Queen's Park Highlights- February 19, 2016

Date posted: Monday, February 22, 2016 12:35 pm

MPPs returned to Queen’s Park on February 16 after a winter break that began when the Legislature adjourned on December 10. 

1. Finance Minister announces Date for presenting Provincial Budget 

Minister of Finance Charles Sousa announced that he will present the 2016 provincial Budget on February 25. Much of the major elements of the Budget have already been announced: proceeding with the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan, but delaying its implementation by a year to 2018; adopting a carbon-pricing policy; and expanding the sale of wine and beer in grocery stores. 

The Budget date was announced before the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs began writing its report from its pre-budget hearings, a fact that strengthens the perception that these legislative hearings have little influence on the Budget policies. The Minister of Finance did hold a separate set of hearings. 

2. NDP Leader questions Government on Job Creation

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath made the provincial economy a central focus in Question Period this week. On February 16, she pointed to the plight of many Ontarians who are struggling to find “decent work and good paycheques.” She accused the government of being more concerned about helping investors profit from the privatization of Hydro than addressing people’s priorities. Premier Kathleen Wynnereplied:

“I know that people are concerned about the future, which is exactly why we are making the investments that we are making. It is exactly why our plan is designed to make sure that we do everything in our power to work with businesses like Chrysler, to make sure that there are more jobs created in Ontario rather than fewer. It’s exactly why we are moving on retirement security so that people can look forward to a retirement that is secure. It is exactly why we are investing in people’s talent and skills. It is exactly why we’re investing in infrastructure that is creating 110,000 jobs a year right now and economic growth into the future.”

In answer to a supplementary question, the Premier stated:

“But the reality is that Ontario is leading growth in this country. The reality is that our unemployment rate is below the national average. There are 600,000 net new jobs that have been created since 2008-09, including more than 40,000 over the last couple of months in Ontario. The fact is that we are doing everything in our power—and it is working—to keep Ontario on that track, to keep Ontario as a leader.”

3. Opposition continues to raise Sudbury By-election Controversy 

On February 18, PC Leader Patrick Brown returned to one of the issues that predominated the previous spring and fall legislative sessions: the controversy regarding the alleged involvement of the Premier’s office in offering a sinecure to a former Liberal candidate as compensation for the party supporting Glenn Thibeault in last year’s by-election in the riding of Sudbury. Mr. Brown asked the Premier whether she would dismiss her deputy chief of staff Pat SorbaraPremier Kathleen Wynneprovided the same response she has in the past: that she is cooperating with the investigation and has responded to “hundreds of questions on this issue.” 

The Premier deferred Mr. Brown’s supplementary question on the issue to House Leader Nasir Naqvi who stated:

“…I think that common sense will dictate that the opposition will respect the convention of this House and not interfere in an ongoing investigation.

4. Government Announces establishment of Anti-Racism Directorate 

On February 16, the government announced that it will establish an Anti-Racism Directorate “to address racism in all forms – including individual, system and cultural.”Tourism, Culture and Sport Minister Michael Coteau will have responsibility for the directorate. In response to a question from Liberal backbench MPP Bas Balkissoon, the Minister explained its role:

“The Anti-Racism Directorate’s aim is to increase public education and awareness of racism, to create a more inclusive province; and to apply an anti-racism lens in developing, implementing and evaluating government policies, programs and services. This newly established directorate will achieve this by working with key partners from education, community-based organizations, different institutions and, of course, the Ontario Human Rights Commission.”

On February 17, NDP MPP Teresa Armstrong asked whether the upcoming Budget would include specific funding allocations for the new directorate. Minister Coteaureplied:

“We made the announcement yesterday. Give me a couple of weeks, at least, to come back. We’ll come back with a plan, and I think people will be quite happy with it.”

 

5. February proclaimed Black History Month 

On February 16, Tourism, Culture and Sport Minister Michael Coteau introduced Bill 159, the Black History Month Act, 2016. In an unusually fast-tracked process, the bill received first, second and third reading as well as Royal Assent all on the same day. The passing of the legislation coincided with the government’s announcement regarding the establishment of an Anti-Racism Directorate. 

The Act gives official recognition to celebrating Black History during February, a practice already in place in many jurisdictions. To read ETFO’s background information on Black History month, click here

6. Government appoints New Ombudsman 

On February 16, the government moved a motion to appoint Paul Dubé as the new provincial ombudsman effective April 1, 2016. Mr. Dubé replaces André Morin who served between 2005 and 2015. 

The jurisdiction of the Ontario Ombudsman was recently expanded through legislation to include school boards. The intent is for the Ombudsman to be a “last resort” in terms of individual complaints and to address more systemic issues that may arise through the complaints process. More information about the role can be found on the official websiteof the Ontario Ombudsman. 

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

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