to support a budget that was going to invest in the people and the infrastructure of this province. 

“Having not governed ideologically, I have never suggested that ideology or polling is the way that I would govern. I made practical decisions, and we put those into our budget and we put those into our platform. At this point, what I will say to the leader of the third party is that we’re sticking to those decisions that we made. We’re sticking to those practical solutions to the problems that are confronting us as an economy and as a province right now.”

5. Official Opposition opposes Government’s Plan for Carbon Cap and Trade Plan 

On April 13, the government announced it was planning to move forward, in a partnership with the province of Quebec, to establish a cap and trade policy for carbon emissions. In its news release, the government stated: “The government will reinvest the money raised through cap and trade in a transparent way back into projects that reduce greenhouse gas pollution and help businesses remain competitive. 

In response, PC Acting Leader Jim stated the policy was in effect a carbon tax:

“This scheme isn’t about reducing greenhouse gas emissions; it’s about taking more money from the taxpayers to fund this government’s spending addiction. It’s pretty simple: When businesses pay more, consumers pay more. By imposing this tax on businesses, you will drive up the cost of everything in this province. It’s a tax on everything.”

Responding for the government, Deputy Premier Deb Matthews stated:

“Climate change is already happening, and we are already paying the price for climate change. The record rain in Toronto in 2013 cost almost $1 billion. The ice storm in 2013 cost $200 million in insurance costs. Experts are predicting that the cost of climate change will grow dramatically over the next number of years if we don’t take action.

In answer to a supplementary question, Minister Matthews said:

“We believe we have a responsibility to take action—to take action now. We’ve set our path. We will be going with a cap-and-trade approach, in concert with the province of Quebec, with the province of British Columbia. That’s 75% of Canadians who will be operating under a cap-and-trade approach to reduce carbon emissions.”

On April 14, in answer to a question on the same issue from PC MPP Lisa Thompson, Minister Matthews stated:

“It’s becoming clear that the pro-carbon party is the best friend carbon ever had.

“Speaker, what you must recognize and what we all must recognize is that we believe in the principle that the polluter should pay. We know that when we add a cost to carbon, businesses will reduce their emissions because it makes sense for them to do it. Why would we not reward businesses that take action to reduce emissions? That is at the heart of this.”

 

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

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