The term “lobbying” originated in the United Kingdom. It referred to the practice of Members of the Westminster Parliament and their peers meeting in the “lobbies” before and after parliamentary debates. Although the term originated in the UK, the practice is as old as politics itself. People who aren’t public officials trying to influence legislation on behalf of other people is nothing new. But how do Ontarians feel about lobbying here in Ontario?
During those long summer months Ontario NDP researchers submitted multiple Freedom of Information requests. Documents came back revealing that publicly funded organizations are paying Liberal friendly consultants to lobby on their behalf. The documents also showed that the amount of public money going to those consultants wasn’t nickels and dimes. Ontario Universities alone spent nearly $1 million on lobbying fees. According to the NDP, it doesn’t seem right that public institutions like universities, colleges, hospitals, and municipalities, would spend public money on consultants who, in turn, would then lobby the government for more public money. That’s why they stood up in the legislature this week and demanded answers.
Health Minister Deb Matthews agrees. On Monday, in the legislature, she stated, “It is not okay with me and it is not okay with our government to use taxpayers’ dollars to lobby government.”
Premier McGuinty echoed his Health Minister, “It is unacceptable in Ontario today for hospital administration to employ lobbyists to try to influence our government. If they want to talk to us, they should pick up the phone. We are available.”
Then the Liberals announced Tuesday that they would bring forward new anti-lobbying legislation. When will we see the proposed legislation? And would that ban apply to all public institutions or just hospitals? The government hasn’t provided all the details just yet. Regardless, they aren’t acting quickly enough for the NDP.
Cheri diNovo, NDP MPP for Parkdale-High Park, told me that if the Liberals “really wanted to do something about lobbying they would have been ready to take action immediately” and that they were “caught napping” on the issue. And that’s why this Thursday the Ontario NDP introduced their own private members bill to ban the use of lobbyists by all public entities.
Give credit where credit is due, The Globe and Mail’s Adam Radawanski wrote an article about this very issue a while ago and it appears to be playing out much like he said it would. A particularly interesting snippet from Radawanski’s article: “It’s good politics to target lobbyists. Although they can play a useful role helping outsiders navigate their way through Byzantine layers of government, it’s a profession for which there’s little public sympathy. But whether targeting them will prove good policy is less certain.”
Retirement Homes. Those who’ve been advocating on behalf of vulnerable seniors living in Ontario’s retirement homes finally got the government’s attention and they got it in a big way. Last Friday the Toronto Star published a damning article about one particularly bad retirement home in Toronto’s west end. Star reporter Dale Brazao went undercover at the In Touch Retirement Living retirement home and found elderly residents neglected, living in their own filth, and eating horrible food. The Minister Responsible for the Elderly, Sophia Aggelonitis, said in the legislature Monday that she was both “saddened and shocked” by what she read in the Star article.
The Liberal government has a new Retirement Homes Act which would set up a regulatory authority with “the power to license homes and conduct inspections, investigations and enforcement, including issuing financial penalties or revoking licenses if necessary.” The legislation will take effect sometime in 2011.
NDP and PC critics say the new Retirement Homes Act isn’t enough. They insist that a self-regulating system won’t work. Christine Elliott, PC MPP for Whitby-Ajax, wrote a letter to the Social Policy Committee to study and make recommendations on how to improve the lives of those in retirement homes.
Adequate care for Ontario seniors. It’s a big issue. It’s one we’ll be hearing a lot more about in the coming years for sure. Are we doing enough? What more can be done to provide for Ontario’s growing senior population? What do you think?
Also this week, eHealth. It was one-year ago that David Caplan tendered his resignation as Minister of Health in response to the auditor general's report into the electronic health records system or, as Tim Hudak affectionately refers to it, the “$1-billion eHealth boondoggle”. The PCs want to know why so much money is still going into eHealth and where exactly is it going.
Wind Farms. Lastly this week, PC MPP Ted Arnott asks about the approval process for wind farm proposals. Do Ontario’s rural municipalities have the right to veto wind farms or do they not?
Watch the show, this Sunday at 4:30 PM. You can also watch it online at tvo.org/civics101.
Queen’s Park This Week, is a half hour summary of Question Period that is assembled using clips from the Queen's Park legislative assembly proceedings. The program summarizes the primary issues and discussions that have occupied the provincial legislature over the course of the week, and allow Ontarians to obtain a kind of "executive summary" of the proceedings every week that the house is in session.