Last Week at Queen’s Park (March 31)
by MPP Jim McDonell
The Hydro One file continues to dog the government with the news of the five top executives earning over $11 million. The CEO, at $4.5 million, earns almost ten times the annual salary of the next highest-paid Canadian hydro utility CEO. This government is still the majority shareholder of Hydro One, but its talk of “modest salaries” rings completely hollow.
We continued to press the government on the blatant abuse of taxpayer’s money on partisan advertising. In 2015, the government removed the Auditor General’s oversight of government advertising, which has exceeded $40 million since then. Yesterday, we debated MPP Sylvia Jones’ private members bill to restore the Auditor-General’s power to block such misuse of public money, and government members voted against it. The almost $500 million spent by this government on advertising since 2007 could have supported so many important services, such as health care and education.
The closure of schools was front and centre this week, as hundreds of schools across the province continue to face closure. Monday, I joined my colleague MPP Steve Clark to highlight that treasured and excellent public schools such as Rothwell-Osnabruck, North Stormont and SJ MacLeod were closing, despite the last-minute appointment of a rural education review panel. All categories of services outside of the major urban centres of Ottawa and the greater Hamilton-Toronto area are being reduced; we need to get involved and review how we serve and protect our services in areas like ours. Our future depends on it.
Bill 87, the Protecting Patients Act began its second reading. The bill gives nurse practitioners more prescribing power and creates new mandatory education for parents exempting their children from vaccinations. Stakeholders remain concerned about the minister’s office getting more power and the reduced privacy safeguards for regulated professionals and patients.
The government tried to hide its partisan opinion polling on the taxpayer’s dime by tabling the documents at the end of day on the Friday before Family Day weekend, ensuring they would hardly be recorded anywhere. Among other things, they polled Ontarians on the popularity of their policies and the premier, and on how well their partisan messaging resonated. They have turned the entire government into a taxpayer-funded election machine.
Changes are coming to new home building after the Cunningham Report. Home warranties won’t be a monopoly, and builder regulation will be transferred over to a new agency. The government finally admitted TARION was too far removed from oversight – something we have said for years.
In committee we heard deputations on Bill 89. Stakeholders are highlighting the need to update legislation that is over 20 years old and that allows too many children and youth to fall through the cracks in our care and support system. I will keep you updated in the coming weeks.
I spoke in the House on Bill 65, the Safer School Zones Act. Don’t be fooled by the name though – school zones are an afterthought. The government wants to reintroduce photo radar so municipalities strapped of provincial cash can raise money. Photo radar alone doesn’t guarantee school zone safety — you need police and crossing guards to spot distracted, dangerous or impaired driving. The vague provisions giving municipalities carte-blanche on installing photo radar anywhere must go.
On Thursday MPP Bill Walker demanded that Long Term Care homes’ raw food and operations funding be indexed to inflation, to ensure residents’ meals and services do not suffer from rising hydro and other costs. MPP Randy Hillier proposed a way for the public to propose and donate to community improvement projects through a one-stop online resource. Both Bills were agreed to and sent to Committee.
It has been a busy week, I will continue to advocate on your behalf.