What’s ON: The week that was in Ontario politics (November 1-5)

A notable mini-budget, minimum wage politics, and ‘toothless’ new LTC rules
By Daniel Kitts - Published on Nov 05, 2021
Premier Doug Ford announces an increase to the minimum wage to $15 an hour at a press conference in Milton on Tuesday, November 2, 2021. (Nathan Denette/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

Mini-budget: Lower deficits! Billions for transit and controversial highway projects! A staycation tax credit! There were several notable items in the fall economic statement that Finance Minister Peter Benthlenfalvy delivered on Thursday. TVO.org’s John Michael McGrath has the five things you need to know about the so-called mini-budget. You can also watch Bethlenfalvy himself discuss the province’s economic plan with Steve Paikin:

And in the interest of equal time, you can read the official reactions to the fall economic statement from the NDP, the Liberals, and the Green party. (Spoiler alert: They didn’t like it.)

Minimum wage: After being against raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour when he became premier, Doug Ford is now for it. On Tuesday, he announced the minimum hourly wage would go up from $14.35 to $15 on Jan. 1. What’s more, people serving alcohol, who have traditionally gotten a lower minimum wage because of their ability to collect tips, will also see their minimum increase to $15. “I’ve always said workers deserve to have more money in their pockets because they earned it,” Ford said while announcing the wage hike. In 2018, the Progressive Conservatives nixed a planned increase in the minimum wage to $15 set to kick in at the start of 2019

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Booster shots: The province announced Wednesday it will make booster doses available to a substantially larger number of people in Ontario. People over 70, people who received two doses of the Astra Zeneca vaccine, and Indigenous people are among those who will soon be eligible for third doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. For more, read the government’s full presentation on the booster rollout.

Hospital vaccinations: The government has decided not to impose a province-wide mandate requiring all hospital employees to become vaccinated against COVID-19. Premier Doug Ford said Wednesday he was concerned that such a requirement could lead to the “potential departure of tens of thousands of health care workers” at a time when hospitals are under strain. “I am not prepared to jeopardize the delivery of care to millions of Ontarians,” he said. The Ontario Hospital Association disagreed with the decision. "There's a strong consensus among Ontario's hospitals for a provincial policy requiring health-care workers to be fully vaccinated," it said in a statement. Individual hospitals do have the option of imposing vaccine mandates for their own employees, and many already have.

Bradford bypass: Taras Natyshak, the NDP MPP for Essex, has asked the province’s integrity commissioner to investigate whether Premier Doug Ford, Minister of Transportation Caroline Mulroney and Associate Minister of Transportation Stan Cho had any conflicts of interest when the decision was made to change the planned route of the Bradford Bypass, a proposed road that would link Highways 400 and 404 north of Toronto. Natyshak’s complaint follows an investigation by Torstar and the National Observer that revealed the original plan cut through a golf course co-owned by Cho’s father, while the new plan does not. A spokesperson for Mulroney says “At no point has there been direction, pressure, or suggestion from Minister Mulroney, Associate Minister Cho, or political staff during this technical process.”

‘Toothless’: Critics are saying the government’s new long-term-care legislation, revealed last week, doesn’t go nearly far enough to protect those in care. While the bill would double fines for violating LTC regulations, observers of the sector who spoke to the Globe and Mail say the new legislation doesn’t give inspectors the authority to prosecute cases and lay charges in court. The stiffer fines are “toothless,” Jane Meadus, a lawyer at the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly, says. “If they’re not actually laying charges, does it matter what the fine is?”

Digital courts: Attorney General Doug Downey announced Friday the province plans to introduce a digital system that will allow people to submit documents, access court information, schedule matters and appearances, pay fees, and receive decisions electronically. He said once the system is up and running, it should allow people to carry out court activities completely digitally from start to finish. However, he added, a paper-based option should still exist for those who want it. The system is currently in the procurement phase, so it is not yet clear when the public will be able to use it.

Pit bulls: The province has loosened regulations under the 2005 pit bull ban. Pit bulls are still banned, but the law also banned any dog "that has an appearance and physical characteristics that are substantially similar” to pit bulls. Owners complained directly to Premier Ford, and now animals seized solely on the basis of their physical similarity to pit bulls will be returned to owners while a breed designation is conducted. Some dog owners who spoke to Ford tell CTV News the premier told them he intends to eventually rescind the pit bull ban entirely.

Indigenous affairs: The NDP is calling on Greg Rickford to be removed as provincial minister of Indigenous affairs, pointing to concerns raised by residential school survivors about his involvement in a legal settlement “that left them feeling betrayed and further victimized.” According to the NDP, Rickford was a partner at the law firm Keshen and Major in 2006 when it represented survivors in a settlement with the federal government. Dozens of survivors have filed complaints about the firm’s handling of their compensation, although their claims have not been proven in the tribunal process.

COP26: Mike Crawley of CBC News observes that although Ontario Environment Minister David Piccini has been at the global climate conference in Glasgow all week, he hasn’t mentioned it once on Twitter. He also turned down an invitation to appear on CBC Radio to discuss the conference. Piccini’s spokesperson told Crawley “Minister Piccini is using this opportunity to build international partnerships for Ontario’s clean industry, explore emerging best practices, and contribute the province’s voice to the global conversation about climate change.”

Bill Davis: Politicians put aside partisan differences to praise late premier Bill Davis at a public memorial service in Toronto on Thursday. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called Davis “a visionary” who was all about “getting things done” for people. Premier Ford said Davis’ accomplishments “are too many to list, but beyond all of them, Bill will be most remembered for his kindness and his humility.”

And that’s a wrap: The legislature is not sitting next week. MPPs will reconvene at Queen’s Park on Nov. 15.

More Ontario politics coverage on TVO

#onpoli podcast: Will Ontario's long-term care strategy work?

The Ontario government has unveiled its strategy meant to reform the long-term care sector. In this week's episode, hosts Steve Paikin and John Michael McGrath break down the details and some potential roadblocks. Also, the Ontario Green Party's roadmap to net zero, and how did Ontario fare on the new federal cabinet?

Progressives should take Doug Ford’s highway gambit seriously

The government is pinning its re-election hopes on two new highways in the GTA — and reactions to its mini-budget speech hint at how the campaign might unfold, John Michael McGrath writes.

The cost of living is rising. So why aren’t social-assistance rates?

Inflation is the highest it’s been in 18 years. But rates Ontario Disability Support Program haven’t gone up in three. One activist and ODSP recipient tells TVO.org regional hubs reporter Justin Chandler that there are days where “you have to figure out how to scrape by with no money.”

How should Ontario plan for a post-pandemic working world?

TVO.org speaks with Rohinton Medhora, the chair of Ontario’s Workforce Recovery Advisory Committee, about the pandemic, changing technologies, and working from home. “I can safely say to you that everyone working from home is not a long-term solution,” he says.

Cities can obstruct new housing. Ontario shouldn’t let them

Toronto is once again trying to thwart provincial planning policy, this time around transit stations. There’s a better way, argues John Michael McGrath.

Beyond the Pink Palace

Home care ‘crisis’: Josh Sherman talks to a group of personal-support workers who started a home-care co-op. Proponents say the business model is better for workers and clients. Critics worry it could take Ontario farther down the path to two-tiered health care.

The end of tipping?: Ontario is planning to scrap the sub-minimum wage for people who serve alcohol. Let’s scrap tipping next, argues Corey Mintz.

Rogue doctors: The Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons is asking the courts to help it force four doctors to comply with investigations into whether they are improperly giving out medical exemptions for the COVID-19 vaccine. “(These doctors) are standing in the way of the regulatory body, which is supposed to protect the public, investigating. Well, that’s completely unacceptable,” medical malpractice lawyer Paul Harte told the Toronto Star.

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