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Queen's Park Highlights - April 20, 2018

1. ETFO releases updated Building Better Schools Plan

On April 16, ETFO released its updated Building Better Schools plan for education reform. First launched prior to the 2011 provincial election, the plan was updated in 2014 and again in advance of the June 7 election. The plan includes eight policy “building blocks,” including two added for the 2018 edition: 1) fair funding and an independent review of the education funding formula and 2) a single secular school system.

Both the Ontario NDP platform, released on April 16, and the Green Party of Ontario platform include a number of the policies promoted in ETFO’s Building Better Schools.

2. PC Party continue to lead in the Polls with NDP in Second Place

On April 19, Forum Research released a poll of 1126 Ontario voters conducted on April 18 that indicates 46% support the PCs, 27% support the NDP, 21% support the Liberals, and 4% support the Green Party. The polling indicated that, of the NDP platform policies, the commitment to increase taxation of the wealthy and the student loan conversion plan were particularly popular.

The leaders’ approval ratings were Kathleen Wynne: 18% approval, 73% disapproval, 9% don’t know; Doug Ford: 37% approval, 40% disapprove; 23% don’t know; Andrea Horwath: 37% approval, 32% disapproval, 31% don’t know.

Forum Research projected that these results, if an election were held that day, would translate into a PC majority government with 94 seats, the NDP with 23 seats, and 7 seats for the Liberals.

3. PC MPP raises Moody’s Rating of Ontario’s Credit Outlook as Concern

On April 18, PC MPP Victor Fedeli pointed to that fact the credit rating agency Moody has “downgraded the province’s credit outlook from stable  to negative,” following release of the provincial Budget. He asked why the government was putting Ontario “in an even more precarious financial position.” Premier Kathleen Wynne replied:

“Let me just say—and this is part of the message that the member opposite neglected—Moody’s has confirmed our Aa2 credit rating. They have adjusted their outlook, we know that, but this is not a credit rating downgrade. Ontario’s debt continues to be highly marketable. That reflects the confidence of investors in our economy.

“We do value the input of the rating agencies. Our responsibility is, and it always will be, to support the care and opportunity for people in this province. That’s the role of government: to do the things that people cannot do by themselves.”

In answer to a supplementary question, Finance Minister Charles Sousa provided more information on the Moody perspective:

“The member quotes Moody’s, so I’m going to quote Moody’s as well. Here it is, word for word: ‘The affirmation of the Aa2’ rating for the province of Ontario “reflects the province’s ability to rely on a large, diversified economic base with sound wealth generation that supports a strong provincial revenue base, a greater degree of flexibility relative to global peers to accommodate revenue and expenditure pressures and prudent debt management.”

“Investors are investing in Ontario for a reason: because we’re making it happen. We are relying on our economic engine of the economy to support all of Canada.”

4. NDP Leader and Premier spar over Child Care Policies

On April 17, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath referred to the Liberal plan to introduce free pre-school for children aged two-and-a-half until Kindergarten and asked: “Why does the Premier believe that a mom who wants to go back to work should have to wait till her child is two and a half years old before having access to child care that she can afford?”

Premier Kathleen Wynne stated that “overall, there is a lot of common ground between what we’re putting forward and what the NDP has put forward.” She said she would be happy to talk about the differences, but wanted to focus more on the negative effect of a PC government on public services. In answer to a supplementary question, she said:

“I believe that parents need to have choices. We know that two and a half years is when there is a real bulge of demand. That’s why what we’re proposing is free preschool child care for two-and-a-half- to four-year-olds, and we’ll continue to subsidize for zero to two and a half. The reality is that there needs to be choice.

“There’s more common ground between us and the NDP than not. I appreciate that she has stepped up and has put child care in her platform.”

5. NDP MPP raises Concern over York University Strike

On April 18, NDP MPP Cindy Forster pointed to the ongoing CUPE strike at York University and the concerns of students who worry about not being able to graduate. Advanced Education and Skills Development Minister Miztie Hunter replied:

“York University has remained open and students are attending classes. This is a very challenging situation. I’ve connected with both sides multiple times. It’s a very, very tough situation. We respect the collective bargaining process. We are calling on both sides in this situation to think about a compromise, put the needs of the students first, get back to the table and resolve this issue so that it’s fair and equitable to both sides.”

6. NDP MPP says Auto Workers unfairly treated by Change in Employment Standards

On April 18, NDP MPP Jennifer French raises concerns over recent changes to auto workers’ access to personal leave days. She stated:

“…not only are cleaners in auto plants finding their job titles re-designated as “auto workers” so that their leave days can be clawed back, but there also have been employers across this province who have taken their cue from the government and have issued notices that they will now only allow seven personal emergency leave days. These are employers who had previously been giving their workers 10 days.”

Labour Minister Kevin Flynn defended what he termed a “pilot project” in the auto sector that was implemented following consultation with auto industry stakeholders, including organized labour. He stated:

“What we put in place was a pilot project. We wanted to look at the auto sector and we wanted to examine if there was a different way of providing personal emergency leave that made sense and took into account the competitive nature and other unique parts of the auto sector. We’ve been out there for about a year with the pilot project. We continue to talk to those who are involved with this issue. It is a pilot project, and you have my commitment that when we examine it, we’re going to do a very thorough examination.”

In answer to a supplementary question, Minister Flynn suggested that he and MPP French were on the same page because the government agreed it was time to evaluate the pilot. He also informed the House that “we have appointed Buzz Hargrove, the former leader of the CAW, and Stacey Allerton, former vice-president of human resources at Ford Motor Company and the former director of labour affairs for Ford in the United States” to provide advice on the pilot.

Following Question Period, MPP French introduced Bill 55, Fairness for the Auto Sector Act (Employment Standards), 2018, a private member’s bill that proposes to address the concerns regarding auto workers’ access to personal leave. In introducing the bill, MPP French stated:

“Currently, the Employment Standards Act, 2000, permits industry-specific regulations about leaves of absence. These regulations can detrimentally affect the entitlements and rights that an employee would otherwise have under the part of the act that deals with leaves of absence. The bill would restrict this power. Industry-specific regulations could still be made, but they would not be permitted to detrimentally affect those entitlements and rights.”

For more information, check the website of the Ontario Legislature.

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