After a two-month hiatus, MPPs have returned to Queen’s Park. It was a busy week, packed with government announcements and bills debated in the house.
Government pledges to help first responders with PTSD
Labour Minister Kevin Flynn introduced Bill 163 on Thursday, which aims to make it easier for firefighters, police and other first responders to make a claim to the Workplace Safety Insurance Board for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Critics argue that the current process, in which claimants have to prove they acquired PTSD through a workplace experience, was too onerous and discouraged first responders from seeking help.
“It’s taken a long, long time to get to this point — and a lot of deaths, I have to say,” NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo told the Toronto Star. DiNovo has been pushing for changes to the claims process for PTSD sufferers for years.
Provincial pension plan delayed, but clears hurdle with feds
In the face of jitters in the business community, the Ontario government announced this week that it would slow the rollout of its new plan to help workers without workplace pensions.
Major corporations were originally told to start contributing to the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan in 2017. That has now been pushed back to 2018. Members of the business community and the opposition Progressive Conservatives say the plan will slow economic growth by adding a significant new cost to doing business in the province.
While the change in schedule could be seen as a setback, the Toronto Star reported that the province has made progress with the pension plan on a different front: the new Liberal government in Ottawa agreed to collect payroll premiums for the ORPP through its existing Canada Pension Plan framework.
Under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the feds had refused to help collect the provincial pension premiums. This would have made the ORPP more expensive to administer.
Budget coming early on Feb. 25
At the same time as he announced the slowed rollout of the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan, Finance Minister Charles Sousa told a business audience that the provincial budget will be tabled next Thursday, Feb. 25. The previous three Liberal budgets were tabled in late April or early May.
According to the Globe and Mail, Sousa moved the budget up to give businesses more certainty as confidence in the global economy weakens.
“We focus on a dynamic business environment, strategic infrastructure, investments in skills and training, all within a fair society,” he said. “There are opportunities to be seized upon, but we need to act quickly.”
New provincial ombudsman, chief medical officer of health named
The fight over who will be Ontario’s next ombudsman is finally over.
It was announced on Tuesday that Paul Dubé, a lawyer and former federal taxpayers’ ombudsman, has been selected by an all-party panel to replace former provincial ombudsman André Marin. Dubé’s term starts April 1.
The process for choosing the new ombudsman dragged on for months as the parties repeatedly failed to agree on a candidate. Things were further complicated when Marin, who was still liked by the opposition but had worn out his welcome with the Liberals, carried out a vocal public campaign to keep his job. Since Marin’s term ended in September, Barbara Finlay has served as acting ombudsman.
It was also announced this week that all three parties had agreed to appoint Dr. David Williams as the province’s new chief medical officer of health. Williams has been acting chief medical officer of health since July 1, 2015. In this role, Williams is responsible for providing strategic leadership for the delivery of health promotion and public health programs across Ontario, as well as communicating with both MPPs and the public on issues of public health.
Three green initiatives launched
The government continued to promote itself as a leader in tackling climate change with three funding initiatives.
The first is $100 million in aid for industries to cut greenhouse gas emissions as the province prepares to launch a cap-and-trade program. The funding is meant to help companies adjust to the new regime where they will be forced to buy permits to emit greenhouse gases above a limit set by the government.
Owners of electric vehicles are also getting a boost. The government is raising the maximum subsidy for buying a green vehicle to $14,000. Of the roughly 7.7 million cars registered in Ontario, only 5,800 are electric.
“We know we can do better than that,” Premier Kathleen Wynne said, according to the Toronto Star. “Cars account for more greenhouse gas emissions than the iron, steel, cement and chemical industries combined.”
Electric vehicle owners will also benefit from $20 million in new provincial funding to build more charging stations where cars can “fill up” on electricity.
Up for debate: Bills and motions this week
The following government bills were debated this week:
Bill 100, Supporting Ontario’s Trails Act: The bill contains measures to simplify the promotion and expansion of trails across the province, including enabling the development of a classification system to help users find trails that match their interest and ability. It is at the second reading stage.
Bill 119, Health Information Protection Act: This bill contains amendments to the Personal Health Information Protection Act of 2004, including mandatory reporting of privacy breaches, increased fines for offences under the act, and the removal of time limits for commencing prosecutions under the act. It has been referred to the Standing Committee on Justice Policy.
Bill 151, Waste-Free Ontario Act: This bill is an attempt to overhaul Ontario’s recycling regime, which has come under criticism for stalled recycling rates and unpopular “eco-fees.” A major aspect of the bill is to make manufacturers more accountable for the products and packaging they produce. It is at the second reading stage.
Bill 159, Black History Month Act: While Ontario has recognized February as Black History Month for many years, this bill formally establishes February as Black History Month on an annual basis. It has already achieved royal assent and is now law.
Bill 163: Supporting Ontario’s First Responders Act (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder): This bill is the government’s response to criticisms that the current workplace insurance system makes it too difficult for first responders suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder to get compensation. The bill passed the first reading stage.
The following private members’ bills were debated:
Bill 158, Saving the Girl Next Door Act: Put forward by Progressive Conservative MPP Laurie Scott, this bill aims to combat human trafficking. A recent legislative committee report called Ontario a “major hub” for trafficking. The bill would give the police immediate power to enforce protection orders on behalf of victims against traffickers and provides victims recourse to seek compensation. It has been referred to the Standing Committee on Justice Policy.
Bill 160, Life Lease Act: Life leases are a form of housing geared mainly towards seniors. They are similar to condominiums, but are leased rather than owned. This allows the leaseholder more say in who moves in after someone leaves, which can be important in a mature adult community where people prefer to live with others their own age and who share common interests. Life leases are not legislated in Ontario, and Liberal MPP Ann Hoggarth’s bill aims to give basic protection to people who live in this form of housing. It has been referred to the Standing Committee on Regulations and Private Bills.
Bill 161, Elimination of Ground Current Pollution Act: Errant electrical current leaking from wires can travel through yards and buildings. This has been of particular concern for many farmers, who say ground current pollution can cause a decrease in production of livestock and even death. PC MPP Rick Nicholls’ bill would require electrical utilities to respond to a complaint of ground current pollution within 10 days of receiving it, investigate the complaint within 30 days of receiving it, and take all necessary steps to eliminate the problem within six months. The bill has been referred to the Standing Committee on General Government.
Bill 162, Commission of Inquiry into Illegal Trade and Trafficking of People, Drugs, Money, Tobacco and Weapons Act: PC MPP Toby Barrett’s bill would create the commission mentioned in the bill’s title and instruct it to make recommendations to combat these illegal trades. It passed first reading.
Bill 164, Battle of the Hatpins Day Act: NDP MPP France Gélinas wants every Jan. 29 remembered as Battle of the Hatpins Day. It would commemorate an incident on Jan. 29, 1916, when Franco-Ontarian women pushed back school inspectors from entering a school and shutting it down for teaching French, which was illegal in Ontario at the time. The bill passed first reading.
Queen’s Park This Week is TVO.org’s weekly roundup of key events at the Ontario legislature. For more coverage of provincial politics, watch TVO’s archive of the most recent question periods at Queen’s Park.
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