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Ford looks to 'Get It Done' with omnibus bill as Ontario legislature returns

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Ontario Members of Provincial Parliament return to Queen’s Park Tuesday for the first time this year.

The Doug Ford government started rolling out its priorities over the last few weeks. Here’s what we know:

 

'Get It Done Act'

The premier’s old campaign catchphrase is back, this time immortalized in legislation.

The government’s first act of business will be to introduce the ‘Get it Done Act,’ an omnibus bill that will do everything from auto renew licence plates to streamline the environmental impact process.

Here’s the rundown so far:

  • Ban on new toll on Ontario highways. This will not impact existing tolls on Highway 407, but will prevent future tolls from being imposed–unless the bill is repealed
  • Licence plates will automatically renew for drivers in good standing
  • A freeze on driver’s licence and Ontario Photo Card fees, first enacted in 2019, will become permanent
  • The government will introduce measures to “streamline” environmental impact processes to encourage construction
  • Any carbon taxes imposed by the province would have to go through a referendum

Repeal Bill 124

After losing a provincial court appeal, the premier has said his government will repeal a piece of legislation passed in 2019 that capped salary increases for public-sector workers for a period of three years.

The Court of Appeal for Ontario ruled in favour of the workers, finding that it did violate the collective bargaining rights of public sector workers.

The court said that while the governments can try to hold compensation increases at a certain issue, they cannot override the collective bargaining process.

The court did, however, say the act is only unconstitutional for workers represented by unions.

The premier said his government would repeal Bill 124 sometime in the spring session, adding they would also introduce regulations to exempt non-unionized and non-associated workers from Bill 124 until it is repealed “to solve for the inequality of workers.”

The Financial Accountability Office said last week it believes the government could be on the hook for $13 billion in payouts.

Doug Ford vs. Bonnie Crombie

The attacks have already begun. Ford has made it clear the new Ontario Liberal Leader and former Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie is his number one opponent heading into the new sitting.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie are seen in these images dated Aug. 15, 2022 and June 7, 2019, respectively. (The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld,Chris Young)

A Liason Strategies poll released earlier this month found that Crombie, who was elected leader in December, is gaining traction. Already in many of his announcements this year, Ford has mentioned Crombie by name, quick to point out she is the “queen of the carbon tax” and against building homes.

Crombie doesn’t have a seat yet at Queen’s Park, so she will not be participating in question period. However, she will likely be making numerous appearances in the legislature media studio to respond to the government’s acts of the day.

Crombie’s first news conference of the spring session will be held at 9 a.m. on Feb. 20.

NDP use time to speak with Ontarians

The leader of the Official Opposition will have plenty of time to punch back at Ford in question period, regardless of whether he believes her a political threat.

Speaking to reporters earlier in February, Marit Stiles said she isn’t concerned about Ford and Crombie focusing their efforts on each other rather than the NDP.

“I know why Doug Ford doesn't want to mention my name. He doesn't want people to know that we are a strong opposition. He'd like them not to be paying any attention to that,” she said.

“So while they're out there, defining each other, battling it out, him and Bonnie Crombie and the Liberals, we get to define who we are, and we get to do what we are supposed to do, what we want to do, what the people of Ontario expect us to do—which is to deliver solutions to fight back against this government's corrupt agenda.”

Marit Stiles, Leader, New Democratic Party of Ontario, addresses the delegates gathered for the final day of the NDP Convention in Hamilton, Ont. on Sunday, October 15, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power

On the NDP’s list of priorities are delivering solutions to housing, health care and the rising cost of living.

Stiles also hinted that she would be travelling the province more often to speak with Ontarians, letting her team take a stronger lead on day-to-day opposition tactics.

Cabinet shuffle

The Ford government has yet to name a replacement for MPP Parm Gill, who said he will be resigning his Milton seat to run federally for the Conservative Party.

The former minister of Red Tape Reduction gave notice on Jan. 25. It’s unclear who will be taking his place in cabinet and what other positions could be affected by the shuffle.

A by-election will also need to be called in Milton and it is possible that Crombie could use the vacancy to run and try to gain a seat in the legislature.

Sarah Jama returns to legislature

MPP Sarah Jama, who represents Hamilton Centre, has said she will return to the legislature as an independent member to bring forward policies that represent her “new vision” for the riding.

In a video posted to her website, she said that she has spoken with constituents and will focus her efforts on housing, disability benefits and health care.

Jama was censured by the PC government last year, which prevents the Speaker from recognizing her in the legislature. In order to put forward motions, she will need to get another member to do so on her behalf.

Around the same time, she was also ousted from the NDP caucus.

ServiceOntario questions

There remain unanswered questions on the deal the government made with Staples Canada.

As of Feb. 1, six new ServiceOntario locations opened up at Staples Canada stores across the province.

The new centres are part of a three-year pilot program launched by the Ford government with the aim of bettering customer service and increasing convenience.

The decision to pair up with Staples retail stores was made in a sole-sourced contract, something the government said was above board because it is part of a pilot program.

Reporters have asked the government to provide the business case for the decision, and the government has indicated it may be open to it. The premier will likely face questions about this during the first few weeks of the session.

Spring budget

The Ford government anticipates presenting its next budget by the end of March. In mid-February, Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy said he is projecting a $4.5 billion deficit, which is about $1.1 billion lower than what was forecast in his fall economic statement.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford joins Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy, before making an announcement at a press conference in Mississauga, Ont., Tuesday, February 13, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

At a news conference the minister said the lower deficit was due to taxes and transfers from the federal government, in addition to lower interest costs on the province’s debt. It’s also due to the use of contingency funds, which the government has been using to pay for some of its new expenses.

The budget will outline the government’s priorities for the next year. Taxpayers can often find one or two money-saving surprises in these documents, especially as we are just two years away from another election.

With files from the Canadian Press

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