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Queen's Park Highlights - December 4, 2018

MPPs spent four days at the Legislature last week. This week the GM Oshawa plant closure announcement dominated question period, the government continued to face a backlash over its cuts to francophone services resulting in an MPP resigning from the PC Caucus, the opposition raised upcoming cuts to education funding and the government announced its environmental plan.

1. Leader of the Opposition and Premier spar over government response to the announcement by GM that it plans to close its Oshawa plant

On November 26, GM announced its plan to shut down its Oshawa plant. GM has been present in Oshawa for 100 years. Responding to a question from the Leader of the Opposition Andrea Horwath about what the government would do in response, Premier Doug Ford stated:

“Today’s announcement that GM is going to make is absolutely devastating. It’s devastating not only for the people in Oshawa, the people who work at GM, but the surrounding areas that rely on GM workers. It’s devastating for the supplier base. I think a lot of people are forgetting about the supplier base—that 6,600 people could be affected by this.

“I just want to reassure each and every person who has been affected by this that our government will stand shoulder to shoulder with them. We will do whatever it takes to make sure they get back on their feet and they get proper training….”

In follow up, the Leader of the Opposition Andrea Horwath asked:

“ I’m very disappointed, Speaker, by the Premier’s response. Nearly 5,000 people—families, actually—5,000 families rely on GM to put food on the table. I think we can all agree that we can’t just stand by and let GM walk away from a community that they’ve been a part of for over 100 years in the province of Ontario.

“My question is: What steps is the government willing to take to ensure that Oshawa maintains operations as General Motors restructures?”

The Premier responded:

“I had a conversation with the Prime Minister this morning, making sure that we’re both on the same page, and I can assure you we’re both on the same page. We may have our political differences, but when it comes to supporting the people of Durham and Ontario, we’re on the same page.

“We’re asking for a series of changes to the employment insurance eligibility, similar to what has been done in the past for forestry and Alberta’s oil patch. We want to:

“—extend EI eligibility by five weeks, to the maximum of 50 weeks from 45, in the impacted EI regions, as was done in hard-hit areas before;

“—extend the duration of work-sharing agreements an additional 38 weeks to 76 weeks;

“—allow immediate reapplication for the expired agreements, as is currently being done for forestry, so if people are working part-time, they’re still going to be eligible for EI; and

“—reintroduce the Career Transition Assistance Initiative to retrain workers—”

In her final supplementary, the Leader of the Opposition stated in part:

“Speaker, I’m pretty shocked to hear that not only is this government prepared to leave those workers dangling without a job and not fight for their jobs, but also the Premier is telling us that the federal government apparently is not prepared to fight for the jobs in Oshawa. People don’t want an adjustment program; they want to keep their jobs. That’s what they want….”

2. MPP Amanda Simard quits PC Caucus over cuts to francophone services

The decision to scrap funding for a French language University in Toronto and to eliminate the office of the French Language Services Commissioner continued to make waves at Queen’s Park. PC MPP Amanda Simard publicly broke ranks with the government over these decisions. Although the government attempted to backtrack by naming Attorney General Caroline Mulroney as the new Minister of Francophone Affairs and by creating a position of commissioner within the office of the Ombudsman, the backlash continued and led to MPP Simard quitting the PC Caucus to sit as an independent.

3. NDP Education Critic raises cuts to education funding

On November 28, NDP Education Critic Marit Stiles asked the following question:

“My question is for the Minister of Education. Speaker, every year the government consults education partners, including school boards, on their needs in order to inform the annual Grants for Student Needs, which is really how most of our education system is, in fact, funded.

“But at just five pages long, this year’s education funding guide is a chilling read. It is essentially a consultation on what to cut. Teachers, education workers, school administrators and parents are already struggling to make up funding that has been lost during the government’s so-called pause. Now they’re being asked to help choose which cuts are next.

“Instead of asking how to make education better, fix our schools and help our kids thrive, why is this government building a blueprint for deep cuts to our publicly funded education system?”

In response, Minister of Education Lisa Thompson said:

“First of all, again, I welcome the opportunity to remind everybody in this House and the folks watching on TV, the first thing we’re addressing and cutting immediately is the nonsense and the fearmongering coming from the members of the opposition party. That is our number one priority.

“The other reality check is that this province has a $15-billion debt

“—deficit, pardon me, and the debt is that much bigger: $348 billion.

“But that said, we all have to do our part. You know what? What’s wrong with inviting our stakeholders to have a thoughtful conversation about what’s working and what’s not? That’s the most important part here. We want to take a look at first-hand experience in terms of where we need to be going and what our priorities are. And Mr. Speaker, let me be very clear: Our number one priority is that classroom”

In a supplementary question, NDP Education Critic Marit Stiles stated:

“Well, Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Education wants to accuse us of fearmongering? People are very afraid, and let me explain to you why. The government’s education funding guide calls for an across-the-board cut of 4%. What does that equal? It’s a whopping $1 billion from Ontario’s education system, Minister. I just want to give you a sense of what that looks like. Some 4% of a school board budget—that’s like cutting the entire transportation budget out of the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. That’s like slashing half of the Toronto District School Board budget for special education assistants. In the Rainbow District School Board, that’s enough to cut all the computer technicians, library technicians, library teachers and guidance.

“Mr. Speaker, no one voted for massive cuts to their local schools. No one asked for this government to gut our publicly funded education system. Will the minister tell us how far this government intends to go in its quest for cuts?”

In response Minister of Education Lisa Thompson stated:

“Oh, Speaker, the drama that’s coming from the member for Davenport is staggering. I can tell you that we have a Premier and an entire caucus that is standing shoulder to shoulder with our front-line teachers and our administrators, and with our students. We are embarking on—

“Mr. Speaker. We are embarking on an amazing opportunity to turn the spotlight on the best learning environment ever. And do you know what? We want to hear from everyone. We would like, again, to use this opportunity to encourage people to participate in our consultation. We have had tremendous response. The data and the input is amazing. You know what? If you haven’t yet had an opportunity to do so, please participate in the consultation:”

4. Government announces its Environmental Plan

On November 29, the government announced its environmental plan titled, Preserving and Protecting our Environment for Future Generations - A Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan. The plan is posted on the Environmental Registry for public input for 60 days. The plan drew immediate criticism from the opposition parties, environmental organizations, the Federal government and the province’s Environmental Commissioner. The plan includes a new $400 million taxpayer-funded Carbon Trust with the stated goal of encouraging emission reductions. The provincial government is currently challenging Ottawa’s Carbon Pricing plan along with several provinces.

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


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