This Week in Queen’s Park
By Jim McDonell
MPP of SDSG
The government pressed the accelerator pedal in the Legislature this week, with time-allocation motions being used to expedite legislation, including Bill 31 (Budget bill), Bill 6 (correctional services) and Bill 8 (elevators and credit reporting). Considering the very few sessional days left in this Parliament, the government’s rush is no surprise. Before going for the prorogation gambit, the government used precious legislative time to debate motions of no consequence instead of working through Second Reading debates. After prorogation, the Throne Speech took up another sessional week, and the time crunch started being felt.
The government has a majority – it can do almost whatever it pleases. They are the authors of their current panic, which means MPPs and stakeholders are deprived of the opportunity to comment on legislation, understand its implications and bring forth well-rounded arguments. I sat in Committee hearings on corrections this week and was impressed by the sheer number of issues affecting our corrections system – from solitary confinement to health, rehabilitation and staff hiring. A reform has been brewing for years. Condensing years of advocacy, knowledge and experience into a 5-minute presentation inevitably leaves out essential nuances that could, if given the chance, help create truly informed public policy.
Meanwhile, the unintended but predictable consequences of the government’s about-face on balanced budgets began manifesting themselves. A major sovereign credit rating agency first issued a warning, then downgraded our fiscal outlook. This is no minor bump in the road. If you would think twice about investing long-term into a bond whose issuer might not be able to pay, institutional buyers have already done so and will demand a higher interest. This already costs us $1 billion a month. When interest rates rise, this interest bill will only become more expensive. The current Budget is a 308-page IOU being stuffed into the provincial piggy bank – Ontarians deserve and need an honest, plausible and mature fiscal plan that focuses on the kind of balance that makes public services sustainable and government finances boringly predictable.
The electricity corporate governance file was anything but predictable this week. The government dodged the question about a $400,000 pay increase for the CEO of Ontario Power Generation, a crown corporation in direct contact with the government. The shrugging of shoulders is just one indication of the lack of control over the spending of your taxpayers’ dollars. While the Opposition peppered the government with questions regarding the completely disproportionate salary of Hydro One’s CEO compared to his Canadian peers, news emerged that the company changed its compensation policy by doubling the CEO’s severance to $10 million in case the government exercised its right to fire the Board and CEO. To any reasonable observer, this smacks of a dare by the utility to its controlling shareholder and to the customers it, as a monopolist, holds captive. We have moved from back-room spats to open defiance of a government that for years projected weakness. This can’t be allowed to slide. Immediate, exemplary action is imperative, if the very institution of government is to maintain the legitimacy and authority that it needs in order to exist.
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