Queen's Park This Week: Sudbury scandal derails a feel-good week at the farm

By John Michael McGrath - Published on Sep 25, 2015
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath at the annual International Plowing Match, Sept. 22.

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MPPs take a short week to travel to the IPM

There’s not a lot that can shut down the Ontario Legislature for a day or two, but the International Plowing Match (IPM) does every year. 2015 was no exception as this week, MPPs took two days off to get to Finch (outside of Sarnia) and back to Queen’s Park for Wednesday.

The IPM is a regular event on Queen’s Park’s fall calendar that all three official party leaders (and the bulk of their MPPs) attend. Their speeches stress the importance of Ontario’s agriculture industry, and there’s also the obligatory photo-op of party leaders driving a tractor.

The only problem is that when it’s all over and the mud’s been scraped from boots, MPPs have to get back to work. This week, it was a mixed bag for the government back at the legislature.

OPP charge Gerry Lougheed in Sudbury byelection scandal

On Thursday, the Ontario Provincial Police charged Sudbury Liberal Gerry Lougheed in connection with the Sudbury byelection scandal. Lougheed has been charged with two breaches of the criminal code, and could face further charges under provincial election law.

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Premier Kathleen Wynne’s chief of staff, Pat Sorbara, will not been charged criminally but could face provincial charges. Andrew Olivier, who ran for the Liberals in Sudbury in the 2014 election, had produced recordings of Sorbara and Lougheed imploring Olivier to step aside for then-federal NDP MP Glenn Thibeault, who ended up being appointed by Wynne in her capacity as party leader. Thibeault won the subsequent byelection earlier this year.

Wynne told reporters Thursday she still believes nobody in her office did anything wrong. Thibeault told reporters at Queen’s Park he doesn’t believe the scandal has tainted his role as an MPP.

Lougheed was appointed by the Liberals in 2011 to the Greater Sudbury Police Services Board, and was elected to the position of chair earlier this year. According to the CBC, Lougheed has “stepped aside” from that role as he mounts his defence.

Levac rules against NDP, Marin gets one more dig in

Following up on a request made by New Democrat House Leader Gilles Bisson last week, Speaker Dave Levac ruled against a finding of contempt the NDP had raised after the government appointed an acting ombudsman to replace André Marin.

Despite being forced out of office by the Liberals, Marin isn’t quite done yet: this week the ombudsman’s office published Marin’s submission to the government regarding “street checks,” also known as carding. Marin called the practice illegal and wrong and made a number of suggestions for reform, including requiring police to inform people subject to street checks they’re free to walk away. The province is currently consulting the public on how to reform carding. See TVO.org’s recent coverage here.

Auditor General releases report on home care spending

Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk released her report into spending through the province’s Community Care Access Centres, or CCACs. The 14 CCACs across Ontario are responsible for helping people connect with home care and other related services, but Lysyk’s investigation (ordered by the opposition in the last few months of minority government last year) found that patients can get wildly different levels of care depending on where they live, and  only 61 per cent of spending goes directly to face-to-face patient care.

Health Minister Eric Hoskins said the government accepts Lysyk’s findings and will work to reform the CCAC system. Under previous leader Tim Hudak, the Progressive Conservatives had called for the CCACs to be merged with already-existing health care bureaucracy, the Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) Lysyk also has a report expected later this year on LHIN performance.

Pro sex ed coalition comes to Queen’s Park

While socially conservative parent groups have made their displeasure with Ontario’s new health education curriculum quite clear, a new group of Muslim women came to Queen’s Park this week to support the sex ed curriculum. Rabea Murtaza, co-founder of Muslims for Ontario's Health and Physical Education Curriculum, told reporters she thinks most Muslim families support the new curriculum and didn’t want the public discussion to appear one-sided.

Muslims for Ontario’s Health and Physical Education Curriculum has a Facebook page.

Question Period stats: Sudbury blows hydro out of the water

What was top of mind for the political parties this week? Well, while “hydro” was the number one word uttered during Question Period, it’s clear that the bombshell news that Liberal Gerry Lougheed had been charged in connection to the Sudbury byelection was the most-discussed topic: “Lougheed,” “charges,” “criminal,” and “Sudbury” were mentioned 114 times combined. There was also just enough room for MPPs to mark Franco-Ontarian day (celebrated every September 25). Here’s a list of the most popular keywords in Question Period this week:

  • Hydro — 57 times
  • Lougheed — 41 times
  • Charges — 33 times
  • Criminal — 24 times
  • Francophone — 22 times
  • Sudbury — 16 times
  • Auditor — 15 times

Up for Debate: Bills and motions this week

Wednesday was an opposition day, which means the NDP get to present a motion for debate. Motions are non-binding but can, if passed,  prod the government to action. The NDP’s motion called on the government to order the Ontario Energy Board to conduct an analysis of the government’s sale of Hydro One. The government voted against the motion, which failed 37-51.

On Thursday, Liberal MPP Glenn Thibeault presented a motion that had more success, calling on the government to remove gendered nouns like “mother” and “father” from government forms, to recognize Ontario’s increasingly diverse society. That motion passed on a voice vote.

MPPs debated the following government bills this week:

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. It's at the second reading stage.

Bill 112, Strengthening Consumer Protection and Electricity System Oversight Act:  This bill would increase protections for consumers from electricity and gas companies, by boosting penalties from the Ontario Energy Board for companies found to have broken pricing rules. The bill would also allow the government to expedite key energy transmission corridors – Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli specifically cited the example of the Ring of Fire. It's at the second reading stage.

This week’s private member’s bills were:

Bill 120, Estate Administration Tax Fairness Act: This bill from Progressive Conservative Monte McNaughton would reverse changes made to the provincial estate tax, and cap the maximum payment made on inheritances at $3,250. It failed to pass second reading.

Bill 98, Protecting Victims of Occupational Disease Act: This bill from NDP MP Jennifer French would extend workplace injury insurance to people who contract an occupational disease even after they are employed in the trade or occupation that led to the disease. It passed second reading and was sent 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: facebook.com/AndreaHorwathONDP

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