Members of the Ontario Province of Parliament will return to Queen’s Park on Tuesday after a two-month winter break.
Residents can likely expect a bit of a rocky start to the spring session. Here’s what you need to know:
PRIORITY HEALTH SERVICES
The first order of business in Queen’s Park is likely health care.
Progressive Conservatives are expected to push their new healthcare plan, which focuses on reducing the surgical backlog by allowing private clinics to perform certain surgeries.
Among the surgeries that can be performed by private clinics under the Ontario Health Insurance Plan are cataract surgeries, as well as diagnostic procedures such as MRI and CT scans, eye surgery, minimally invasive gynecological surgery, and plastic surgery.
This will be expanded further to include “non-urgent, low-risk and minimally invasive” procedures, although what is required has not been released.
In early 2024, the clinic will also be allowed to perform hip and knee replacements.
Experts have told Toronto’s CTV News that the province’s plan has the potential to reduce Ontario’s surgical backlog, but that will depend on the details. Meanwhile, unions and opposition parties argue the investment will steal staff from the hospitals that need them most and lead to potentially increased sales to patients.
PC said they hope to launch a new private clinic partnership in March, meaning this will be one of the first pieces of legislation proposed by the government.
Those who follow the Question Period should expect a flurry of questions surrounding Premier Doug Ford’s comfortable relationship with the developer – some of whom attend a $150 stag and doe party to enter.
The revelation that some of the developers who may have benefited from the provincial housing law may have attended the event and contributed financially to Ford’s daughter’s wedding has generated quite a bit of controversy; even though the provincial integrity commissioner said there was no evidence of wrongdoing.
Evidence provided by the Ford government after inquiries from the media in January and has not yet been made public.
The prime minister has repeatedly said that the list of invitees for the party is a personal matter, and that “nothing should sway the Ford family.”
Meanwhile, the auditor general and commissioner of integrity have launched separate investigations into the Ford government’s decision to develop parts of Greenbelt.
The auditor general said they would conduct a value-for-money audit into the financial and environmental impact of more than 7,000 hectares of land previously protected for development. Meanwhile, the commissioner of integrity is investigating whether Housing Secretary Steve Clark informed developers what land was being cleared.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford makes the announcement at Magna International’s production facility, in Brampton, Ont., Wednesday, February 15, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov
It’s unclear whether any of these investigations will be completed during the spring session, but the opposition party will likely continue to use them as an opportunity to target PCs.
The province’s spring budget will be presented on or before March 31. When asked what citizens could expect, Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy said it was “more or less the same.”
“In other words, we have a plan to build Ontario,” he told reporters Wednesday.
“This will be a plan that updates what we are doing on those priorities, the government’s priority to attract investment and good jobs and bigger salaries in the province, how do we advance our plan to build that infrastructure. And it will talk about the workers.
At the same time, Bethlenfalvy said it was also time for governments to “restrain themselves” with their spending.
In February, the province reported a $6.5 billion deficit for the 2022-23 fiscal year.
NEW NDP LEADER WANTS TO MAKE ITS SIGN
This will be the first session in which Marit Stiles firmly leads the New Democratic Party.
Stiles was confirmed as party leader in early February after running to replace Andrea Horwath, who stepped down from her seat after the June election.
The Toronto area MPP was first elected in 2018 and has become a prominent voice in the legislature as a former critic of education. However, this will be his first chance to stand across the aisle from the prime minister as leader of the Official Opposition.
Marit Stiles addresses supporters after her NDP Ontario leadership was confirmed in Toronto on Saturday, February 4, 2023. Stiles was confirmed after a majority of party members voted in favor of the single candidate. CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
A by-election in Hamilton will also test the resolve of the NDP. On March 16, voters will head to the polls to elect a replacement for Horwath, who has served as representative since 2004.
CHANGING RELATIONSHIP WITH TORONTO
The Ford government lost an ally last week with the resignation of John Tory.
Tory stepped down as mayor of Toronto last week after it was revealed he had an affair with a younger staff member.
Ford and Tory have endorsed most of each other’s agendas over the past few years, including using the mayor’s powerful powers to change rules and pass budgets.
The prime minister spoke candidly about his election worries last week, saying that a left-wing mayor would be a “disaster” for Toronto.
“If a left-handed mayor gets in there, God help the people of Toronto,” he said.
A by-election to replace Tory is likely to occur in the spring or early summer. Ford said he would work with whoever is elected, but it was unclear how this new relationship would impact the remainder of his term.
WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH MIKE SCHREINER?
Will the Leader of the Ontario Green Party, Mike Schreiner, cross over and run to become the leader of the Ontario Liberals?
The Ontario Liberal Party has had no permanent leader since its disastrous defeat during the June 2022 elections. They will hold their annual general meeting this spring where the rules for the leadership contest will be set.
In late January, Schreiner – after receiving letters from 40 liberals in support of him taking the top job – said he would consider running.
“As you know, I have always said that I have no ambition to lead any other party besides the Greens of Ontario. Yesterday I received serious letters from people expressing my concern about the current government and the need for urgent action on the climate crisis,” Schreiner said at the time.
“So I’m going to ask people to give me some time to think about their arguments.”
Ontario Greens leader Mike Schreiner smiles as supporters applaud during a news conference at Bloor-Bedford Parkette in Toronto as part of his campaign tour, Tuesday, May 17, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin
Following this, a group of Ontario Greens drafted a counter-offer to the Liberals who were trying to hunt down their leader. In their letter, members said the Liberals could have Schreiner, if they joined his party.
Schreiner may face questions during the Liberals’ annual rally about whether he really intends to run – or whether his considerations are simply a way to attract more media attention as the only Green MPP in the legislature.
‘WELCOME BACK DOUG’
A protest is expected to be held on February 25 by those who “unite against the Ford government’s anti-democratic, anti-environmental, anti-worker, and pro-enlargement agenda.”
The event was titled “Welcome Back Doug” and was organized by a coalition including the Canadian Public Employees Union of Ontario, the Ontario High School Teachers Federation, the Ontario Health Coalition, Binjibaaying Indigenous Youth Agency, Greenbelt Guardians and Halton’s Stop Sprawl.
The delegation is scheduled to hold a press conference on Tuesday—MPP’s first day back at the legislature.
The protest was held amid the ongoing battle over Bill 124, with the Ford government appealing the court’s decision overturning the law.
It also comes as tens of thousands of hospital nurses try to negotiate new, higher-paying contracts.
EMERGENCY ACTION REPORT
Ford is also likely to be tasked with defending his actions during the 2022 Freedom Convoy protests amid a report he finds “troubling” that his government had no prior engagement with the matter.
The report, published by the Public Order Emergency Commission on Friday, found a lack of collaboration by the Ontario government impacted on jurisdictional and resource issues in the early days of the occupation.
It also left Ottawa feeling abandoned by its provincial government, according to the report.
It wasn’t until Prime Minister Trudeau spoke to Prime Minister Doug Ford on February 9, after the blockade of the Ambassador’s Bridge, that the collaboration became the name of the game. It’s a shame that such collaboration didn’t happen a few days earlier,” he said.
The opposition will likely use this report as an excuse to attack Progressive Conservatives during the Question Period.