Queen's Park Highlights - June 5, 2015

Date posted: Monday, June 08, 2015 7:25 am


The Legislature adjourned on June 4. MPPs return to Queen’s Park on September 14, 2015. There will be a few legislative committees meeting during the summer months. The government’s plans for partial privatization of Hydro One and the education sector labour disputes continued to be the Opposition parties’ main focus this week. 

1. PC Education Critic asks Education Minister to “Get Serious” about Bargaining 

On June 1, PC Education Critic Garfield Dunlop asked Education Minister Liz Sandals “when will you actually get serious about the non-bargaining that’s taking place and the turmoil that is building in the education system?” Minister Sandals replied:

“As I’ve mentioned many times, we actually have nine central tables, and just because bargaining isn’t happening at one in a particular week doesn’t mean that bargaining isn’t happening at another table in a particular week. Central bargaining is ongoing. We are gradually working towards resolution on a number of issues. I am certainly committed to being at the table over the next three months, and I would hope that everyone would be there.”

On June 2, Mr. Dunlop asked whether, if there is no real progress in negotiations over the summer, would she be “prepared to bring the House back to take action in August?”

Minister Sandals retorted that the MPP was suggesting the government impose a settlement on the striking employees:

“That was fascinating, because what I think I just heard was a request for us to impose by legislation a collective agreement, and I absolutely reject that. We believe in negotiated collective agreements…: As I have said repeatedly, we believe that the way to arrive at good collective agreements is to negotiate them. That’s exactly what I will be doing over the next three months.”

2. NDP Education Critic presses Government on Impact of Bargaining Strips 
Throughout the week, NDP Education Critic Lisa Gretzky questioned the government on the impact of the OPSBA proposals affecting local agreements and mentioned other strips. Her main focus has been the implications for class size caps in OSSTF agreements that were profiled during the recent local strikes. 

On June 1, Ms. Gretzky asked whether the government would allow “class sizes to increase this fall, yes or no?” Education Minister Liz Sandals replied that the government wasn’t changing its class size funding guidelines:

“…If you were to look at the details of the funding model for next year, you would find that the class size generators in our grants are exactly the same next year as they are this year. I’m not sure why the member thinks that we are trying to change class sizes. That’s not something that we are trying to do…”

3. Minister distances Government from OPSBA Contract Strips 

On June 2, NDP Education Critic Lisa Gretzky returned to the class size cap issue. In response, Education Minister Sandals replied that there were three parties at the central table and that comments about class size have come from the employer organization at the table, not the government:

“I think it’s important to make clear that at the central table there are actually three parties. There’s the union representing the workers; there is the school board association representing the boards, the employers; and there is the government, the crown. And what I think you will find, if you check the record, is that I said that the government did not have class size caps on the table. I think what you would also find, if you checked the record of Mr. Barrett, the president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, is that, as they have said, they do have that. So what I said was 100% accurate.”

This appears to be the first time that the Minister has publicly distanced the government from the OPSBA proposals.

4. NDP Critic points to Government lack of Respect for Education Workers’ Professionalism 

On June 4, NDP Education Critic Lisa Gretzky pursued the class size issue in her question for the day, but in a supplementary question she stated: “Not only have the Premier and government thrown our schools into chaos because of more than a decade of chronic underfunding, they have also shown zero respect for education workers, their professionalism or their work environment.” 

Education Minister Liz Sandals interpreted the question as an attempt to interfere with the bargaining process:

“You know, I’m really not going to take a lecture here from the party whose only education platform in the 2014 election was, “Let’s take $600 million out of the spending on education and health care,” and whose position just last week was, “Let the teachers go back again,” 10 days after we ended one strike because it was deemed to be unlawful. They voted for the teachers to go back out on strike again instead of getting kids back in the classroom. That’s their record in education. “What I would say is the same thing I said to my critic for the official opposition…The critic for the third party is not part of the negotiating process. I’m not negotiating with her.”

5. Education Minister outlines Government Position on Joint French Public/Catholic School 

On June 2, on behalf of a Hamilton-area French Catholic education lobby group at Queen’s Park that day, PC MPP Gila Martow asked the government when it would respond to the requests for a new French Catholic school in the community. Education Minister Liz Sandals responded by outlining the history of Ontario’s financial support for French-language education. In answer to a supplementary question, the Minister stated that the community group had failed to present a “good business case” for a new school and outlined the government’s position regarding a joint public-Catholic school:

“What we have done, however, is we have offered $25.9 million to build a joint French school for both public and Catholic students in Hamilton. That would be a grade 7 to 12 school. The French public board has accepted the offer; the French Catholic board has not. However, our offer remains on the table that we would love to build a new joint French-language school for public and Catholic. 

“We have models all over the province where we have French boards working together, English boards working together, French and English boards working together. We know this model works.”

6. MPPs acknowledge Importance of Truth and Reconciliation Report 

On June 3, the regular business of the Legislature was put aside to allow MPPs from all three parties to speak to the importance of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report on the history and impact of residential schools for First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. Here are few excerpts from the statements:

Premier Kathleen Wynne:

“The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has offered the province of Ontario and all Canadians an opportunity to renew our relationship with First Nation, Métis and Inuit people of this country, and has challenged us to renew our commitment to live together on this land, based on principles of trust, mutual respect and shared benefits. Working with our First Nation, Métis and Inuit partners is a challenge that our province has accepted, but it is work that is far from complete.”

“…We all have a responsibility to work towards reconciliation. Each one of us must ask what that reconciliation means in our own lives: in our work, in our families, in our places of worship, in our churches and in our broader communities.”

Acting PC Leader Jim Wilson:

 

“With the release of the report and its 94 recommendations yesterday, I must say that it provides a strikingly sad glimpse into a part of our collective history as Ontarians and as Canadians.”

“…Just as the legacy of the residential schools spans generations, so too must the subsequent education of future generations. I’m pleased to see the government including that in the school curriculum.

“It is our hope that our collective attitude has changed in this country and that greater understanding of the lives and traditions of our aboriginal peoples will continue by building trust and contribute to the healing process.

“I was proud in 2008 when Stephen Harper made the historic apology, on behalf of all Canadians, in which the federal government recognized that the great harm caused by Indian residential schools had no place in Canadian society. 

“I’m also proud that Canada is one of the very few countries in the world where treaty rights are enshrined in our Constitution.”

“…Mr. Speaker, the PC caucus believes that the report is another step along the path to promoting reconciliation between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians, and we look forward to continuing the work it will take to bring forgiveness, healing and true reconciliation to all.”

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath:

“The findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission demonstrate more than simply a historic wrong. They demonstrate an ongoing failure to live up to our responsibilities to care for every person in our province. There are First Nations communities in Ontario that still rely on diesel generation for electricity, that lack access to clean drinking water, proper education, proper health care and good-paying jobs. It is unacceptable that there are people living in Third World conditions in a province as wealthy as ours, Speaker.”

“…It is incumbent upon all of us not to allow this report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to gather dust somewhere on a shelf. This report should be seen as a call to action. It should drive us to recommit to building a stronger relationship—as equals—with First Nations governments and First Nations peoples. We owe it to all of those who suffered and continue to suffer. We owe it to them to continue to work to build a better future together with our First Nations partners—a future based on mutual respect, equality and truth.”

7. Government announces Plans for Electoral Reform and Changes to Third-Party Advertising 

On June 4, the government introduced Bill 115, the Electoral Boundaries Act, 2015. The bill proposes to update the provincial ridings to align with the new federal ridings and boundaries. The bill, if adopted, would add 15 ridings to southern Ontario, in recognition of population growth, and maintain the existing 11 northern Ontario ridings.

In announcing the bill, the government also indicated it would be introducing a number of other policy initiatives, including moving the fixed election date from the fall to the spring, establishing a voter registration process that would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to be registered prior to their reaching the eligible voting age of 18, and “strengthening rules on election-related third-party advertising.”

There is much media interest in the announcement regarding third-party advertising, but no details are available as yet. While the Liberals are reluctant to make changes, the government is under intense pressure from the Tory party because of the negative anti-Tory advertising sponsored by various union groups and organizations, including ETFO.Greg Essensa, executive director of Elections Ontario, has also weighed in on the issue. 

8. Legislature establishes Select Committee on Election Administrative Process 

On June 4, Liberal MPP Bas Balkissoon moved a motion calling for the establishment of a select committee of the Legislative Assembly to investigate the electoral administrative process. The motion was adopted.

The committee’s mandate will include reviewing the quality and integrity of the voters’ list, the voter identification process, a third-party review and complaints process, and the record-keeping process for challenged ballots and voters.

9. Legislature adopts Bill banning Conversion Therapy for Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity 

On June 4, NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo’s private member bill, Bill 77, the Affirming Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Act, 2015, passed Third Reading as amended by the Standing Committee on Justice Policy. The bill will result in “conversion therapy,” designed to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, no longer being an insured service in the province. It also bans health care professionals from providing conversion therapy to anyone under the age of 18.

10. Rainbow Flag to Fly at Ontario Legislature during Pride Week 

On June 2, MPPs from all three parties voted in support of a motion calling on the Ontario Legislature to fly the rainbow flag from June 22 to June 28, 2015 in recognition of Pride Week.

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

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