How Tuesday’s sitting at Queen’s Park will affect the fight against COVID-19

Twenty-eight MPPs attended Queen’s Park on Tuesday afternoon to renew the province’s state of emergency — and to tweak some laws to make the pandemic easier for municipalities and school boards
By John Michael McGrath - Published on Apr 14, 2020
Premier Doug Ford speaking at Tuesday’s session at Queen’s Park. (CP24)

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Before Tuesday’s session of the legislature had even opened, the outcome was a foregone conclusion. Not only does Premier Doug Ford lead a majority of MPPs with his Progressive Conservative party, but the opposition New Democrats had already signalled their support for the government’s latest measures to get Ontario through the pandemic. Green party MPP Mike Schreiner, too, said he would vote for the measures and speed their passage.

The government has two primary items on the agenda today. MPPs are being asked to extend the current state of emergency, which was first declared on March 17. The Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act allowed the government to declare the emergency for 14 days and to renew it once, for an additional 14 days. Now, the province’s elected chamber will get to render its judgment on whether the government’s extraordinary powers need to be maintained for another 28 days. The extension being debated today will last until May 12, when MPPs will have the choice to renew it again.

New Democrats have asked the government to bring the legislature back at 9 a.m. on May 12 so that it will be able to have a proper question period for the first time since March 12.

The actual legislation MPPs are being asked to pass is Bill 189, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Support and Protection Act. The bill, which has five sections, will arguably have the most important impact on post-secondary students, as it creates a six-month moratorium on OSAP payments. Bill 189 will also give some municipalities and school boards a break by changing certain deadlines: cities and school boards collect development charges with bylaws that expire every five years; the province will let those local governments extend their current bylaws so that they won’t expire. Queen’s Park will also be allowing municipalities to delay processing planning applications without making those applications eligible for appeal to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal.

Finally, municipalities will be forgiven for not adopting the Community Safety and Well-Being Plans required by provincial law: they are, after all, busy actually ensuring their communities’ safety and well-being.

Since the session began at 1 p.m., the opposition parties have stated their reservations about the government’s measures: both NDP leader Andrea Horwath and Liberal John Fraser urged the government to do more to protect long-term-care homes and to ensure adequate supplies of personal protective equipment. Schreiner asked the Tories to give the opposition an active role in planning for post-pandemic recovery. But nobody signalled any intent to use their powers to slow down the passage of legislation this week.

Before debating Bill 189 or voting on the state of emergency, however, the legislature also took care of one other item of business — naming the province’s next information and privacy commissioner. Current IPC Brian Beamish is retiring this summer, and the legislature today named Patricia Kosseim, currently a lawyer with the firm Osler Hoskin & Harcourt LLP, as his successor.

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