What’s ON: The week that was in Ontario politics (November 15-19)

A new COVID-19 testing strategy, vaccinations for kids, and (more) fighting over child-care dollars
By Daniel Kitts - Published on Nov 19, 2021
Health Minister Christine Elliott says Ontario families will be able to book COVID-19 vaccinations for kids aged 5 to 11 very soon. (Chris Young/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

COVID-19 testing: Ontario will be expanding testing options for students, launch testing blitzes for holiday shoppers, and make COVID-19 testing available to people showing COVID-19 symptoms in up to 1,300 pharmacies around the province as the government braces for a likely increase in COVID-19 cases over the winter. Read all the details about the province’s new testing plan here.

Shots for kids: Health Canada announced Friday it was authorizing the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 5 to 11. Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott called it an "exciting day for families" and said kids would start receiving their shots soon. "The provincial booking portal is ready and will go live early next week once we receive final details around supply from the federal govt," she wrote on Twitter

Guns and gangs: The province announced Tuesday it was spending $75.1 million over three years to help combat the illegal gun trade and gang violence. The money will go to a series of measures, including the creation of a gun and gang mobile prosecution unit, increasing the presence of border enforcement security teams in Ontario to stem the flow of illegal firearms entering the province, and creating a provincial database of gun and gang activity.

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Illegal guns: While the Progressive Conservatives were putting more money into the justice system to fight guns and gangs, the NDP was presenting its own ideas now how to stop the flow of illegal firearms. It introduced a bill in the legislature that would enable the province to sue American gun manufacturers if they are involved in practices that encourage smuggling of weapons into Ontario. “This bill is just one part of a larger strategy to address gun violence and its root causes, especially poverty, systemic racism, and lack of opportunity for young people,” MPP for Beaches—East York Rima Berns-McGown said in a press release. “We also need to have all the tools at our disposal to stop illegal handguns from coming here and to keep our communities safe.”

Migrant workers: Advocates for migrant workers told the Toronto Star this week that the province’s Bill 27 will do little to help vulnerable migrant workers. The bill, which features a suite of labour law reforms, will require professional recruiters to be licensed in a public registry and be responsible for repaying any illegal fees charged to workers. But the advocates who spoke to the Star say the fines for breaking the law are way too low — under $300 — to deter bad behaviour. “As the bill stands, this will simply be window dressing, half-baked,” said Syed Hussan, executive director of the Migrant Workers’ Alliance for Change.

Child care: Ontario and the federal government are still arguing over child-care money. The federal government says it has offered $10.2 billion to Ontario to implement $10-a-day daycare. Ottawa says that amount is in line with deals it has made with other provinces, given Ontario’s population. But Ontario counters that the federal offer has not taken into account the $3.6 billion the province spends on full-day Kindergarten, which it argues is a form of child care — a position the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario does not agree with.

Trade rep: CBC News reported this week that the province has been essentially without a trade representative in Washington since September, at a time when U.S. politicians are considering a tax break that could hurt Ontario’s auto sector. Ian Todd, the tour director for the Progressive Conservatives’ 2018 campaign, was appointed to the $348,000 job in 2018. His contract expired earlier this fall, but no replacement has been lined up. The U.S. Congress is finalizing legislation that includes a large tax credit for the purchase of electric vehicles — if they are American-made. That has sparked fears Ontario’s auto sector could suffer if the tax break encourages car makers to move more production south of the border.​​​​​​​

400,000 EVs: The province announced a strategy on Wednesday to have Ontario’s auto sector build at least 400,000 electric vehicles by 2030. The plan includes new automaker mandates for hybrid and battery EVs, creating a “battery supply chain ecosystem” that connects with minerals in the province’s north that are needed for modern batteries, and money for auto-worker skills training. But Premier Ford repeated he is still not sold on giving tax breaks to encourage Ontario motorists to buy EVs. "Let's see what the market dictates," he said.

Ottawa LRT: Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney’s office announced on Wednesday the province will launch a public inquiry into Ottawa’s light rail system. The city’s LRT has been plagued with problems, including a recent service shutdown on one of its lines that lasted for 54 days. “The issues plaguing Stage 1 of the Ottawa LRT have been unacceptable and disappointing,” Jordanna Colwill, a spokesperson for Mulroney, said in a statement. “As a funding partner for the project, we need certainty that the City of Ottawa will be able to successfully deliver the remaining phases of work for this project.” The province has committed nearly $2 billion for the LRT’s construction.

School semesters: The province announced Thursday high schools will be allowed to return to a regular semester schedule by February — or sooner if a school board can secure the agreement of its local public health unit. During the pandemic, high schools have been following a modified schedule where students had a more intensive learning experience — fewer courses with longer classes. Having less courses meant students didn’t have to circulate in the school as much, making pandemic cohorting easier. But it also meant three-hour-long classes that students often found mentally exhausting.  

Going paperless: As of March 1, 2022, the province will no longer send paper renewal notices for driver’s licences, licence plate stickers, and health cards. Instead, Ontarians will receive digital reminders. The move is expected to save $29 million and 80 million pieces of paper over five years.

Digital ID delayed: At the same time the province is moving ahead on getting rid of paper renewal notices, it has had to push back plans to provide Ontarians with digital ID. The province had hoped to provide Ontarians with the ability to have an electronic version of their identification — such as drivers’ licenses and health cards — that could be stored on their smart phones by this year. But now details about the program will be revealed in 2022.

New addition: If you read my Monday update on Queen's Park, you may remember that I wrote there would be some kind of unveiling ceremony in the legislature Thursday, but no one would tell me what it was that would be unveiled. Well, now we know: It is a carving interpreting the philosophy of the Seven Grandfathers by Garett Nahdee of Walpole First Nation. According to the office of government House Leader Paul Calandra, it is the first piece of its kind to be added to the legislature, and is the culmination of a years-long process started by former Speaker Dave Levac and former attorney general Yasir Naqvi. 

More Ontario politics coverage on TVO

#onpoli podcast: The true cost of new highways

The Ontario government is laying the ground to build two new highways — Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass. But there are a lot of questions to be answered. Including, how much will it cost taxpayers?

If Ontario gets it wrong on COVID-19 again, what are we supposed to tell our kids?

Matt Gurney’s son was set to hit the ice for his first-ever, proper, organized hockey game earlier this week — and there are more scheduled for the weeks to come. But instead of excitement, Gurney admits to “a sick feeling of dread. I’m not honestly sure I could tell him in good faith that I’m confident those games will be played. In the coming weeks, the government is going to have to make some difficult decisions in a high-stress environment. I find it impossible to have faith in its ability to do so effectively and cautiously.”

Doug Ford finally has the pandemic right where he wants it

Yes, cases are rising. But there are a number of reasons the premier should feel confident about where Ontario stands now, John Michael McGrath writes.

‘Implementation is key’: Epidemiologist Isaac Bogoch on Ontario’s new testing plan

TVO.org asks the infectious-disease expert about rising cases, vaccines for kids — and whether symptomatic testing at pharmacies is a good idea.

If Doug Ford wants to fix building permits, we should let him

"Waiting for permits seems to be a damn-near universal — if not literally universal — problem for anyone embarking on a project of any size, be it residential, commercial, or industrial,” writes Matt Gurney. “I don’t blame anyone for being cynical and skeptical about the Ford government. But this is still a big problem that we should fix. If it falls to Ford to point it out, well, good for him."

Beyond the Pink Palace

Why Do Renters Pay Higher Property Taxes?

It's widely believed that only property owners pay property tax. But, in fact, renters often pay more property tax than those in single family dwellings. They just pay it in their rent. Here to explain is Derek Lobo, CEO of the brokerage firm, SVN Rock Advisors.

Vets under pressure: The province now has more pets, but it doesn’t have more vets — and that’s creating challenges for professionals and animal owners alike, Diane Peters writes.

Troubled transit: Vaccine mandates are causing headaches at two of the province’s largest public-transit providers. Metrolinx, which operates the GTA region’s GO Transit network, has already had to cancel some buses when it suspended some of its workers for failing to get vaccinated by Nov. 1. Then the organization took some heat when it was revealed that some of its train employees might not be vaccinated yet despite the mandate. (The company that operates trains for Metrolinx asked for the vaccination deadline to be extended to Dec. 5 for train workers, which was granted). Now the Toronto Transit Commission has announced that it will have to cut back service starting next week because up to 2,000 of its employees might be put on leave starting this weekend for not being vaccinated.  

Who's Not Getting Dental Care in Ontario?

Dentists are sounding the alarm about the skyrocketing costs of providing services during the pandemic, and the vulnerable patients increasingly affected by lagging government reimbursements. The Agenda convened a panel to discuss the issue.

Line 5: A U.S. judge ruled Tuesday that the dispute between Michigan and Calgary-based Enbridge over the Line 5 pipeline will be heard in a federal court rather than a state court. The ruling is a win for Enbridge, which owns the pipeline and has been trying to involve the Canadian and U.S. governments in the issue rather than leave the case in Michigan’s jurisdiction. The pipeline provides a large chunk of Ontario and Quebec’s daily fuel needs and is seen as essential to the country’s energy security by the Canadian government. But Michigan wants the pipeline shut down since it runs through the Great Lakes, saying a leak could cause an environmental disaster.

Lending some helping hay: Ontario farmers are sending hay to Saskatchewan, where a drought has left farmers there without enough hay to feed their livestock through winter. According to Lester Weber of Mennonite Disaster Services Canada, one of the organizations collecting hay, Ontario farmers are simply returning a favour: In 2012, Saskatchewan farmers sent hay east when Ontario suffered its own drought.

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