Queen’s Park notes for the week of April 13 – 17, 2015

From the Provincial Office of OSSTF


MPPs return to Legislature after Easter Break as Wynne Calls for Hydro Sell-Off

As OSSTF/FEESO members prepared for strike action, MPPs returned from their Easter Break to learn of a widening scope of issues put forward by Kathleen Wynne (Don Valley West) and her Liberal government. Faced with a budget deficit that seems to have completely consumed the agenda of her government, Wynne commissioned a Premiers Advisory Council on Government Assets, headed by former bank chief Ed Clark. Wynne accepted the Councils proposal to sell-off of 60 per cent of public Hydro assets to the private sector. At the same press conference, Wynne proclaimed that beer would start to be sold in selected grocery stores. The coupling of these two issues seems a deliberate attempt by Wynne to join one apparently appealing story (beer sales) with a much more contentious issue (public hydro sell-off).

In making her case for the selling of hydro assets, Wynne emphasized that the net proceeds from the hydro asset sales would be used to finance transit, transportation and infrastructure projects. She also said that in order to maintain government control of hydro, no private investor or group of investors would be allowed to own more than 10 per cent.

This major change in government policy of course caused an upheaval in the Legislature. As Wynne was making her announcement during the scheduled time of the Legislatures Question Period, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath (Hamilton Centre) demanded that Wynne and many of her senior Ministers immediately return to the Legislature to face opposition questions. She said, First, the Liberals showed how they disrespect Ontarians by keeping their plan to sell Hydro One secret during the election campaign. Now they are disrespecting Ontarians and this assembly in the way that theyve rolled out the Clark report. My question to the Acting Premier is: Can he phone the Premier and tell her to get over here and answer the questions of the opposition? Thereupon, Horwath led her caucus in a loud thumping of their desks for 20 minutes, which resulted in her and most of her caucus ejection from the chamber for the remainder of the days session. While the Progressive Conservative MPPs remained in their seats, they were also quite angered by the Liberals hydro plans, especially since it is believed that their own hydro privatization plans prior to the 2003 election led to their defeat.

As well, PC MPP Vic Fedeli (Nipissing) countered that the Liberal plan will not help cut the deficit by saying, This is proof this is not about benefitting consumers, its all about a cash grab to fuel the Wynne Liberals spending addiction.

Wynnes new found willingness to sell public assets surprised many pundits. Even the advisorys chair, Ed Clark, said it was a not natural to get Wynne and the Liberals to agree to it. Of course, only time will tell if this plan will be the boon Wynne hopes or the economic disaster some, like NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, predict.


Opposition Questions Liberals in Anticipation of OSSTF/FEESO Strikes

With OSSTF/FEESO contract talks with the Ontario Public School Boards Association stalled, PC Education critic Garfield Dunlop (Simcoe North) asked the Minister of Education, Liz Sandals (Guelph), about the status of the talks.

Garfield said, You keep saying you wont negotiate in the media. Well, apparently you wont negotiate at all, and apparently a number of boards wont negotiate at all, along with your central bargaining.

Sandals replied, And we will negotiate them at the table, because everything Ive learned about collective bargaining over the years tells me that when you negotiate in the media, negotiations fail.

Meanwhile, NDP MPPs Taras Natyshak (Essex) and newly-appointed Education Critic Lisa Gretzky (Windsor West), asked about school closings in the Greater Essex District School Board.

First, Natyshak asked, Minister, why is this government silencing communities that desperately want a say in their school closures, by cutting the required amount of community meetings in half? Gretzky followed with, When will this government recognize the importance of neighbourhood schools, stop ignoring the concerns of families and stop closing schools?

Sandals responded by claiming that when some NDP members were school trustees, they supported the closure of certain schools in their communities.


Premier Community Hub Framework Advisory Group

During the Easter break, Premier Wynne announced the full membership of her Community Hub Framework Advisory Group. Joining Wynnes Special Advisor, Karen Pitre, are:

  •          Michelle Baldwin, executive director of Pillar Nonprofit Network
  •          Michelle DiEmanuele, president and CEO of Trillium Health Partners
  •          Jim Harbell, partner at Stikeman Elliott
  •          Richard Joy, executive director of the Urban Land Institute
  •          Annie Kidder, executive director of People for Education
  •          Lois Mahon, former executive director of Child and Community Resources
  •          Sevaun Palvetzian, CEO at CivicAction
  •          Doug Reycraft, former MPP and former mayor of Southwest Middlesex
  •          Dr. Enid Slack, director of the Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto

Surprisingly, not a single appointee is a present or past education worker or education administrator.


Ontario Joins Quebec in Cap and Trade System to Limit Greenhouse Gas Pollution

In a ceremony with Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced that Ontario will develop a cap and trade system to limit greenhouse gas pollution in the province. Wynne said that each sector of the economy will have limits on allowable green gas pollution and that credits can be traded between businesses. While details of the program will be worked out over the next six months, Wynne says that she hopes the system can be linked to other jurisdictions to provide the largest carbon market in North America.

While agreeing with a cap and trade system, NDP Environment and Climate Change critic Peter Tabuns said, Kathleen Wynne should help Ontarians conserve energy immediately by restoring funding for home retrofits, by helping households and businesses transition to renewable sources of energy, and by setting energy efficiency benchmarks for the appliances we use, and the buildings where we live and work. The last thing our warming climate needs is more Liberal hot air. We need action.

Unlike the NDP, the Tories attacked the cap and trade system as a cash grab that would hurt consumers. PC Interim Leader Jim Wilson (Simcoe Grey) said, (Cap and Trade) isnt about reducing GHG emissions; it is about taking more money from the taxpayers to fund this governments spending addiction. How much money will this scheme cost Ontario families?


Liberals Announce Skilled Trades Funding

The Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, Reza Moridi (Richmond Hill) announced an additional $55 million to help people enter the skilled trades. Moridi said, the funding would be earmarked for three different programs. First, $23 million will go to the Apprenticeship Enhancement Fund, which helps colleges and other institutions invest in space and equipment so they can deliver more apprenticeship programs. Next, $13 million will go to the Pre-Apprenticeship Training Program, which holds training sessions for people considering careers in the trades and helps them get work placements. Finally, the remaining $19 million will go towards helping colleges and training organizations fund equipment upgrades and increased lab time for apprentices.


Liberals Re-Affirm Anti-Fracking Stance

Facing pressure after the introduction of NDP MPP Peter Tabuns Bill 82, the Oil, Gas and Salt Resources Amendment Act (Anti-Fracking), Natural Resources Minister Bill Mauro repeated that there are currently no applications before the ministry requesting approval to explore for shale gas or oil, or to use high-volume hydraulic fracturing.  Mauro added that the Ministry would not consider applications for the use of high-volume hydraulic fracturing before proper consultations with stakeholders, Aboriginal communities, and the public are conducted to ensure that adequate measures are in place to protect the environment.


Anti-Sex Education Curriculum Opponents Stage Queens Park Protest

A reported 2,000 people gathered at Queens Park to condemn the recent Physical and Sex Education Curriculum update announced by the Liberal government. Protesters from the Campaign for Life Coalition and My Child My Choice group claim that the Liberals did not adequately consult parents on the curriculum changes. A number of Tory MPPs including Monte McNaughton (Lambton Kent Middlesex), Jack MacLaren (Carleton Mississippi Mills) and Rick Nicholls (Chatham Kent Essex) attended the rally. Despite the protest, Education Minister Liz Sandals said that the curriculum will be implemented for the 2015-16 school year.


Brown Adds MORE Prominent Backers in PC Leadership Contest

With PC Leadership candidate Monte McNaughton withdrawing from the contest and endorsing rival candidate Patrick Brown, the road to victory for Brown, the Federal MP from Barrie, looks more promising. As the contest moves to the leadership votes on May 3 and 7, Brown also added the support of PC MPP Bob Bailey (Sarnia). Brown now has the open support of five MPPs. His lone competitor, MPP Christine Elliott (Whitby Oshawa) has 17 colleagues on side. The rest of the five caucus members have not openly declared. They include Interim Leader Jim Wilson (Simcoe Grey), former Leader Tim Hudak (Niagara West Glanbrook), Garfield Dunlop (Simcoe North), John Yakubuski (Renfrew Nipissing Pembroke) and Randy Hillier (Lanark Frontenac Lennox and Addington). At the beginning of the contest, many expected Elliott to cruise to victory. But, her uninspired performance coupled with Browns aggressive membership recruitment of non-traditional Ontario PC communities has resulted in a serious challenge to her. And with persistent rumours that Browns candidacy has captured the attention of Federal Conservative MPs and the Prime Ministers office, many are speculating that this has become a de facto coup by the Federal party of the provincial party. Whatever the truth, Browns campaign has been unrelenting. This past week, he injected himself prominently into the Indian Prime Ministers visit to Canada and promoted a partisan leadership event with the Indian Prime Minister.

As well, it appears that the Tory establishment is becoming either more comfortable or more convinced that Brown will win as he has garnered more support including the president for the youth wing of the party. Brown has also now matched Elliott in fundraising and may soon surpass her. The results of the leadership vote will be announced on May 9.