Queen's Park Highlights - May 1, 2015

Date posted: Monday, May 04, 2015 9:22 am

MPPs returned to Queen’s Park on Monday and began the week with a moment of silence for the victims of the earthquake in Nepal over the weekend. The Opposition, in particular the NDP, focused considerable attention this week on the government’s plan to privatize a major portion of Hydro One ownership. 

1. PC MPP asks Premier to intervene in ETFO Member’s Request for Unpaid Leave 

On April 29, PC MPP Randy Pettapiece asked Premier Kathleen Wynne to intervene in a case where the Avon Maitland District School Board denied a request from ETFO member Rick Boon to accompany his aged father to Holland where he was invited to participate as a veteran in the 70th anniversary celebrations of Canadian soldiers’ involvement in the liberation of the Netherlands during World War II. He pointed to a petition, pressing the board to change its decision, signed by over 2,000 people. 

Premier Wynne replied:

“I don’t know the details. What I do know is that this is a school board decision. It has to be made at the level of the school board. We need to let that play out at the local school board. But I have to say that, just on the face of it, as I looked at the story on the front of the Sun, as I ran past, it seemed to me that it’s something that should be able to be worked out at the school board level, and I hope it can be.”

In answer to a supplementary question, the Premier stated:

“What I will say to the member opposite is that I will have a conversation with the Minister of Education about that, and I will ask her what she knows, if anything, about the situation. But the fact is that the decision does need to be made at the school board level.”

According to media reports, the board did not reverse its decision and the veteran’s grandson accompanied him on the trip.

2. PC Education Critic calls on Government to take Action on Teacher Strikes 

On April 27 and 28, PC Education Critic Garfield Dunlop asked the government to intervene in the OSSTF local strikes to ensure that students get back to class. He attributed the labour disruption to “years of fiscal mismanagement.” In response,Education Minister Liz Sandals reiterated the government’s commitment to negotiated collective agreements and indicated that

“…we continue to work with the mediator and we continue to work at negotiating at the central table, because we understand that the only way we’re ever going to resolve this is to get local agreements.”

The fact that OSSTF has initiated local strikes is causing confusion and consternation at Queen’s Park. On April 28, when Mr. Dunlop reiterated his request for the government to step in and end the local secondary strikes, Education Minister Sandals retorted with a lesson about the new bargaining legislation:

“The School Boards Collective Bargaining Act describes quite clearly that some issues are to be determined at the central table—generally, issues around money and provincial policy—and that other issues are to be determined at the local table.

“The School Boards Collective Bargaining Act also makes it very clear that there can be a central strike on issues that are being negotiated at the central table and there can be a local strike on issues that are being negotiated at a local table. 

“The locals in seven boards requested local conciliation, and they are local strikes. That’s what the law says…”

3. NDP Education Critic blames Teacher Labour Disputes on Government Austerity 

On April 29, NDP Education Critic Lisa Gretzky stated:

“While the Premier continues to skirt responsibility for the mess her government’s cuts are creating in our education system, New Democrats have been standing with teachers in Pickering, Oshawa, Sudbury and Manitoulin. Families and education workers across Ontario are outraged by Liberal cuts to education, forced school closures and broken promises to keep class sizes manageable.”

She asked Premier Kathleen Wynne when the government would take accountability for its “education austerity.” The Premier replied:

“I know that having a strong collective bargaining process is necessary. That’s why, when I became the leader, we worked with the union leadership, with the federations to set up a new process. They had input into that process, because we had actually learned from a process that had not worked as well as it should have.

“That process is taking its course. It’s tough. It is tough bargaining; there is no doubt about that, because we have said and we know that there is no new money to put into compensation.”

4. NDP Education Critic calls Government to Account over Spending Cuts 

On April 27, NDP Education Critic Lisa Gretzky pointed to the provincial Budget document that indicates government’s savings of $248 million in education expenditures. She challenged the government to abandon its narrative that education funding “is stable.” Education Minister Sandals replied:

“I’d be quite happy to explain what happened, because in fact there is an impact of having declining enrolment. That means that we need to spend less money for more students. What that’s actually allowed us to do is to reinvest in the students who are there. As I’ve said hundreds of times, I think, we don’t believe in investing in empty space. We believe in investing in the students who are actually there.”

5. NDP Leader asks Premier to “pull the Plug” on Plans to privatize Hydro One 

Throughout the week, the NDP’s primary focus in Question period was the government’s plan to partially privatize Hydro One. On April 27, NDP Leader Andrea Horwathdescribed the plan as a “fire sale” and asked if the government would cancel the plan.Premier Kathleen Wynne stated:

“Selling off the 407 was a fire sale. That was the model we looked at and we said, “We’re not doing that. There’s no way we’re going to sell an asset and rob the people of Ontario of any future value. There’s no way we’re going to undervalue an asset and sell it off.”

“We’re doing it in a very, very thoughtful way. We understand that the investment in infrastructure—roads and bridges—and transit is critical. If we don’t do that, then we will not have the thriving economy we know we’re all capable of. We’ve put those protections in place...”

In answer to a supplementary question, the Premier stated:

“I talked to people over the weekend and I said, yes, we are going to open the ownership, broaden the ownership. That means we’re going to sell off in tranches. We’re going to put out a 15% sale to start out with to see what the market is. We’re going to do this in a very, very careful way. No single entity will own more than 10%. The government will retain control of 40%, and there will be protection of the regulation of the electricity system and the regulation of price controls—those will remain in place.”

When Ms. Horwath returned to the issue through a subsequent question, the Premierstated:

“I understand that the leader of the third party is going to be doing a tour of the province, and she’s going to be talking in communities about the plan that we have put on the table. I hope that in those same speeches she explains how she would build transit and how she would build transportation infrastructure without making the decisions that we are making, because so far, she ran on the plan that we ran on, and she hasn’t put any alternatives forward. So I look forward to her explanation.”

6. Ontario Pension Plan becomes Law 

On April 29, the Legislature passed Bill 56, the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan Act, 2015, which will establish a provincial pension plan for employees who don’t have an employer-based plan. The plan will be in effect beginning January 2017.

The bill passed with Liberal and NDP support. PC MPPs in the Legislature voted against the bill.

7. Legislature passes Three Private Member’s Bills

It isn’t very often that Private Member’s Bills make it all the way to Third Reading, especially during a majority government because the Opposition parties have less leverage. On April 30, however, MPPs unanimously passed three bills:

  • The first was Bill 17, the Protecting Child Performers Act, 2015, legislation sponsored by NDP MPP Paul Miller. The bill ostensibly closes a loophole in provincial child labour law whose provisions do not extend to the entertainment industry. Specifically, it will provide limitations on hours of work, establish break periods and guidelines for tutoring, as well as ensure children have access to snacks and to play or resting areas.
  • The second was Bill 20, Ryan’s Law (Ensuring Asthma Friendly Schools), 2015, legislation sponsored by PC MPP Jeff Yurek. The bill, which is a response to a tragic death of Ryan Gibbons, at school, requires school boards to establish and maintain a policy on asthma and requires schools to have an individual plan for each child who has asthma. Students with asthma will also be allowed to carry their personal inhalers, a policy that might have prevented the death of Ryan. 

    On the day the bill passed, the Ministry of Education notified school boards of the new policy and provided resources to support it.
  • The third was Bill 28, Hispanic Heritage Month Act, 2015, legislation sponsored byLiberal MPP Cristina Martins. The bill establishes October as Hispanic Heritage Month.


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

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