End of Federal Election Means Eyes Turn Back to Provincial Matters

With the Federal Election out of the way, people now have a little bit more spare time to engage in the other two levels of government. The Ontario Legislature will be back in session after a five-month summer break on Monday, but less than 24 hours after Election Day, and even a little bit before that, politics are coming back to Queen’s Park.

Premier Doug Ford took the occasion of Election Day to make the unusual move to give his cabinet some renovation. The small scale shuffle consisted of three small changes; not a change of personnel, but a shift in who carries what responsibilities.

Monte McNaughton is now the Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development, which takes the “Training and Skills Development” responsibilities off the plate of Ross Romano who will now just be Minister of Colleges and Universities. Lisa McLeod, meanwhile, will now handle heritage as the Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries.

“These changes will enhance our government’s focus on strengthening Ontario’s tourism, culture and sport sectors, and prepare Ontario’s workforce for the jobs of the future,” said Ford in a media release. According the Premier’s statement, the adjustments were made to “effectively continue with our government’s agenda to create good jobs, support small businesses, and implement our plan to build Ontario together.”

This would be the second change to Ford’s cabinet since it was sworn in 19 months ago.

Trudeau V. Ford: Dawn of Ruckus

This morning, Ford issued a statement congratulating Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s re-election, as well as the other Federal leaders for a hard fought campaign.

“Our government looks forward to working with the Prime Minister, and with all federal parties, to build better public services and make life more affordable and prosperous for Ontarians and all Canadians,” Ford said.

The statement mentioned mental health, healthcare, infrastructure, and gridlock, but there’s one thing it didn’t mention: the carbon tax.

“Doug Ford was betting on carbon pricing being the ballot question last night and it wasn’t,” said Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner in a statement Tuesday.

Schreiner demanded that Ford stay true to statements he made before the election, and cancel further court action on the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act (GGPPA).

“This carbon tax, it’s not going to be the courts that are going to decide. The people are going to decide when the election is held,” Ford said back in August according to the CBC. “Once the people decide, I believe in democracy, I respect democracy, we move on. The people will have the opportunity, not the courts.”

“We’ll sit down and consult with the attorney general … We’ll be consulting with the cabinet and then we’ll move forward from there,” Ford said.

The Ontario government then filed its appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada a week later, but Schreiner thinks Ford should stick with his original statement.

“Voters delivered a split result, but one thing they certainly did not deliver was a mandate to roll back climate action. That much is clear,” Schreiner said. “A majority of voters rejected the federal party that believes it should be free to pollute.

“So I’m asking the Premier to make good on his prior comments that voters should decide the fate of his multi-million dollar lawsuit,” he added. “He should drop the campaign to sabotage climate solutions and start showing Ontarians that he actually understands the urgency of the climate crisis.”

A Line on Ontario Line

While all eyes were on the election, progress was made between the City of Toronto and the Government of Ontario on the expansion of transit in Toronto, especially the much maligned Ontario Line, which is meant to replace the planned Downtown Relief Line.

“The detailed report released [on October 16] from our city and TTC staff professionals makes the case for why city council should pursue this plan, why it’s a good deal for Toronto residents, especially those who use transit and for the city’s long-term finances,” said Toronto Mayor John Tory in a media release. “It also explains clearly that the province has agreed to leave the existing subway system as part of the TTC – owned by the people of Toronto. This was a key requirement of council when we entered into these discussions.”

The agreement will assure that the City of Toronto will retain ownership of the current subway network, and retain operation of the current TTC transit network. The Province will fund and build expansion projects, and will work hand-in-hand with Toronto on the Ontario Line, the Scarborough subway, Eglinton West LRT and Yonge North.

“Our plan is ambitious, but it is attainable. Our government will make sure the new Ontario Line and the extensions are built – quickly. And we will do this, working collaboratively with the City of Toronto and the TTC,” Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney told the Toronto Region Board of Trade last week.

The Ontario Line was mentioned prominently in Ford’s congratulatory statement. “Our government is further encouraged by the Prime Minister’s commitment on the campaign trail to fund the federal government’s share of the all-new Ontario Line subway project,” he said.

Wait, did Trudeau say that a Liberal government would support funding the Ontario Line? This idea comes from a Toronto Star article last week where “Senior federal Liberal officials, speaking confidentially” said that Trudeau would abide by the decision of Toronto City Council if they decide to move forward with the agreement.

That may come as a surprise to at least one member of the Liberal caucus.

“The questions cascade from this ridiculous proposal, and as a Federal government we just look at the Provincial government and our jaw drops. It’s insane,” Toronto MP Adam Vaughan said at a transportation debate last month. “We will fund real transit projects that are based on real evidence that come from cities because cities run, deliver and understand how it works.”

Take Out the Trash Day

In politics, when you don’t want people to talk about something, you release it on Friday afternoon, and this past Friday was a big “Take Out the Trash Day.”

Last week, it was announced that the employees of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) were starting to take strike votes, which could result in them being in a strike position sometime in late November. On Friday, it was announced that the union is now seeking conciliation, and that was one day after the Elementary Teachers’ of Ontario (ETFO) did the same.

Minister of Education Stephen Lecce said Friday that “everything is on the table” in terms of negotiations, including the one per cent wage cap for pubic services workers, but sensing that he was taking a forceful stance, Lecce said that he meant government negotiators were ready to meet at any time.

“What I have said broadly is that I’m prepared to be reasonable on the big challenges at the table,” he said, according to the Canadian Press. “But I want the focus to be on moving resources (to) the front of the class.”

Somewhat more suspiciously, a Globe and Mail investigation obtained documents that showed that senior bureaucrats in the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing began researching the size of Toronto City council on June 8, 2018, just two days after Ford and the Progressive Conservatives won the Provincial election.

In July 2018, Ford announced that the size and composition of Toronto’s council would be reduced from 47 seats to 25. Neither Ford, nor any member of the governing party, ran on the proposal to alter Toronto council, or interfere with municipal governance.

“We were elected on a promise to reduce the size and cost of government and to end the culture of waste and mismanagement; we acted quickly to do just that,” Julie O’Driscoll, a spokeswoman for Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark, told the Globe in an e-mail statement

“The polls had barely closed and the incoming Premier was already fast at work on a plan to slash Toronto City Council – something he deliberately held from voters and the city,” said Schreiner in a statement. “It says a lot about his priorities that concocting this scheme was the first task for his transition team, ahead of hallway health care, affordable housing or other more important issues.”

At least one political activist in Toronto agrees.

“I think this timing only reinforces the fact that the move to slash city council in half in the middle of an election was a political decision,” said Michal Hay, executive director of Progress Toronto to the Globe.

The Ontario Legislature sits again on October 28.

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