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Queen’s Park Highlights - November 17, 2017

MPPs returned to Queen’s Park on November 14 for a short week following a Constituency Week and long weekend that included Remembrance Day. The Legislature is now in session until December 14, when it’s scheduled to adjourn for the winter break.

1. Campaign for Public Education releases Report on School Capital Funding Backlog

On November 14, Campaign for Public Education, the Toronto-based public advocacy organization representing parents, education workers, students, school trustees and city councillors, released a report that profiled a backlog in school repairs, renovations and renewal amounting to $15.9 billion. Ontario economist Hugh Mackenzie, who authored ETFO’s report on the shortcomings of the provincial education funding formula, wrote the report.

The report’s recommendations include calling on the government to:

  • Provide an additional $1 billion annually to school board capital grants until the backlog is eliminated;
  • Amend the education funding formula to set a “realistic level” of funding for ongoing school renewal;
  • Establish a separate stream of funding to replace the 346 schools deemed to be too expensive to repair;
  • Establish a standard of “good repair”;
  • Allow school boards to build new schools where needed “without reference to occupancy status of distant schools”; and
  • Allow school boards to charge Education Development Charges when new housing is developed to help pay the cost of new schools.

2. NDP Leader calls on Government to respond to Report on School Capital Funding

On November 14, following the Campaign for Public Education (CPE) news conference, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath referred to the $15.9 billion backlog cited in the CPE report and asked Premier Kathleen Wynne how had she allowed “this $15.9-billion school repair backlog to get so bad?” Premier Wynne replied:

“Let’s just look at the facts of what has happened over the last number of years, Mr. Speaker. First of all, we inherited a system that was seriously degraded. As I’ve said in this House and elsewhere, one of the reasons that I am in provincial politics is because of the policies of the previous government that allowed our publicly funded education system to degrade, in the classroom and outside of the classroom. That’s why I’m here; that’s why many of us are here.

“We have invested $17.5 billion in capital funding. We’ve built 820 new schools, and we’ve invested in more than 800 retrofits and additions. When you think of the reality that there are in the order of 5,000 publicly funded schools in this province, that is a huge percentage of schools that have either been rebuilt or have been renovated. Since 2013, we’ve invested $9.3 billion in capital funding to support more than 120 new schools and more than 140 additions and renovations. That rebuild and that renovation continues.”

In answer to a supplementary question, Education Minister Mitzie Hunter stated:

“We have a plan moving forward to continue to invest in Ontario’s schools. We are investing $16 billion over the next decade to invest in the infrastructure in our schools, because we know that good school environments provide optimal learning for students, and that is our focus.”

3. Finance Minister delivers Fall Economic Statement

On November 14, Finance Minister Charles Sousa delivered the government’s Fall Economic statement, the mid-term report prior to the Spring Budget. The Minister provided a positive overview of key economic indicators. He reported that 800,000 net new jobs had been created since the 2008 global recession, the unemployment rate had dropped to 5.9 per cent, and real GDP growth was forecast at 2.8 per cent in 2017, higher than predicted in the 2017 Budget.

The government announced it will cut the small business tax rate from 4.5 per cent to 3.5 per cent effective January 1, 2018, a measure intended to help offset the minimum wage increase.

PC MPP calls on Government to slow down Minimum Wage Increases

On November 15, PC MPP John Yakabuski referred to a report by the Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis that suggested that the f potential job loss resulting from the planned minimum wage increases “would decrease by three quarters if the minimum wage is gradually increased to $15 over five years instead of the next 14 months.” (At that point, the increases wouldn’t be much more than the inflation rate increases.) He asked whether the government would adopt a more gradual phase in of the $15 minimum wage. Labour Minister Kevin Flynn replied:

“…we’ve spent the past two and a half years in dialogue with the people of Ontario…One thing became very, very clear: About a third of the people in the province of Ontario currently make less than $15 an hour. Half of those people are between the ages of 25 and 64. They’re trying to raise families. They’re trying to buy groceries. They’re trying to buy shoes for their kids. They’re trying to pay their rent. We on this side of the House think it’s time for those people to have an increase in their pay. We do not believe that anybody in this province should work 35 or 40 hours a week, sometimes at two or three jobs, and not be able to afford the basics in Ontario.”

4. PC MPP cites ETFO Support for Private Member’s Bill on Sexual Harassment Training

On November 16, PC MPP Laurie Scott, who has introduced a private member’s bill proposing mandatory sexual harassment training for provincial judges, cited ETFO’s support in asking the government to support the bill:

“A few months ago, I was copied on a letter of support for my bill from the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario which was addressed to the Attorney General. The letter said that, since the training the minister announced “won’t be mandatory for current provincial judges, victims of sexual assault appearing before the provincial courts still run the risk of experiencing negative and damaging comments and rulings from the presiding justice.”

“Will the government listen to the call from the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and support Bill 120 this afternoon?”

Attorney General Yasir Naqvi replied by reviewing its policy for requiring training for new judges:

“Let me be absolutely clear: Sexual assault is a very serious issue that demands attention from all levels of government and all our institutions. Supporting survivors is really important to me because I know, as they move through the justice system, that these processes have the potential to re-traumatize the victims, and we want to do everything we can to ensure that that does not happen.

“That’s why we have dedicated legal supports. That’s why we have specially trained crowns and free legal advice for survivors of sexual assault. That is why I’m also pleased—as I have said before—that the Chief Justice of the Ontario Court of Justice has informed me that the court has expressly mandated that sexual assault education be mandatory for new judges. The education plan has been updated and is available on the Ontario Court of Justice website.”

Later that day the bill passed the second reading vote and was referred to the Standing Committee on Justice Policy for review.

5. NDP Education Critic calls on Government to take Action on College Strike

On November 14, NDP Education Critic Peggy Sattler acknowledged the government’s move to require community colleges to use the money they had saved during the protracted college faculty strike to establish a fund to support students affected by the disruption. She asked, however, why the government wasn’t doing more to get the colleges’ employer council back to the bargaining table. Premier Wynne responded:

“I am completely sympathetic with students who want to be back in the classroom. They need to Bbe back in the classroom, and I know that colleges have a responsibility to put in place contingency plans to ensure that students don’t lose this semester.

“I also know that faculty want to be back in the classroom. My understanding is that faculty will begin voting on the employers’ last offer through the OLRB beginning today.

“We want every student in our college system back in class as quickly as possible, but I know that the member opposite understands the process. We need to let that unfold. We will work as hard as we can to make sure that young people get back into the classroom as quickly as possible.”

On November 16, striking OPSEU members voted to reject the College Employer Council’s final offer.

6. Labour and Employment Standards Reform Bill moves forward

Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017 should be passed by next week. The Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs adopted a second round of amendments during its proceedings on November 16 and the bill will be reported to the House on November 20 for third reading debate and a vote. The final vote may be deferred to the following day.

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

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