This week at Queen’s Park (Dec. 9)
by MPP Jim McDonell
The legislature was very busy this week as the session wrapped up. On Monday, we debated many Bills including Bill 47 and Bill 34, which have attracted attention across the province.
Bill 34 ensures grandparents have the right to apply for access and custody orders for their grandchildren, a significant step for Ontarian grandparents who have advocated for changes to this area of family law for years. Bills to recognize grandparents’ roles in their grandchildren’s lives have passed second reading in the legislature several times, however the government allowed them to die in committee by not calling them forward for examination. All three parties came together to bring the bill through third reading unanimously.
Bill 47 will forbid the expiry of reward points such as Air Miles and Aeroplan points in Ontario. Consumers who were either caught aback by Air Miles’ upcoming expiry of older miles, or who had considerable trouble redeeming points could breathe a sigh of relief even prior to the bill’s debate, as the company announced its expiry policy would be withdrawn. Reading through financial documents and the public presentations at committee reveals that Bill 47 could have unintended consequences. First and foremost, companies may choose to move their headquarters elsewhere where Bill 47 would not apply. They may choose not to offer reward programs to Ontario consumers, as presenters highlighted during committee hearings. Alternatively, companies that planned for points expiry may recoup the liability of retroactively credited points against all program members by diluting the value of every point, as Air Miles appears to want to do when it says it “will adjust the value proposition to collectors.” Only time will tell whether consumers in Ontario, and across Canada, got a good deal from Bill 47.
The government also pushed forward Bill 41, which removes many decision-making powers from local agencies and hospitals, giving them to bureaucratic institutions, such as LHINs, which are very detached from local healthcare needs and realities. The PC caucus opposed the bill, as did key stakeholders, such as the Ontario Medical Association. Doctors want to treat patients, not fill in paperwork and wade through needless red tape. Bill 41 may be called “Putting Patients First”, but its consequences will put patients last. We need a health system built around the patient, not the bureaucrat. Front-line services, especially those provided by hospitals, community health centres and primary care physicians need to be appropriately funded to keep the community healthy – Bill 41 subjects them to a greater administrative burden and costs without providing any additional support.
The government also finalized its debate of Bill 70, an omnibus piece of legislation that amends several acts to implement the government’s economic policies. Local tradespeople came forward to voice their concern with how Bill 70 changed the way their profession is regulated. The College of Trades is being changed to make disputes heard before the Ontario Labour Relations Board rather than a court of law, and a new agency is being created under the auspices of the college to determine which trades are to be made compulsory and which should remain voluntary. The government’s policies on trades have exacerbated a looming skilled tradespeople shortage, as high fees and reduced apprenticeship ratios prevent a sufficient number of new journeypersons joining the workforce as the previous generation retires. Bill 70 does nothing to address this issue.
On January 1, 2017, life in Ontario will once again get more expensive as the new Liberal Cap and Trade tax is applied to all goods and services. The government has ordered that the tax be hidden in the cost of the product and not visible to the customer. Natural gas companies report that the tax will add up to $83 to your average annual bill. In last week’s Auditor General’s report, she highlighted some disturbing facts about this new carbon tax, including that businesses will be buying $8 billion of carbon credits from California over the next 3 years and $2 billion a year after that. That’s the equivalent of 163,000 average Ontario salaries being removed from our economy, resulting in less than 20 percent of the benefiting emission cuts actually occurring in Ontario. The Auditor also reported that this new tax will increase the household cost of electricity by 23 percent between 2017 and 2020. While the pricing of carbon is being mandated by our federal government, our PC party had advocated for a simpler revenue-neutral carbon tax that should be introduced as part of a broader North American plan. Our Wynne Liberals rushed this new tax in with little oversight and will result in more lost jobs as our southern neighbours are not proceeding at this time, making our businesses less competitive.
As the legislature breaks for the winter recess, I am looking forward to meeting residents of Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry at the numerous community events organized to celebrate the Christmas season and beyond. As your voice in the legislature, I will continue to hear your concerns and bring them forward when Queen’s Park resumes in February. I take this opportunity to wish all of you a Merry Christmas and all the best for the 2017 New Year!