What’s ON: The week ahead in Ontario politics (October 4-8) – TVO

Every Monday, TVO.org provides a primer on what to look for in the coming week in Ontario politics and features some stories making news now.

Here’s what we’ve got our eye on:

Queen’s Park Keywords

They’re back: After a recess of more than three months, MPPs return to the cut and thrust of the legislature today. Not much is planned for their first day, apart from …

The speech from the throne: Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell will kick off the new parliamentary session by reading a speech from the throne this morning. The speech, which lays out the government’s agenda for the coming months, was made necessary when Premier Doug Ford decided to prorogue the legislature last month, ending the old legislative session and beginning a new one. “We are moving into the final approach toward the election and we have a lot to do,” a senior Conservative official told the Toronto Star in an interview previewing the throne speech. “It won’t be long, but it will signal that we’re moving past just talking about the pandemic and are also dealing with other priorities.”

A man filming in The Agenda studio

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Priorities: All the opposition parties have laid out what they would like to see from the government during the fall session. NDP leader Andrea Horwath says she wants the throne speech commit to health-care and education investments and focus on small businesses; Liberal leader Steve Del Duca says his party’s priorities include safe classrooms, 10 provincially funded paid sick days, and a deal on $10 a day child care with the federal Liberals; and Green party leader Mike Schreiner says he wants the government to address a shortage of nurses, make schools safer from COVID-19, and take action on climate change and housing.

Bill 1: One other small bit of business happening Monday is the introduction of Bill 1, which as TVO.org Queen’s Park columnist John Michael McGrath explained to me, is a parliamentary tradition: “After the Speech from the Throne, the premier always introduces Bill 1, which is a bit of boilerplate that basically says ‘notwithstanding everything you just heard from the Queen’s representative, we also reserve the right to debate and pass any other measures we want to’ — it’s a way of asserting the house’s independence from the Crown. Bill 1 is never debated or passed; it’s only ever introduced, the way Ontario does it … It’s a little bit of constitutional symmetry: the Speech from the Throne lays out the government’s agenda for the coming session, and then Bill 1 is the legislature saying, ‘Okay, we hear you, but we’ll also do whatever else we want.’ And that’ll be the whole agenda for Monday.”

Vaccinations: All eyes will be on a handful of independent MPPs today, now that Speaker Ted Arnott has imposed a new rule stating all members must be either vaccinated or show a negative COVID-19 test to gain access to the legislative building. Progressive Conservative, New Democrat, Liberal, and Green MPPs are unlikely to take issue with the rule: except for two PC MPPs with medical exemptions, every MPP from every party is vaccinated.

But at least some of the former PC MPPs now sitting as independents either aren’t vaccinated or don’t take kindly to being told what to do. Rick Nicholls just got kicked out of the Progressive Conservative caucus for refusing to get vaccinated; Belinda Karahalios and Randy Hillier have both criticized vaccine mandates in general and Arnott’s rule specifically; and Roman Baber, while vaccinated, plans to introduce a private member’s bill on Tuesday that, if passed, would prevent employers from firing or penalizing employees because of their vaccination status or for refusing to disclose their vaccination status. (It likely will not pass.)

For more on the dispute between the Speaker and the independent MPPs and what it tells us about the often arcane world of parliamentary privilege, listen to the latest edition of the #onpoli podcast (at the 13-minute mark):

Park benched: MPP for Durham Lindsey Park was removed as parliamentary assistant to Attorney General Doug Downey on Friday after the Progressive Conservative leadership discovered she had misrepresented her vaccine status. Previously, it was thought that, except for Scarborough Centre MPP Christina Mitas, who had a medical exemption, all PC MPPs, including Park, were vaccinated. While Park is out as parliamentary assistant, she will be allowed to stay in the government caucus because she has now provided a medical exemption.

Undead bills: When a legislature is prorogued, bills that were in the process of getting passed die and start back at square one. The government often makes an effort to resurrect some of these bills in the new session. One piece of legislation that may once again see the light of day is a bill that governs one of the Greater Toronto Area’s biggest sewage projects. John Michael McGrath explains the situation and why it matters.

Long-term legislation: Something to watch for this fall session is new legislation governing the long-term-care sector. Rod Phillips, the minister responsible for long-term care, announced Friday the new legislation would include measures to ensure four hours of care per resident, build and renovate LTC facilities, and provide greater enforcement and transparency.

Beyond the Pink Palace

Minimum wage: The province’s general minimum wage went up by 10 cents to $14.35 on Friday. The minimum rate for students under 18 went up to $13.50, and for workers who serve alcohol and receive tips, to $12.55. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said small increase was “like insult to injury,” while Labour Minister Monte McNaughton says his focus is on making sure there are plenty of good jobs in Ontario that pay more than minimum wage.

Twerkers’ rights: An advocacy group called Work Safe Twerk Safe is challenging the province’s public-health rules governing strip clubs in court this week. In papers filed with the Ontario Superior Court last month, the group argues that strippers weren’t consulted on the regulations and that the policy put in place during the pandemic “prioritizes the economic interests of the strip club owners and municipalities over and above the health and safety of the strippers by wholly excluding them.” If you don’t know what twerking is, you can find out here, but parental guidance is strongly suggested.

With files from John Michael McGrath.