From the Great Ketchup Wars to combating human trafficking: the silly and the serious private members' bills of 2016

The government gets all the glory for passing laws at Queen’s Park, but private members make their own valuable — and sometimes goofy — contributions to Ontario law
By John Michael McGrath - Published on December 27, 2016
Man poses with hotdog and French's ketchup pump.
"Happy to see locally made French's at the Argo game at BMO yesterday," Liberal MPP Mike Colle (pictured) cheerfully tweeted on Jul. 14. (@MikeColleMPP/Twitter)

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The government has a near-monopoly on the agenda at Queen’s Park, and they use it to make sure bills reflecting their priorities get all the way to the finish line: third reading, then the lieutenant-governor’s signature. But most members of the legislature don’t get a seat at the cabinet table, and for them there are private members' bills. (Without government support, these bills often don’t become law, but they are a chance for backbench and opposition MPPs to try to bring issues to the attention of the legislature. And sometimes, the bills even get passed.) In 2016, there were a number of notable ones, from the amusing to the important.

(Note: many bills expired when the legislature was prorogued in September. Only some have been reintroduced.)

Protecting tomatoes, and booze

It seems so long ago now, but for weeks early this year the provenance of the ketchup on Ontario shelves was a hot topic. While some subversives sat out the Great Ketchup War of 2016, eating their hotdogs with mustard, Eglinton–Lawrence Liberal MPP and tomato champion Mike Colle introduced Bill 179, the Tomato Day Act.  It would have proclaimed July 15 as Tomato Day in Ontario and declared tomatoes the official vegetable of the province. (When confronted with the fact that tomatoes are a fruit and not a vegetable, Colle told a reporter, “Listen, I’ve never seen a tomato in a fruit salad.”) Bill 179 never got any debate after being introduced, and died on the order paper with the prorogation.

The regulation of alcohol continues to be one of the most common subjects for private members' bills. One of former MPP Tim Hudak’s final bills as an MPP, for instance, was the Free My Rye Act, which was picked up by his Tory colleague Steve Clark (Leeds–Grenville) after Hudak resigned in the fall. Bill 50 would lower the LCBO’s markups on spirits and make it easier for craft distillers to do business. (Ontario’s craft distillers will need to keep relying on opposition MPPs, since they don’t have many friends in the Liberal government for now.) The bill hasn't received any debate time yet.

The Proclaimers

One popular cause among MPPs: putting their names to proclaiming various days, weeks, and months of importance throughout the calendar year. It’s not just for tomatoes anymore! The following bills received third reading and royal assent before the end of year:

Bill 16, Hazel McCallion Day Act: February 14 — Valentine’s Day — is dedicated to the former Mississauga mayor. Such a momentous piece of legislation required not one, not two, but three MPP sponsors: Amrit Mangat (Mississauga–Brampton South), Percy Hatfield (Windsor–Tecumseh), and Sylvia Jones (Dufferin–Caledon).

Bill 36, Albanian Heritage Month Act: November is now Albanian Heritage Month, thanks to Etobicoke North representative Shafiq Qaadri.

Bill 38, Islamic Heritage Month Act: October is Islamic Heritage Month, affirming the cultural importance of Islam in Ontario. (Some drama preceded passage of this one.) The sponsors were (ultimately) Teresa Armstrong (London–Fanshawe), Raymond Cho (Scarborough–Rouge River), and Qaadri.

Bill 44, Bangladeshi Heritage Month Act: March is Bangladeshi Heritage Month, as proposed by Scarborough Southwest MPP Lorenzo Berardinetti

Bill 43, PANDAS/PANS Awareness Day Act: October 9 is dedicated to raising awareness about pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcus and pediatric acute-onset neuropsychiatric syndrome. The bill was bought forward by Robert Bailey (Sarnia–Lambton).

Bill 55, Remembrance Week Act: November 5 to 11 is now officially Remembrance Week. The bill had all-party support, and was sponsored by PC Jim Wilson (Simcoe–Grey),  the NDP’s Cheri Di Novo (Parkdale–High Park), and Liberal John Fraser (Ottawa South).

Bill 56, Hindu Heritage Month Act: The month of November is Hindu Heritage Month, due to the efforts of Ajax–Pickering MPP Joe Dickson.

Bill 63, Nurse Practitioner Week Act: The second week in November is dedicated to nurse practitioners. The bill was sponsored by Nickel Belt MPP and NDP health critic France Gélinas.

The worthiess

Private members' bills aren't just about scoring points by issuing proclamations. Some don’t even involve alcohol, or tomatoes. They’re often examples of exactly the kind of work voters elect their MPPs to do: a sincere effort to craft a policy that solves, at least in part, a serious problem constituents are facing. Some of the ones that deserve recognition this year, big and small:

Bill 4, the Supporting Agricultural Experts in Their Field Act: Huron–Bruce Progressive Conservative Lisa Thompson’s bill makes some changes to Liberal rules on the use of neo-nicotinoid pesticides, making it easier for farmers to comply with regulations. The bill passed second reading with all-party support — a tacit admission by the Liberals that their rules need some tweaks. It’s currently waiting for committee time.

Bill 17, the Saving the Girl Next Door Act: This bill from Tory Laurie Scott (Haliburton–Kawartha Lakes–Brock) would create several new powers to help courts fight the sexual exploitation of children, and human trafficking. It’s currently waiting for consideration at the committee stage.

Bill 19, Safe Texting Zones Act: This bill from Vic Fedeli solves a problem for anyone who has to regularly make long drives but can’t, for legal and safety reasons, answer emails or text messages from the highway. (Not coincidentally, Fedeli represents a northern, mostly rural riding.) Bill 19 gives the minister of transportation the power to designate some parts of the province’s highways as safe texting zones, where drivers are allowed to pull over to answer that urgent work email, or make a call home. It hasn’t had a second reading debate yet.

Bill 31, Jonathan's Law: This bill from Toronto–Danforth New Democrat Peter Tabuns would provide one year of unpaid leave for any employee whose child dies, provided they’ve worked for an employer for six months or more. It has passed second reading and is waiting for committee hearings.

Bill 46, Municipal Statute Law Amendment Act (Councillor Pregnancy and Parental Leave): Currently, municipal councillors in Ontario risk losing their seats if they’re absent for more than three consecutive months without having received permission from their respective councils. Bill 46, from Liberal Daiene Vernile (Kitchener Centre), adds an exception for councillors who give birth to or adopt a child. The bill also requires municipalities to establish and follow parental leave policies for councillors. It passed second reading and is waiting for committee hearings.

Bill 64, Protecting Interns and Creating a Learning Economy Act: New Democrat MPP for London West Peggy Sattler’s bill is intended to help prevent interns and other young workers from being exploited in the workplace, by imposing new (but basic) requirements for employers, like giving interns the day off for public holidays. The bill had committee hearings in October but has not yet been sent back to the house for third reading.

Bill 47, Protecting Rewards Points Act: Liberal Arthur Potts (Beaches–East York) introduced this bill, which was hustled through a committee hearing in time to receive third reading and royal assent before the legislature rose for its winter break. It prevents loyalty programs (such as Air Miles) from expiring earned rewards without the permission of the cardholder — and while that may sound a bit silly, the bill was prompted by complaints from customers about rewards expiring too quickly, and difficulty redeeming them for things they actually wanted.

This article has been edited to correct the name of the MPP from Beaches–East York. TVO.org regrets the error.

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