Queens Park – A Cabinet document leak blew a hole in the government’s messaging on hydro rates on Thursday. Despite the promise of relief for families struggling to pay their bills, the government plans for the average bill to spike to $153 per month by 2023 and $225 by 2040. That’s almost double today’s average – an already unaffordable level for many families.
Ethics and transparency in government dominated the agenda this week. On Tuesday the PC Caucus submitted an Opposition Day Motion demanding for ethics and accountability to be enshrined in legislation. Political fundraising reforms passed earlier this year accomplish precious little when it comes to stopping high-pressure fundraising tactics. Ministers and elected members may no longer attend fundraising events, yet nothing prevents them from soliciting funds from Ministry stakeholders over the phone. We demanded that Ministers’ fundraising targets be made illegal, that former Ministerial staff undergo a one-year cool-off period without lobbying the government, a ban on government advertising in the 90 days leading up to an election, stronger document retention legislation to prevent a repeat of the gas plant scandal and the publication of Integrity Commissioner findings in matters regarding Ministerial staff conflict of interest. The government figured everything was just fine as it is today, and voted the motion down.
The government also realized time was running out for their bills to clear the legislative agenda in time for the summer recess and began using a mixture of PR and legislative tactics to try to expedite proceedings. On Wednesday they cut debate short on Bill 127, the Budget Bill. It amends more than 30 acts and implements measures such as a reform of the accounting profession, laying the groundwork for a foreign buyers’ tax, giving Registered Nurses the right to prescribe certain medications and implementing an extra pharmacy tax, which will make it more difficult for residents of rural and remote areas to obtain life-saving drugs. Bill 127 has not had enough debate at Second Reading and the government has set unrealistically tight deadlines for stakeholders to actually provide any input. Ontarians had only four days to register and prepare a presentation, while amendments were due the same day public hearings were to take place. The committee then has less than a day to examine all amendments and all sections of the Bill. Third Reading debate has been reduced to nothing but 10 minutes per party, or 20 seconds per piece of legislation contained in Bill 127. It is clear the government has no intention to let Ontarians know what they’re doing, or listen to communities’ voices.
We passed Bill 84, the Medical Assistance in Dying Act. The PC Caucus demanded that conscience rights for medical professionals be guaranteed in the legislation and set in stone. This amendment having been defeated, the PC Caucus had no choice but vote against the legislation and submit our own Private Members’ Bill to restore conscience rights. I look forward to its passage.
Next week I expect the Government’s heavy handed approach to lawmaking to continue. The end of the spring session is quickly approaching and their time is running out. Rather than strike agreements with the opposition, they seem determined to do push through legislation without proper oversight and public hearings. Is it just bad planning, or are they avoiding important public input and scrutiny?
-MPP Jim McDonell