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What’s ON: The week that was in Ontario politics (March 21-March 25) – TVO

Every Friday, TVO.org provides a summary of the most notable developments in Ontario politics over the past week.

Here’s what caught our attention:

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Uptick: Premier Doug Ford said earlier today he is not second-guessing his decision to lift public-health measures despite a recent uptick in hospitalizations related to COVID-19. “I’ve been accused of being the most cautious leader in North America,” he said. “Everyone else in the whole country has taken their masks off.”

Child care: The Toronto Star reports that the federal government is looking at offering Ontario additional money if the province signs on to the federal $10-a-day child-care program. The proposal under consideration is to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars tied to child-care to Ontario through a separate infrastructure fund. “If (Premier Doug Ford) had signed on two months ago that money wouldn’t be there,” a senior provincial official told the Star on condition they not be named. “Now that’s separate from the child-care deal so Ottawa can still say it’s $10.2 billion [for Ontario].”

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EQAO: The NDP called on the Ontario government to cancel the EQAO standardized tests for school students in reading, writing and math this spring. The party’s education critic, Marit Stiles, said students and teachers are still recovering from two years of pandemic learning and don’t need the additional stress. Sam Oosterhoff, the parliamentary assistant to minister of education, said in the legislature that the government has invested in schools to deal with the pandemic and the tests have been adjusted to account for the past two years. Stiles replied the test results “certainly won’t be useful after two years of significant disruption.”

Liberal-NDP pact speculation: After Liberals and New Democrats in Ottawa hammered out a deal to avoid a federal election until 2025, Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said his “mind is open” to a similar pact between the provincial Liberals and NDP after the province’s own vote in June. He added that there have been no discussions between the two parties up to this point. TVO.org’s John Michael McGrath offered some thoughts as to what the federal Liberal-NDP coalition could mean for Ontario politics.

Paul Miller: For days after Paul Miller (Hamilton East-Stoney Creek) was suddenly removed from NDP caucus on March 17, the party refused to say why he was ousted. Then finally on Wednesday, the offered an explanation: “After a pattern of troubling behavior that indicated that Paul Miller may harbour Islamophobic, homophobic and racist views, our party’s vetting process showed that Mr. Miller was a member of the Facebook group called Worldwide Coalition Against Islam,” Lucy Watson, provincial director of the Ontario NDP said in a statement. Miller told the Toronto Star the allegations against him are “outrageous” and his ejection has more to do with ongoing clashes between him and party leader Andrea Horwath. “I have never posted anything on Twitter or Facebook. Frankly, I’m not that great at the internet. My staff always did it,” he said. Miller is pursuing legal action against the party.

Blockade bill: The provincial government introduced legislation that would make permanent some of the measures invoked in response to the convoy blockades last month. Bill 100, the Keeping Ontario Open for Business Act would allow police to impose roadside suspension of drivers’ licences and vehicle permits, seize licence plates when a vehicle is used in an illegal blockade and remove and store objects making up an illegal blockade. But civil libertarians say the scope of the proposed law is too broad and could end up stifling legitimate, peaceful protests.

Tuition freeze: The province announced it is extending a freeze on university and college tuition an additional year, through 2022-23. The freeze began in 2020 in response to the pandemic. “By freezing tuition for another year, we are saying yes to ensuring that students have access to affordable, high-quality postsecondary education, and reducing the financial strain on families who have already faced so many challenges throughout the pandemic,” Minister of Colleges and Universities Jill Dunlop said in a media release.

Developer crackdown: Ontario Minister of Government and Consumer Services Ross Romano announced yesterday the province is “doubling fines for corporations and individuals who try to rip off Ontarians by cancelling pre-construction projects just to increase the price of their units, and removing limits on fines entirely for repeat offenders.” The move comes following reporting by CBC News about an Ontario developer that cancelled dozens of sales contracts for condo units that were already under construction, unless the buyers each agreed to pay $100,000 more. The NDP says while the increased penalties are welcome, they won’t be effective if the government fails to enforce them properly.

Batteries: With financial help from the local, provincial, and federal governments, Windsor will become the site of a $4.9-billion factory to produce batteries for electric vehicles. The plant is expected to be up and running by 2024 and create 2,500 jobs. “This game-changing battery plant will help guarantee that Ontario is at the forefront of the electric vehicle revolution and ensure we remain a global leader in the auto manufacturing just as we have been for over 100 years,” Premier Doug Ford said. The province alone is putting up hundreds of millions of dollars to get the plant built, but won’t reveal the exact figure to protect its negotiating position, according to Colin D’Mello of CTV News.

Cheaper transit: The Green Party thinks the way to give Ontarians relief from high gasoline prices is to cut the cost of transit fares in half for the next three months. “Cutting fares in half is an immediate measure with immediate benefits that can help address the worsening fuel and cost of living crisis as well as the climate emergency,” party leader Mike Schreiner said in a statement. TVO.org’s John Michael McGrath looked at the Greens’ proposal — and thinks the government should consider stealing it.

He’s running: The Progressive Conservatives announced that former Toronto police chief Mark Saunders will be their candidate in the riding of Don Valley West. Saunders, Toronto’s first Black police chief, will be running to succeed former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne, who is not seeking re-election. Financial services executive Stephanie Bowman will be the Liberal candidate in that riding, while Irwin Elman, former provincial advocate for children and youth, will run for the NDP.

He’s not running: Independent MPP Roman Baber (York Centre) has decided not to run for re-election, and instead focus on his bid to become leader of the federal Conservatives. “My team and I are in this race to win it,” he said. Baber was kicked out of the Progressive Conservative caucus last year for publicly criticizing the province’s public-health measures in response to COVID-19.

More Ontario politics coverage on TVO

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There’s a new strain in town. Does it have the same bite that Omicron did? Steve Paikin speaks to T. Ryan Gregory, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Guelph.

Homeless vaccination gap: A new study finds that less than 62 per cent of homeless people in Ontario have at least one dose of COVID-19, while more than 86 per cent of the general adult population have at least one dose. “There are often assumptions that everyone has access to the same level of health care, and while that may technically be true, we know that health care is not being accessed equitably,” Naheed Dosani, health equity lead at Toronto’s Kensington Health and an author of the study, told CTV News.

Wastewater testing: A higher prevalence of COVID-19 traces is being detected in wastewater in several Ontario communities, a sign that cases of the illness might be on the rise. However experts told CTV News it’s not yet clear if the rise is a cause for alarm. One official said the increase is expected, given the relaxing of public health measures, but still “concerning.” Find out more about how wastewater testing for COVID-19 works in this piece by Ontario Hubs reporter Justin Chandler.

Hiring spree: Recent statistics show many businesses across the province are eagerly looking for new hires as the province emerges from public health measures imposed during the Omicron variant wave, according to the Toronto Star. Ontario added 194,000 jobs last month.

Food emergency: TVO.org reporter Josh Sherman talks to organizations in Thunder Bay that are taking lessons from the pandemic and making sure the community’s food system is ready for the next crisis

‘Wilful blindness’: Ontario Hubs reporter for northwest Ontario Charnel Anderson breaks down the events and crises that have dogged Thunder Bay’s police service.

A Canadian trailblazer: On the 10th anniversary of former MPP Leonard Braithwaite’s passing, The Agenda looks to remember the legacy of the first-ever Black Canadian elected to any legislative assembly. Braithwaite represented the Ontario riding of Etobicoke from 1963-75. 

Booze and insulin: The lead discoverer of insulin “spent nearly all of March 1922 in a drunken self-pitying haze, sometimes stealing alcohol from the lab.” Meet the Frederick Banting you never learned about in school.

This article was updated at 4:35 p.m.