Queen’s Park Notes for the week of March 2-6, 2015

Sudbury By-Election Furor Continues

The Progressive Conservative Party and the New Democratic Party continued their relentless questioning of the Liberals on the nomination selection process employed by the Liberals in the recent Sudbury by-election. Every opposition question in the Question Period this past week was focused on that issue. In addition, PC Interim Leader, Jim Wilson (Simcoe North) put forward the following opposition day motion on Wednesday afternoon:

“Mr. Speaker, I move that the Legislative Assembly of Ontario recognize the findings in the February 2015 report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Ontario that the actions of Pat Sorbara, the Premier’s deputy chief of staff, and Gerry Lougheed Jr., the chair of the Greater Sudbury Police Services Board, in relation to former Liberal candidate Andrew Olivier, constitute an apparent breach of the bribery provisions of the Election Act;

Recognize that the actions of the Premier and her political operatives have led to two separate OPP investigations;

Therefore, it is the opinion of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario that the said actions of the Premier, her deputy chief of staff and Gerry Lougheed Jr. have breached the standards of integrity and accountability that are required and expected of the Office of the Premier.”

In his motion, Wilson recounted the events leading up to the appointment of former Federal NDP MP Glenn Thibeault becoming the Ontario Liberal candidate in the Sudbury by-election. He added that the two audiotaped conversations between Olivier and Lougheed, and then Olivier and Sorbara, clearly demonstrated wrongdoing. Wilson concluded by saying, “It defies reason as to why the Premier would not ask these two individuals to stand aside. Today we’re asking again for her to take the honourable and right action in the face of overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing, and we are asking the members of the Liberal caucus to side with integrity and respect by supporting our motion.”

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath (Hamiton Centre) supported Wilson’s motion by also saying that Wynne should ask Sorbara and Lougheed to step down from their appointed government positions. Horwath said, “There is also an enormous amount of precedent for having people step down while they’re under investigation: David Caplan, Greg Sorbara, Bob Runciman, the current acting leader of the opposition, as he mentioned in his own remarks just a few moments ago, and many, many more. Why? Because it was the right thing to do. All of these people stepped aside in order to protect the integrity of this House. It’s something that seems beyond the understanding of our Premier.”

Liberal MPP John Fraser (Ottawa South) defended the Premier in the debate and accused the opposition of hypocrisy. Fraser said that both the NDP and PCs have done the same as the Liberals in nomination processes. He also took direct aim at the NDP by saying, “I understand why members of the third party are upset. A seat they won last June was long held by the party on this side of the House, and then five months later we had to have a by-election. A federal NDP MP decided to run, to join Kathleen Wynne’s team and the Liberals, and then they’re less one seat, which leaves them one less than they were at dissolution, when they did not support the budget last year.” At the conclusion of the debate, the majority Liberals were able to defeat the motion 52–42. Despite this defeat on the motion, the opposition continued pursuing this matter in the next day’s Question Period and have given no indication that they will abandon this issue any time soon.


Government releases “It’s Never Okay: An Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment”

Having promised to release a plan on addressing sexual violence and harassment prior to International Women’s Day, Premier Kathleen Wynne (Don Valley West) announced a campaign that involves:

  • A multi-media public education campaign to help change behaviours and call on bystanders to intervene;
  • A new health and physical education curriculum that will help children, from Grades 1 to 12, develop a deeper learning about healthy relationships and consent;
  • Stronger workplace safety legislation that, if passed, would require employers to investigate and address workplace harassment, including sexual harassment;
  • An enhanced prosecution model tailored to the needs of sexual assault cases that will help ensure that all such charges are prosecuted as fairly, effectively and respectfully as possible;
  • Legislation that, if passed, would eliminate the two-year limitation period for civil sexual assault claims and claims of sexual assault before the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, and;
  • Increased and stabilized funding for supports for survivors provided by community partners.

In her speech Wynne said that one in three women are victims of sexual assault. She added, “This sexual violence is rooted in misogyny which is deeply ingrained in our culture.” She held out hope that society can help to make matters better for victims of sexual assault and harassment through education. She said, “These are learned behaviours and they can be unlearned or never learned in the first place.” In helping to push the message, Wynne highlighted a public service announcement using the moniker #WhoWillYouHelp to urge Ontarians to report sexual assault and harassment.


Progressive Conservative Leadership Race Membership Totals Disputed

With the deadline to submit memberships for the Ontario Progressive Conservative Leadership having expired at the end of February, contradictory membership tallies were submitted by all three remaining leadership contenders.

First, Federal MP Patrick Brown (Barrie) shocked the party establishment by announcing that he had sold over 40,000 memberships. Other early reports had party establishment favourite, Christine Elliott (Whitby–Oshawa) with just 13,000 memberships. Trailing was Monte McNaughton (Lambton–Kent–Middlesex) with 6,000 memberships. As the week progressed, Elliott, while at first refusing to divulge her numbers, claimed that she had 26,000 members. McNaughton said that he had 20,000. At the same time, the PC party office announced that they had approximately 80,000 members by the deadline. This 80,000 included 10,000 memberships previously held.

Whatever the true numbers, the confusion led some to conclude the Tories couldn’t count just like former Leader Tim Hudak’s million jobs plan didn’t add up. Nonetheless, it is apparent that Brown has made himself the favourite at this point. While only having the support of three caucus members Toby Barrett (Haldimand–Norfolk), Rick Nicholls (Chatham-Kent–Essex) and Jack MacLaren (Carleton–Mississippi Mills), he has carefully positioned himself as the anti-establishment candidate. The fact that he has those three MPPs onside, has burnished his credentials as the outsider.

In response to Brown’s strong membership numbers, Elliott released her economic vision. One of her planks is to lower the corporate income tax from 11.5 per cent to 10 per cent. She hopes that this policy release will contrast her with the other two candidates, particularly Brown. So far, Brown has not released any policy ideas except to say he wants the party to become more inclusive.

The PCs will vote for their new leader on May 3 and 7. The winner will be announced on May 9.


Federal Conservative MP Disapproves of Ontario’s Updated Physical and Health Education Curriculm

Federal Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant (Renfrew–Nippissing–Pembroke) condemned the Ontario government’s updated Physical and Health Education Curriculum by saying, “If [the curriculum’s withdrawal] could prevent one child from being groomed for exploitation, this Liberal policy must be withdrawn.” She cited former Deputy Minister of Education Ben Levin as one of the architects of the updated curriculum. She noted that Levin was convicted of child pornography charges.

The Liberals were infuriated by Gallant’s charges and mounted a strong offensive to discredit her remarks. And, considering last week’s evolution comments by PC MPP Rick Nicholls (Chatham-Kent–Essex), they tried to goad the Provincial Tories into defending Gallant. This past week, Provincial Tories made no such efforts to defend any comments critical of the updated curriculum.


NDP MPP Calls for An Ontario Poet Laureate

NDP MPP Percy Hatfield (Windsor–Tecumseh) introduced a bill entitled Poet Laureate Act of Ontario Act, 2015. Hatfield’s bill would allow Ontario to declare its own Poet Laureate. Some of the responsibilities of the Poet Laureate would include promoting art and literacy, celebrating Ontario and its people and raising the profile of Ontario poets.


Liberal MPP introduces Registered Retirement Savings Protection Act

Liberal MPP Lou Rinaldi (Northumberland—Quinte West) introduced his private member’s Bill 70, the Registered Retirement Savings Protection Act, 2015. The purpose of the Bill is to protect registered retirement savings plans and registered retirement income funds, as well as deferred profit sharing plans, from most creditors. Those plans are, however, still subject to support orders enforced under the Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act, 1996 and orders respecting the separation of property in family matters. Despite Rinaldi’s bill moving quickly through 1st and 2nd Reading within days of being introduced, there is no indication yet that this bill will be fast-tracked through the Legislature. The bill was referred to the Standing Committee on Justice Policy for review.


Sudbury Liberal MPP Glenn Thibeault Appointed Parliamentary Assistant

Newly-elected Liberal MPP Glenn Thibeault (Sudbury) was appointed Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change. In his new role, Thibeault will work with Minister Glen Murray (Toronto Centre). It is expected that this appointment for Thibeault is in preparation for him assuming a full Cabinet portfolio at some point in the near future, maybe as early as this summer.


From the Provincial Office of OSSTF