Queen's Park Highlights - November 28, 2014

Date posted: Friday, December 05, 2014 8:59 am

1. NDP Sudbury MPP resigns 

A week ago, former ETFO member Joe Cimino announced he was resigning as MPP for Sudbury. He cited family and health reasons for the decision. Mr. Cimino was first elected in the recent June 2014 elections. His resignation will necessitate a by-election in the riding of Sudbury within six months.

Speaker Dave Levac formally reported the vacancy in the Legislature on November 24. 

2. PC MPP calls on Government to disclose extent of planned School Closures 

On November 24, PC MPP Jim Wilson stated there were over 150 school accommodation reviews underway. Based on Education Minister Liz Sandal’s previous comments about 600 schools with non-viable student populations, he asked: “Minister, are you going to turn the lights off and the heating off in those 600 schools?”

Minister Sandals defended the school boards’ accommodation review process as “open and transparent” and reiterated the government’s commitment to education funding:

“We have provided $22.5 billion in operating funding to school boards this year. That’s up 56.5% since 2003. That’s an increase of over $4,200 for each and every student in the province of Ontario. We have dramatically increased funding. But it is also true that enrolment is declining, and boards need to manage their assets.”

In a supplementary question, Mr. Wilson asked why the government wasn’t working to keep schools with low enrolment in small and rural communities open by using the vacant school space for community services. Minister Sandals replied:

“Actually, I have significant funding in my budget to address community hubs. We’re currently working with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs to figure out just exactly what we need to do with school hubs and a number of issues.”

3. NDP Leader confronts Government on Cuts to Government Jobs 

On November 25, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath pointed to OPSEU President Smokey Thomas’s claim that the government’s austerity measures would involve the potential loss of 10,000 civil service jobs. She asked Premier Kathleen Wynne to respond to the charge. In answering, Premier Wynne rejected the claim and stated:

“What we’re doing is, we’re engaging in negotiations. We believe in the collective bargaining process, and we are going to make sure that we have a good ongoing relationship with our public sector partners. We are going to continue to constrain salaries and benefits because we know that that is important if we are to remain on our path to balance by 2017-18.

“...What is going on right now is that negotiations are beginning with OPSEU. Everything I know about negotiation is that it is much better for the discussion to be at the table. To bargain in public and to start to make overblown statements about what is or isn’t happening is not helpful.”

4. NDP MPP calls Government to Account over Record on Poverty Reduction 

On November 24, PC MPP Cindy Forster pointed to the release of the latest report on poverty rates by anti-poverty organization Campaign 2000. This year is the 25th anniversary of a federal resolution to reduce poverty rates by 25 per cent by the year 2000.

Ms. Forster reminded the Liberal government of its 2008 commitment to reduce poverty and asked why the provincial poverty rates were getting worse. Community and Social Services Minister Tracy McCharles replied:

“We have recommitted to reducing poverty among children and youth through targeted investments and supports ... We’ll be investing $15 billion in funding for children’s social services and more than $1 billion in the Ontario Child Benefit and indexing that to inflation, which happened with our budget...”

In answer to a supplementary question, Minister McCharles pointed to the expanded government support for the Student Nutrition Program that also forms part of the government’s poverty reduction strategy. In answer to a further question on the topic, the Minister stated:

“We are recommitting to our original target to reduce child poverty by 25%. We are increasing funding in the community homelessness initiative by $42 million for nearly a total of $294 million per year. We’re allocating $16 million over three years to create 1,000 new supportive housing spaces.”

Click here to read the latest Ontario Campaign 2000 report on provincial poverty rates.

5. NDP Leader calls Government to address Child Care Centre Closures 

On November 27, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath pointed to a series of communities where established child care centres were being forced to close and asked why the government was cutting funding. She stated: “Coronation Park [in Sarnia] is actually closing its doors tomorrow. That’s only one child care centre; over 18 communities are seeing the same kind of thing happening.” Education Minister Liz Sandals replied:

“The member opposite wants to know what’s going on this year with funding, so I would just draw to her attention that we increased funding by $90 million in 2012-13, $68 million in 2013-14, and $84 million in 2014-15—that would be this year, Speaker. We did in fact increase funding to child care by $84 million this year, and we’ll continue to do so in future years. Those are the facts.”

6. PC MPP asks about Government Plans to introduce Carbon Tax 

The Opposition parties are continually on guard for any indication that the provincial government may be introducing any form of new taxes or tax increases. On November 24,PC MPP Jim Wilson pointed to the new Quebec carbon tax of an “extra 1.9 cents on each litre of gasoline” that will also be applied, he stated, to natural gas and oil. He asked whether the government was planning to introduce a similar tax.

Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Glen Murray didn’t directly answer the question but pointed to the current challenges posed by climate change:

“The first thing we have to understand is, our planet right now is heading for a four-degrees Celsius mean temperature change in the last half of this century...

“We’re in three years of drought in California, which is going to drive food prices through the roof for working Ontario families. As you may know, as a result of climate change, Tim Hortons just raised its coffee prices 10 cents a cup. Climate change is making the world a more dangerous and expensive place, and we are still waiting for the opposition to explain what their policy on climate change is.”

In his answer to a supplementary question, Minister Murray insisted any new policy like a carbon tax would be introduced through such formal mechanisms as a budget, economic statement, or legislation.

7. Minister outlines Initiatives to address Domestic Violence

On November 25, the Legislature agreed through unanimous consent to allow MPPs to wear purple scarves in acknowledgment of the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The following day, in response to a backbench Liberal question, Minister responsible for Women’s Issues Helena Jaczekoutlined the government’s latest initiatives to address domestic violence:

“Last year’s total annual investment was over $145 million to the sector. Currently, Ontario funds 207 agencies designed to assist women experiencing violence. We fund agencies that provide crucial services like emergency shelter, counselling, and transition and housing supports.

“More recently, announced as part of the 2014 budget, our government is dedicating an additional $14.5 million over three years to support the hard-working front-line workers at these agencies that serve the violence against women sector.”

 

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

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