This Week in Queen’s Park
by Jim McDonell
Again this week, the government was in the hot seat, defending their record on energy. Patrick Brown questioned the Premier on the justification for signing another 390 contracts for 150 megawatts of power, despite a report by Professional Engineers Ontario that the Province had 7.6 terawatt-hours of surplus energy last year, worth more than $1 billion.
The issue of partisan advertising on the public dime was back in the news for the latest $5.5 million ad campaign promoting the government’s hydro plan, explicitly aimed to “combat negative media coverage of rising electricity bills” according to internal government documents. The Financial Accountability Officer challenged the government on their overly optimistic assumptions underlying the plan. He pegged the plan’s cost between $69 and $93 billion; an expensive way to achieve a $24B temporary savings. Ontarians want a government that will actually lower their electricity bills, not spend millions of public dollars advertising their borrowing scheme that will cause electricity rates to jump. This is no way to run our province.
The government’s cap-and trade deal signed with Quebec and California last weekend will, according to the Auditor-General, see Ontario’s businesses purchase $466 million of credits from California and Quebec by 2020, and $2.2 billion by 2030. This money will be siphoned out of Ontario’s economy to pay for carbon reductions outside of our region, and can only have a negative impact on Ontario jobs.
Responding to prodding by the Official Opposition regarding the impact of intense heat on students in schools, the premier’s chosen answer strategy struck the wrong chords. Instead of committing to set maximum allowable temperatures in classrooms, or to installing air conditioning and fixing windows that don’t open, the Premier compared the students’ predicament to her own need to move a meeting down the hall at Queen’s Park. The two situations don’t compare. Students don’t have a choice of where to take classes. Instead of answering “me too” the Premier should have indicated a course of action for her Minister of Education.
Bill 142, the Construction Lien Amendment Act, continued its Second Reading stage. The Bill establishes prompt payment in the construction industry, something stakeholders have long advocated for. When a contractor finishes their job, it can sometimes take months for them to get paid. In the meantime the business needs to pay its workers and bills; clearly an unfair practice. Some details, such as who gets to pick the adjudicators, are causing the PC Caucus concern, and we will want to clarify those at Committee.
The government cut debate short on Bill 139, the Building Better Communities And Conserving Watersheds Act. Municipal stakeholders, builders, community groups and the PC Caucus agree: this Bill misses the mark. Community groups will have more difficulty getting their legal fees waived, deterring legitimate opposition to planning decisions. More delays in construction of new homes and subdivisions could deter some time-sensitive projects. The Bill also creates unneeded warrantless entry powers for officials. As with many bills by this Government, we need to sit down, listen to the experts and fix this legislation before it goes any further.