Auditor general report lights up Queen’s Park before the holidays
The annual report from the auditor general is a December tradition, gracing Queen’s Park just before the MPPs head home for a holiday break. Just as consistently, the annual report makes headlines about government waste and mistakes. This year’s report on Wednesday from Bonnie Lysyk was no exception. (TVO.org broke down some of the key points from the report.) Thursday’s question period was predictably a tough one for the government, with the opposition parties excoriating the Liberals for high energy prices and the lack of Hydro One oversight, as well as problems in child-protection services and home care for seniors.
Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne, for her part, thanked the auditor general for her report and pointed to the one and only bright spot for the government: more than 70 per cent of the recommendations from last year have either been implemented or are in the process of being implemented.
McMeekin opts not to give other cities a land transfer tax
Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Ted McMeekin told the legislature this week that despite requests from the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and the Ontario Good Roads Association, the provincial government won’t extend the kind of taxation powers Toronto currently has to other cities. In 2006 Toronto was given more control in recognition of the fiscal burdens it bears that other cities don’t — namely large public housing and transit obligations. Toronto used that leverage to adopt a municipal land transfer tax to complement a pre-existing provincial one.
The Progressive Conservatives called McMeekin’s move a victory, with MPP Steve Clark saying “It’s frustrating the government didn’t take it off the table when I first asked them to. But I’m proud to have stood up with our Ontario PC caucus to support the realtors, homebuilders, municipal leaders and homebuyers across the province who spoke out so loudly against the municipal land transfer tax.”
Notably, Toronto city manager Peter Wallace (formerly the province’s chief public servant) told a city committee this week there’s a downside to all the money the municipal land transfer tax has brought in for the province’s largest and hottest housing market: it’s left the city reliant on unsustainable money from the building boom and exposed to a housing downturn.
Opposition split on Bruce nuclear refurbishment
With Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli announcing a 50-year deal to refurbish the Bruce nuclear power plant, the opposition parties are divided in their opinions on the plan. (TVO.org broke down the major points of the deal.) Tory MPP John Yakabuski welcomed the announcement, calling it good news for consumers.
“Based on what we’re paying for other sources, this is very affordable,” Yakabuski told reporters. “Moving forward, having an agreement that places the risk on the provider is a positive step.” The Tories have traditionally supported nuclear power as an alternative, in part, to the renewable energy programs supported by the Liberal government.
Not so the New Democrats, whose energy critic Peter Tabuns cautioned Ontarians still don’t know the full costs associated with the Bruce deal.
“It appears the government learned nothing from the auditor general … we need an Ontario Energy Board hearing on this,” said Tabuns. “Based on the short briefings we’ve had, it’s not enough to tell … we have to be able to test the evidence in a full hearing.”
CFL consequences come to Queen’s Park
The defeat of the Ottawa Redblacks at the hands of the Edmonton Eskimos in the 2015 Grey Cup had consequences in the legislature. On Tuesday, Premier Kathleen Wynne was granted unanimous consent to honour her wager with her Alberta counterpart by wearing an Eskimos jersey and acknowledging Edmonton’s victory in a speech.
“Alberta Premier Rachel Notley told me that, really, to honour our wager, all I really needed to say is that Alberta is awesome, Edmonton is awesome and that they have an awesome football team,” Wynne told the house. “She might have said that they have an awesome premier, but I thought that was a bit of a digression.”
Question period this week:
The auditor general’s annual report dominated Thursday’s question period, accounting for every single opposition question. (The only break from the government came in the form of softballs from Liberal backbenchers.) That alone made it the leading topic this week, at 28 questions and supplementaries.
The opposition also continued to hammer the Liberals on the sale of Hydro One, asking 10 questions on the government’s decision to sell part of the publicly owned utility.
Government spending on highway snow-clearing also featured prominently as well. Minister of Transportation Steven Del Duca was called upon 11 times by the opposition to clarify how the government spent $15 million to ensure new equipment was on Ontario’s roads this winter.
House passes a number of Liberal priority bills
As the legislature winds down towards the Christmas break, the house is passing a number of priority bills for the government. This week MPPs passed six of them at third reading. More are expected to pass next week before the session ends.
Bill 73, Smart Growth for Our Communities Act: This bill makes several changes to land-use planning rules.
Bill 106, Protecting Condominium Owners Act: This bill makes several changes to the way condominiums are regulated in the province, including mandatory licensing for condo managers.
Bill 85, Strengthening and Improving Government Act: This housekeeping bill contains a number of mostly technical changes to existing legislation.
Bill 113, Police Record Checks Reform Act: This bill would create new regulations and restrictions on the disclosure of information in police background checks.
Bill 112, Strengthening Consumer Protection and Electricity System Oversight Act: This bill would increase protections for consumers when dealing with electricity and gas companies.
Bill 115, Electoral Boundaries Act: This bill will match southern Ontario’s provincial ridings to its revised federal counterparts, while preserving the north’s current 11 seats. That means the next time Ontarians go to the polls, they will be electing 122 MPPs instead of the current 106.
All of these bills, plus Bill 9, Ending Coal for Cleaner Air Act, were signed by Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell this week.
Up for debate: Bills and motions debated this week
As well as the government bills passed by the house, the following bills were debated:
Bill 119, Health Information Protection Act: This bill would strengthen the protections for patients’ personal health information, and increase the penalties for health care workers who violate people’s privacy rights. The legislation has been introduced in part because of high-profile breaches in patient confidentiality, including the leak of former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s hospital records and a hospital worker in Scarborough who sold the patient records of new mothers.
Bill 132, Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act: This bill would make a number of changes to Ontario’s laws as part of the government’s campaign against sexual harassment, assault, and domestic violence. Some of these changes include requiring universities to have sexual assault and harassment policies, allowing victims of domestic abuse to break a lease to escape violence, and removing the existing limitations on bringing legal cases against sexual or domestic abusers.
Bill 135, Energy Statute Law Amendment Act: This bill would amend three of Ontario’s laws that structure the electricity market. The province would have the power to require government agencies to prepare energy conservation plans, and Queen’s Park would be required to maintain a long-term energy plan with input from regulators. It was passed at second reading and sent to committee.
Bill 144, Budget Measures 2015: This is the government’s fall budget measures bill, and contains 23 separate schedules. The government has moved for time allocation on this bill, which is not unusual for something that contains many key Liberal priorities. It’s scheduled to be heard at committee and sent back to the house for a vote no later than December 7.
The following private member’s bills were also debated:
Bill 154, Highway Traffic Amendment Act (Contraventions Causing Death or Serious Bodily Harm): This bill from NDP MPP Wayne Gates would create a provincial offence for anyone who causes death or serious bodily harm while violating the province’s traffic rules.
Bill 152, Cutting Red Tape for Motor Vehicle Dealers Act: This bill from Tory MPP Steve Clark would allow legally registered car dealerships to conduct some of their common business with the government electronically.
Bill 143, Employment Standards Amendment Act (Temporary Help Agencies): This bill from Liberal MPP Harinder Malhi would create a mandatory licensing regime for temporary worker agencies and require any temp agency to pay its workers at least 80 per cent of what it charges employers for the service.
All three bills passed second reading and are headed to committee.
Queen’s Park This Week is TVO.org’s weekly roundup of key events at the Ontario legislature. For more coverage of provincial politics, watch TVO’s archive of the most recent question periods at Queen’s Park.
Image credit: Michael Lehan
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