Queen's Park Highlights - November 20, 2015

Date posted: Monday, November 23, 2015 10:49 am

 

MPPs returned to Queen’s Park following a one-week break to allow them to spend Remembrance Day in their riding. On November 19, following a request from NDP MPP Cheri Di Novo, MPPs acknowledged another day of remembrance – Trans Day of Remembrance, which recognizes those who have been killed or died as a result of anti-trans hatred and prejudice. 

The Minister of Finance has announced that he will be tabling his fall economic statement on November 26. The statement serves as mid-year check-in on the state of the Ontario economy. The provincial budget is usually presented in late March or in April. 

1. PC Leader characterizes Hydro Sell-off as Fire Sale 

On November 16, PC Leader Patrick Brown pointed to the quick sale of Hydro One shares once they were available on the market and characterized the process as a fire sale “that will be on the backs of Ontario’s families who can barely afford their energy bills as it is.” He accused the government of using Hydro One privatization to pay for its eHealth, gas, and Ornge “scandals.” Premier Kathleen Wynne replied:

“My understanding is that the Leader of the Opposition didn’t think we were going to be able to realize the amount of money we need for infrastructure. Now there’s too much money coming in.

“Let me just say that we are very pleased that there was a successful IPO for Hydro One that has generated almost $3 billion so far. That’s a very good thing. I’m pleased to see that the IPO was well received by markets. It was well received because people see the value of the company.

“What we know is that the benefits from this process will be many for the people of Ontario. The motivation, as the Leader of the Opposition knows quite well, is that we need to invest in infrastructure in this province if we are going to be globally competitive; there is no question about that…”

2. NDP Leader sounds Alarm over Potential Government Privatization Plans 

On November 16, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath pointed to the growing opposition to the government’s Hydro One privatization policy and stated that the premier was “listening to her unelected banker instead of Ontario families.” Ms. Horwath also stated that Ed Clark, the premier’s economic advisor, talked about linking hospitals, universities and colleges “more closely with the private sector [and] turn them into exporters.” She asked:

“Can the Premier tell Ontarians, is this Liberal code for saying she’s going to be privatizing and selling off health and education services in Ontario?”

Premier Kathleen Wynne replied:

“The leader of the third party, I think, has issues with creating partnerships outside of our borders. That’s really what Ed Clark was talking about. I would say to the leader of the third party that we have developed huge expertise in health and education within Ontario…”

3. PC Leader confronts Government on Autism Treatment Waiting Lists

On November 18, PC Leader Patrick Brown asked whether the government was “proud” of the fact that there were 16,000 children on wait-lists for autism treatment.Premier Kathleen Wynne replied that the government had worked with autism associations and had established a “coordinated multi-interdisciplinary care circle for families and children with autism.” She added:

“We put more money into IBI treatment and ABA treatment, which allowed thousands of education workers in schools to be trained. So, yes, I’m very proud of that work. Is there more to be done? Absolutely.”

In response, Mr. Brown challenged the premier’s funding claim and stated that “in fact we now know that 1,000 fewer kids received ABA funding over the past two years.”Premier Wynne replied:

“I’m sorry; that is just not the case. There was no funding for ABA. We put funding in place for ABA and we trained people around the province in schools. So here’s the issue—…This is a very complex issue. It is not enough just to look at a wait-list, Mr. Speaker. What we have to do is to make sure that children are getting IBI when it will benefit them the most. We have to make sure that schools have the ability to take kids into their system. That’s why we train so many education workers in ABA. That’s why we continue to work to make sure that children get the service that they need. There’s more to be done. We acknowledge that.”

4. Labour Minister provides Update on Changing Workplaces Consultations 

In response to a question from a backbench Liberal MPP, Labour Minister Kevin Flynn provided an update on the work of the provincial Changing Workplaces consultations launched last spring. Minister Flynn reports that the two special advisors leading the consultations have travelled across the province and received close to 300 written submissions. The interim report will be issued in February with a final report due later in the year. He indicated that the advisors are still receiving written submissions. 

The ETFO submission is posted on the Federation website. 

5. NDP MPP asks for Government Plan for Syrian Refugees 

On November 19, NDP MPP Jagmeet Singh acknowledged the positive statements made by the government regarding accepting Syrian refugees and that the government had established an ad hoc group of ministers to address the settlement process. He went on to ask for the actual government plan. Mr. Singh stated:

“We need an actual plan with respect to affordable housing to ensure that refugees are housed. We need an actual plan to ensure that there are the health services so that people are adequately taken care of. And we need to ensure that there are language support services. 

“In addition, we’ve heard today from a press conference that there is a growing backlash against Islamophobia and there’s a growing backlash against community members who will be coming in against the refugees. We need a provincial strategy to ensure that this is responded to with strong language, that we support refugees and that we have a security plan in place.”

Health Minister Eric Hoskins replied:

“I think the member opposite realizes that we have yet to get the specific details in terms of the numbers of refugees who will be coming to Ontario, as well as where and when—the timetable. 

“Given that we expect in the coming days to receive more detailed information, we are working hard in a co-ordinated way, not just across government, but with civil society and our many, many partners. Whether it’s in the education system, housing, settlement agencies that have tremendous expertise in this area, or the health care system, I’m quite frankly amazed at the enthusiasm and confidence that all of these sectors have. We have the capacity and we’ll get the job done.”

6. NDP calls Government to Account over Food Bank Report 

On November 18, 2015, NDP MPP Sarah Campbell pointed to the Hunger Count 2015report issued by Food Banks Canada, which indicates that food bank usage in Ontario has increased more than 14 per cent since 2008 and that 48.6 per cent on Ontario food banks are reporting an increase in use. “More appalling still,” stated Ms. Campbell, “nearly 34% of food bank users are children.” Premier Kathleen Wynne responded by stating: “There are 50,000 fewer children in poverty today because of the Ontario Child Benefit. We know there’s more to be done, and we are continuing to take action.” 

On November 19, NDP MPP Cindy Forster pointed to a new report from the Ontario Common Front, entitled Backslide: Labour Force Restructuring, Austerity and Widening Inequality in Ontario and drew attention to the report’s findings related to employment levels, social programs, income inequality, and wait times for social housing, child care, and long-term care. She asked: “When will this government accept responsibility for its policies and priorities that have left Ontario’s most vulnerable behind?” In response,Minister Responsible for Poverty Reduction Deb Matthews stated:

“I am enormously proud of the work that we have done so far to address issues of poverty in this province. There is absolutely more to do, and that’s why we, by legislation, have an ongoing commitment to poverty reduction. 

“I do want to remind the House and Ontarians that since the recession, we’ve created 590,600 jobs. The vast majority of those are full-time, and 77% are in industries that have above-average wages. 

“We’ve indexed the minimum wage; we’ve raised it from $6.85 to $11.25. It’s the highest of any province in the country. 

“We are looking at and taking the precarious employment issue very seriously, and that’s why our Minister of Labour is leading the Changing Workplaces Review. “Since 2003, social service spending has increased…”

In answer to a supplementary question, Minister Matthews continued with her list of government anti-poverty measures:

“We introduced the Ontario Child Benefit. It has gone from zero to $1,336 per child per year. Our child care funding has almost doubled. We’ve introduced full-day kindergarten so that four- and five-year-olds get that education, saving families $6,500 a year on child care costs. We’ve increased per student funding. We’re investing more in financial aid. 

“This government has done more on poverty reduction work than any government has ever done before. We are committed and remain committed. We will do more, but we must take pride in the work that we have done.”

 

7. PC MPP introduces “Smoke-Free” Schools Bill 

On November 16, PC MPP Todd Smith introduced Bill 139, the Smoke Free Schools Act, 2015, a private member’s bill that proposes to amend existing legislation to require the government to establish a public education program about the health risks of tobacco use, prohibit the sale of tobacco in schools, and permit the government to share the proceeds of forfeited illegal tobacco sales with police forces that engage in investigating the illegal sale of tobacco.

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

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