Hard-to-figure government rejects moratorium on school closures; heading into Constituency Week

This Week at Queen’s Park (March 10)

by MPP Jim McDonell

Sometimes it’s just hard to figure this government out. For months, they have responded to our questions on the more than 600 school closures with assurances of how they support local rural schools, pointing the finger of blame at local school boards. With no action and deadlines looming, we submitted an Opposition Day Motion to be debated Tuesday afternoon, calling for a moratorium on further school closures until a full review is completed to develop a strategy to serve rural Ontario and to identify appropriate funding.

Facing the required vote on the motion, the government released a six-page letter late Monday, designating three government members to review rural education.  On Tuesday morning, school boards clarified that the letter changes nothing and that they are still required to continue with the closures. I was proud to join several of my colleagues in pressing the government to step up and show leadership and commit to giving our students good public education close to home. After two hours of debate, during which the Minister and government members repeatedly said that they supported rural schools, they voted down our motion. The Minister of Education wanted to avoid questions on the subject, actually running away from reporters during the day.

On Wednesday, I was proud to stand to acknowledge the commitment and determination displayed by our community over the past six months on the local school closure issue.  Individuals, community groups and municipal politicians from across the region stood together to voice their concerns and put forth reasonable, well thought out alternatives.  While we were not entirely successful and more work needs to be done, the latest draft plan is strides ahead of the original plan. Other areas across the province will be hit much harder, as up to 600 schools are proposed to close, and it is our duty as legislators to stand up for them. Through irresponsible and secret cuts and counterproductive funding policies, the Ministry of Education has forced school boards to consider closures. It is time the local school boards joined forces with their communities and their provincial representatives, to deliver the message to this government that local education matters.

On Monday I sat in Social Policy committee to examine amendments to Bill 59, the Putting Consumers First Act. Our proposals included several grandfathering provisions that would have ensured law-abiding, registered professionals and businesses would not be severely impacted by new regulatory regimes in the home inspection and payday lending fields. Moreover, we wished to protect debtors from unfair and deceitful collection practices by introducing several prohibitions into the Collections Act. The Government voted against. They did accept our proposal that payday lenders refer some customers to credit counseling and other financial help services. The Bill now returns to the House for Third Reading.

The opposition parties continued to question the government on their latest Hydro scheme. Borrowing billions of dollars to temporarily lower rates will only create a much bigger disaster in the years to come. The plan does nothing to correct the real problems behind the energy crisis this government has created. The government must make some tough decisions and they should start with reversing their Green Energy Act, stopping the sale of Hydro One and reining in executive salaries.  It’s time to base energy policies on sound science and economic principles, and not on political convenience.

In the House Bill 89, the Supporting Children, Youth and Families Act, was passed at Second Reading and referred to Justice Committee. In Private Members’ Business my colleague Steve Clark MPP proposed the Free My Rye Act, a Bill that would give craft distillers in Ontario the same tax and regulatory benefits afforded to craft brewers. Ontario grows fantastic products and our agri-food industry is committed to great taste and quality. Our craft distillers are no exception and they deserve our support as their industry develops. The government and the NDP disagreed and voted the Free My Rye Act down.

The House agreed with MPP Vic Fedeli to designate Safe Texting Zones on Ontario’s major highways to tackle the problem of distracted driving. Shareholders can look forward to changed corporate governance: the Business Corporations Amendment Act (Bill 101) reduces the minimum thresholds for nominating directors and calling shareholders’ meetings. Boards will also have to disclose their attainment of diversity targets among directors and senior management. We agree diversity is an asset, but we wonder whether this requirement could be integrated into an already existing reporting framework rather than creating a brand new one.

Next week we return to our ridings for the Constituency Week, and I look forward to meeting with residents of SD&G and joining local organizations as they announce their new exciting Ontario Trillium Foundation grants.

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