What’s ON: The week that was in Ontario politics (November 8-12)

Highway hype, a major treaty violation, and impatience over child-care money
By Daniel Kitts - Published on Nov 12, 2021
Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney was in the news this week for promoting highway projects and keeping an eye on Ottawa's troubled transit system. (Frank Gunn/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

Bradford Bypass: Premier Doug Ford wants you to know he is extremely committed to getting the Bradford Bypass built. On Monday, he announced the province would pay the entire cost of the 16.2-kilometre road north of Toronto that would link Highways 400 and 404. Also, he confirmed the bypass would not be a toll road. “With both Simcoe County and York Region expected to grow at incredible speed, building the Bradford Bypass is a no-brainer,” he said. It’s unclear how much the taxpayers will have to shell out for the project, since it hasn’t been fully costed yet. The NDP and Green party have expressed concern about the damage the road will cause to local waterways and environmentally-sensitive land, as well as the impact the use of the road will have on greenhouse gas emissions.

For more on the Bradford Bypass debate, TVO.org’s John Michael McGrath’s talked about the project with two farmers who have differing views on the subject.  

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Highway hype: This week the province also promoted its plan to build Highway 413, which would connect Halton to York Region. The government says the road will save commuters about 30 minutes one way. The opposition counters it will make no meaningful change to commute times while costing taxpayers billions of dollars. On Wednesday, Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney said the government has no plans to make 413 a toll road.  

Treaty violation: In a unanimous decision, five Ontario Court of Appeal justices have ruled that the Ontario and federal governments may be on the hook for billions of dollars for violating the terms of an 1850 treaty with Anishinaabe First Nations in northern Ontario. Since 1875, the Crown has been paying 23 First Nations just $4 per year for each of their members, even though the land governed by the treaty has become incredibly valuable in terms of forestry, mining, and other industries. Harley Schachter, a lawyer who represented two First Nations in the case, said he expects compensation will be in the billions, but argues a settlement would be to everyone’s benefit: “This is an investment in a people, and everybody wins. It’s not a zero-sum game,” he told the Globe and Mail. The justices urged the parties to negotiate a settlement rather than have the courts impose one. The Anishinaabe nations and the federal government have said they are willing to negotiate, while the provincial government has not yet said whether it will accept the decision, or continue the legal fight.  

Child care: The province is increasingly facing questions about why it hasn’t struck a deal yet with the federal government on a $10-a-day child care program. With agreements already inked between Ottawa and several other provinces, some Ontario municipalities are getting tired of waiting, and are musing about bypassing Queen’s Park and appealing directly to the Trudeau government for child-care dollars. On Wednesday, Premier Ford urged municipalities to give the province time to negotiate. According to Toronto Star, the sticking point is the $3.5 billion the province spends on full-day Kindergarten. Ontario thinks that amount should be included as part of the child-care funding promised by the feds, but the latest offer from Ottawa doesn’t factor the Kindergarten cost in.  

COVID-19 modelling: The province's Science Advisory Table released new projections on Friday showing coronavirus cases increasing and putting more pressure on hospital intensive-care units as Ontarians head into the new year. “I think it's really important to acknowledge the uncertainty right now. We're at a critical juncture. And if you want a proof of concept of that, just go to Western Europe and see what's happening there,” Peter Jüni of the science table told CP24. "There's no doubt that the months ahead will require continued vigilance," Health Minister Christine Elliott said in a statement

Student Choice: The Ontario government has given up on appealing the court ruling that struck down its Student Choice Initiative. Enacted in 2019, the measure made the paying of certain post-secondary student fees optional. That led funding to dry up for campus organizations such as student unions, campus newspapers, and LGBTQ support centres, forcing some to lay off staff or reduce services. The Court of Appeal for Ontario ruled in August the initiative conflicted with the law governing the province’s colleges and universities. This week, the province announced it has decided against taking the case to the Supreme Court.

Free transit for vets: Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca promised Wednesday that if elected to government next June, his party will provide free transit passes and free license plate renewals to the roughly 228,000 veterans living in Ontario. “I believe the government should honour our veterans year-round by showing respect for their sacrifice and easing their cost of living,” he said.

Gas-tax cut: Premier Ford said Wednesday that his government will fulfill its promise to cut the provincial gas tax by 5.7 cents a litre before next year’s budget, to be delivered sometime this spring. (Your regular friendly reminder that while gasoline prices can be a real burden on motorists who heavily rely on their vehicles to get around, lower prices encourage increased demand for fuel, which is bad for climate change).

No EV subsidies: At the same press conference where he promised to lower the gas tax, Premier Ford also said he would not bring back provincial rebates on the purchase of electric vehicles, arguing such rebates only benefit millionaires. The federal EV rebate offers up to $5,000 on the purchase of eligible vehicles below $45,000.

Our London Family Act: Canadian Muslim community leaders say the Ontario government needs to enact a new law to combat Islamophobia. Called the Our London Family Act, the proposed law is named in honour of the Muslim family killed in a fatal truck attack in London this past June. Measures in the act include more education about Islamophobia in schools, dismantling white supremacist groups in the province by preventing them from registering as societies, and a more diverse Ontario Public Service.

Streaming is for Netflix: The province announced Thursday that it will end the streaming of Grade 9 students into academic and applied courses starting next September. The long-standing policy came to be seen as limiting the career opportunities of students steered into the more hands-on applied courses, since academic courses were generally required to move on to university. It had also been shown that Black and low-income students were disproportionately put into the applied stream.

Pit bulls still banned: Premier Doug Ford has poured cold water on talk of doing away with the province’s ban on pit pulls. Recent lobbying by some dog owners to loosen rules around when dogs believed – but not confirmed -- to be pit bulls could be seized by animal services had been successful, and one of the owners who spoke to Ford about the issue told a reporter that the premier indicated the ban would eventually be fully lifted. Then, that same owner’s dog allegedly mauled a 13-year-old boy. The boy is recovering from injuries to his face, and will likely require plastic surgery. Even then, he could be left with permanent scars. On Wednesday, Ford expressed sympathy for the boy and said “nothing is going to change right at this point” with respect to the ban.

Martow breaks ranks: PC MPP for Thornhill Gila Martow has publicly criticized her own party for its handling of a dispute with the province’s optometrists. The Ontario Association of Optometrists says they are only paid about half the cost of an eye exam for patients covered under OHIP. In a statement released Wednesday, Martow, herself an optometrist, says the government has engaged in “heavy-handed” tactics to force a deal, and that its offer of an 8.49 per cent increase is inadequate. Health Minister Christine Elliott’s office says the cost of eye exams hasn’t been independently verified, and the government wants negotiations to continue under the supervision of a mediator.   

Ottawa LRT woes: The province said this week that it is considering launching a judicial inquiry into Ottawa’s troubled light-rail system. Partial service on one of the city’s LRT lines resumed Friday after a train derailment on Sept. 19 caused a 54-day shutdown. In a statement sent to Graham Richardson of CTV News, Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney said the province needs to have confidence the city will be able to “successfully deliver” on the a planned expansion of the rail system. “As a result, we are looking at options that will increase the province’s oversight of the project … This may include a judicial inquiry, a review by Ontario’s Auditor General and further measures that may require provincial legislation. All options are on the table.”  

More Ontario politics coverage on TVO

Assessing Ontario's New Labour Laws

Can changes defined in the new "Working for Workers Act," deliver the promised benefits for Ontario workers? And how far is the Ford government willing to go to appeal to unions and workers ahead of the next election? The Agenda tackled those questions with Smokey Thomas of OPSEU, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, Sheila Block of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, and Martin Regg Cohn of the Toronto Star.

#onpoli podcast: Lower deficits: yes; vaccine mandates: no

Ontario released its fall economic statement last week. While the headline item was the province's deficit not being quite as bad as previously thought, there were some smaller items - like the province introducing (for a third time) a staycation tax credit. Also, hosts Steve Paikin and John Michael McGrath discuss why the government lobbed the political hot potato of vaccine mandates back to Ontario's hospitals.

Case counts are rising in Ontario. So what should the government do?

The province’s case rates have been stable or declining for months. Now our seven-day average is climbing — and that poses a challenge for policymakers, Matt Gurney writes.

‘Build what makes sense’: Does the Liberals’ highway pitch ask too much of voters?

To paraphrase a historical Liberal, Steven Del Duca is telling voters “highways if necessary, but not necessarily highways,” writes John Michael McGrath.

Robarts is far more than just the name of a library

Sixty years ago Monday, John P. Robarts became Ontario’s 17th prime minister — and started transforming the province. Steve Paikin, author of a book on Robarts, lays out the man’s ongoing legacy.

Remembering Graham Murray, Mr. Queen’s Park

For decades, he was a fixture of the legislature — and gave Ontarians the inside scoop.

Beyond the Pink Palace

Missing children: The search for unmarked graves began Mohawk Institute Residential School in Brantford on Tuesday. Open for 136 years, the residential school was among the longest in operation in Canada. It has been estimated it could take more than a year to fully search the 200 hectares of land once associated with the school.

New cars: A Chevrolet Silverado that rolled off the assembly line Wednesday was the first vehicle built at the General Motors plant in Oshawa since 2019. The company is restarting production there to meet a strong demand for pickup trucks, and has committed to investing $1.3 billion in the facility. GM says the restart should create about 1,800 jobs over two shifts. That’s short of the 2,300 employees laid off in 2019.

Teacher shortage: Want to try your hand at teaching but don’t have a teaching degree? Then the Durham District School Board might be for you. The board is hiring hundreds of “uncertified emergency supply teachers” as it deals with a major staffing shortage. Heather Mundy, superintendent of education for the board, told CTV News more than 400 applications have already been received. She said they will be “vetted very carefully.”

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