What’s ON: The week that was in Ontario politics (December 13-17)

Omicron, Omicron, and Omicron
By Daniel Kitts - Published on Dec 17, 2021
Premier Doug Ford puts his mask back on after speaking during a press conference at Queen's Park, Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021. (Cole Burston/CP)

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Every Friday, TVO.org provides a summary of the most notable developments in Ontario politics over the past week.

Here’s what caught our attention:

Queen’s Park keywords

Battling the variant: As this article was being published, the provincial cabinet was meeting to discuss further measures to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.This afternoon, the Ontario government announced that it is introducing lower capacity and gathering limits as of Sunday at 12:01 am. CP24 reports that all indoor settings, except religious facilities, will be limited to 50 per cent capacity and the maximum allowable size of indoor social gatherings will be reduced from 25 to 10. The new public health measures will also require bars and restaurants to close by 11 p.m. each night amid the spread of the Omicron variant, sources

​​​​​​​Boosters: The province announced Wednesday that it will allow all Ontarians 18 years of age and older to get a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine in the coming days. Importantly, the government is also lowering the interval between second and third shots to three months. Currently, people 50 and over can book a booster appointment, as long as it has been six months since their last dose. Some people 18 and over will be able to get a booster as early as today through some pharmacies and other channels. Ontario’s main booking portal will open up booster appointments for everyone 18 and older starting Monday.

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COVID-19 modelling: New projections prepared by the Ontario COVID-19 Science Table and released Thursday predict booster shots alone won’t save Ontario from the coming wave of Omicron-related hospitalizations and deaths. Rather, in order to keep new daily case counts and intensive-care admissions below the levels last seen in the second and third waves earlier this year, the province may require the implementation of “circuit breaker” public-health measures to reduce social contacts by half while the province implements the recently announced expansion of third doses. Read the science table’s full presentation.

Understanding Omicron: TVO.org’s Matt Gurney spoke to three experts this week about what we know and what we do and don’t know about Omicron variant. Infectious disease expert Zain Chagla of McMaster University talks about lockdowns, the health of our health-care system, and why so much is now out of our hands; Ontario Hospital Association CEO Anthony Dale talks about ICU capacity, triage tools, and how to keep our health-care system working; and a hospital chief of staff discusses isolation protocols, cancelling services, and staff exhaustion.

Business registry: Government and Consumer Services Minister Ross Romano said this week that his department is working hard to address problems identified in Ontario’s new online business registry system. Late last month, 16 major Toronto law firms signed a letter to the government, saying the registry was so flawed it was “having a chilling effect on doing business in Ontario in general.” In an interview with the Toronto Star, Romano said he expects all of the issues with data migration related to the registry will be fixed by Christmas.

Big bucks: A report by Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk has concluded that the failure of the Ontario Securities Commission to ban trailing commissions for mutual funds has cost investors $13.7 billion since 2016. A mutual fund company pays trailing commissions to investment dealers in exchange for selling the company’s products. They have been banned in Britain and Australia since 2012, but industry lobbying has convinced politicians here to move more slowly. A more limited ban of certain mutual fund fees is set to take effect next June. 

Liquor prices: The province announced Wednesday restaurants and bars will pay 10 per cent below retail price for most alcohol purchased through the LCBO, effective Jan. 1. The government says the measure will save businesses $60 million a year. Normally these savings would translate into lower prices on menus. But James Rilett, Central Canada vice-president of Restaurants Canada, told the Toronto Star restaurants are unlikely to pass on the savings to customers given so many of them have been financially battered by the pandemic.

More Ontario politics coverage on TVO

Has the Ontario Government Mishandled Pandemic Spending?

​​​​​​​This month, Ontario's Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk reported that in a scramble to help Ontario businesses, the Ford government sent almost $1 billion in pandemic relief to ineligible companies, some of which were outside of Ontario. Has the Ontario government seriously mishandled its pandemic-relief spending? The Agenda looks at that effort, asks how much mismanagement was inevitable, and where the responsibility truly lies.

#onpoli podcast: Peter Bethlenfalvy reflects on a year as finance minister

It has been nearly one year since Peter Bethlenfalvy stepped into the role of minister of finance after the resignation of Rod Phillips. In our final episode of the year, Steve Paikin and John Michael McGrath speak with him as he looks back at his first 12 months in the role.

Yes, it makes sense to hand out rapid tests at the LCBO

There are plenty of good reasons to criticize the Doug Ford government. The tests-at-liquor-stores decision isn’t one of them, Matt Gurney argues

Major business group calls on province to end exclusionary zoning

Toronto’s board of trade says housing costs are hurting its members — and it’s calling on the province to make big changes, writes John Michael McGrath.

Simply adding supply won’t solve our housing crisis

Housing is both a human right and a profitable asset — and that’s the problem, Brian Doucet argues.

The hits keep coming for Laurentian University

The auditor general wants documents related to the university’s insolvency. The school won’t produce them. TVO.org Hubs reporter for northeastern Ontario Nick Dunne explains what that means — and what comes next.

Beyond the Pink Palace

‘Obituary pirates’:The agency that regulates funeral homes in the province is warning people about websites posting inaccurate information about people who recently died as a way to generate clicks and make money. “It’s got nothing to do with memorializing people who die. It’s wrong, but people keep doing it,” said David Brazeau of the Bereavement Authority of Ontario.

Legal weed: The legal cannabis market has overtaken the illegal market for the first time, according to the government-run Ontario Cannabis Store. According to its second-quarter report, 54.2 per cent of cannabis purchases made in the province between July and September were linked to legal retailers.

Remembering Mayor Mel: Steve Paikin’s first interaction with former Toronto Mel Lastman was utterly unforgettable. Yet you probably never heard about it, because no one reported it. Steve tells that story and more as he remembers the always-colourful Lastman, who died last week.

Taking a break: This is the last What’s ON Ontario politics update until Jan. 7. Thanks to the Omicron virus, this doesn’t appear to be the holiday season we all anticipated even a few weeks ago. But, despite the challenges, I sincerely hope you stay safe while still managing to find time to relax and enjoy yourself between now and the new year. See you in 2022.

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