What’s ON: The week that was in Ontario politics (October 18-22) – 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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Reopening: Capacity limits on on restaurants, bars, gyms, casinos, bingo halls and indoor events spaces will be lifted on Monday as part of a reopening plan released Friday afternoon by the provincial government. Other measures will be ended gradually, with all measures lifted by late March if all goes well. “This plan is built for the long term. It will guide us safely through the winter and out of this pandemic, while avoiding lockdowns and ensuring we don’t lose the hard-fought gains we’ve made,” Premier Doug Ford said. TVO.org’s John Michael McGrath says Ford’s plan is a good one – if he can stick to it. 

No snap election: Asked on Friday by TVO’s Harrison Lowman, Ford said he would not call an early election and committed to the planned vote on June 2, 2022

Park out: Durham MPP Lindsey Park announced late Friday she was resigning from the Progressive Conservative caucus, saying the government’s claim earlier this month that she misrepresented her vaccination status was false. “Given the breakdown in trust that has transpired, I have decided that it is not possible to continue as a Progressive Conservative member in the legislature,” she wrote in a statement. She also indicated she does not plan to run for reelection.  

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‘Modern-day slavery’: The province announced Monday it plans that aims to crack down on abuses by companies that recruit temporary workers. Minister of Labour Monte McNaughton said legislation will be introduced that will impose mandatory licensing for temporary help agencies, as well as creating a dedicated team of inspectors to keep tabs on the industry. In particular, McNaughton said, he wants to stop agencies that exploit temporary foreign workers by withholding their passports or paying them less than minimum wage. “This is modern-day slavery, it’s unacceptable,” he said in an interview with CBC News.

Bathroom breaks: Monte McNaughton also announced this week the province intends to introduce legislation which will ensure couriers, truck drivers, and food delivery workers have access to bathrooms at businesses where they are picking up items or making deliveries. “This is something most people in Ontario take for granted but access to washrooms is a matter of common decency currently being denied to hundreds of thousands of workers in this province,” he said in a statement.

Skilled immigrants: It proved to be quite a busy week for McNaughton. On Thursday, he announced new legislation to force some professional organizations to drop Canadian work experience as part of their licensing criteria and ensure licensing applications get processed faster. This should have the effect of allowing skilled immigrants to obtain work in their chosen field more easily. “It’s important that we ensure that everyone’s talent is being used and we unleash their talent to its full capacity,” McNaughton told the Toronto Star. The measures will apply to 37 professions and trades including architecture, teaching, and plumbing. Bodies regulating medical professions, however, would not be affected.

Won’t back down: Premier Doug Ford continues to reject calls to apologize for comments roundly criticized by the opposition as insensitive to immigrants. On Monday, Ford said the province is “in such desperate need of people from around the world,” then went on to add: “You come here like every other new Canadian. You work your tail off. If you think you’re coming to collect the dole and sit around, it’s not going to happen. Go somewhere else.” Asked on Wednesday by NDP MPP for Brampton East Gurratan Singh whether he would apologize for the comments that “play into racist stereotypes about new Canadians,” Ford refused, saying he had been “inundated with messages from your community, the Sikh community, that said ‘You were bang on.'”

Property taxes: There appears to be a fight going on behind closed doors as to when homeowners will get their new property assessments. Sources tell the Globe and Mail the province intends to send them out after provincial election in June – which would avoid the government having to deal with voter unease over possible property tax increases during the campaign. But municipal politicians are worried that sending out the assessments at that point will put them in a bind, since they’re campaigning for reelection next fall. “Listen, there’s no question that that would probably add a level of anxiety for people, at a time when so much has been changing in all our lives for the last 18 months,” Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic said in an interview.

Highway 413: Premier Doug Ford’s already campaigning for reelection on it, but all the opposition parties are expressing deep concern over Highway 413, a proposed 60-km road linking Milton and Vaughan northwest of Toronto. Constructing the highway would require paving over thousands of acres of farmland, waterways, and protected land. Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said this week the highway would be “a climate disaster,” citing a study that it would result in 17.4 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions being released between now and 2050. Both the NDP and Liberals say that on top of environmental damage, the highway would be a waste of taxpayers’ dollars that wouldn’t do much to lower commute times. But Progressive Conservative strategists have told CBC News they think the highway is a winning issue for them.

Tampon inequality: NDP MPP for Kiiwetinoong Sol Mamakwa says a recent government announcement of free menstrual products for Ontario schools falls short, since some First Nations schools aren’t included. The problem is that since the First Nations-run schools are funded federally, they aren’t part of the provincial program. Mamakwa told the legislature Wednesday it’s unfortunate that – not for the first time – jurisdictional issues come at the expense of Indigenous communities. He also noted these schools are often located in places where such a program is most needed: northern communities where feminine products can cost significantly more than in southern Ontario.

Mini-budget: Finance Minister Peter Bethlenvalvy has announced he will present a mini-budget on Nov. 4. He said Wednesday that it will be “a plan that will protect the hard work and sacrifice of the people of Ontario in our fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Paramedicine: Minister of Long-Term Care Rod Phillips announced Friday that the province was spending $80 million to expand paramedicine services to all eligible seniors. Paramedicine allows paramedics to care for seniors in their homes while they wait for space to open at a long-term care facility. The program is already available in 33 communities, but will now be implemented in 22 more, giving the service province-wide coverage.  

Randy: Independent MPP for Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston Randy Hillier is being accused of misrepresenting a young woman’s death in social media posts that question the effectiveness of vaccines. Farisa Navab, 20, died on Sept. 11 from a rare autoimmune disease. But Hillier suggests she and other people featured in the posts died or suffered from a “permanent adverse reaction shortly after receiving their first or second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.” Navab’s sister, Ammarah, told CBC News it’s “complete fake news” to imply her sister died because of a vaccine. “It’s somebody in power who’s posting to thousands of followers, lying about my sister’s death and using it as ‘proof’ … It’s disgusting,” she added. In an e-mailed statement, Hillier said: “The obligation and responsibility of every elected member is not simply to accept or promote public policy, but rather to examine and question public policy and provide supportive or critical commentary based upon observation and evidence.”

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COVID-19 modelling: Data released by the province’s science advisory table Friday morning suggested new coronavirus cases should remain stable over the next month, even with a modest increase in social contacts. However, the advisory table’s modelling says public health measures —such as masking, vaccine certificates, symptom screening and ventilation — need to stay in place to avoid a fresh surge of infections.

Subways, subways, subways: The idea that the pandemic should make the province rethink its plan to build more subways in Toronto is flawed. Subways were a good idea before COVID-19 — and they’ll be a good idea after it, writes Shoshanna Saxe.

Gig economy: While the government announced this week it will make sure people who make deliveries will have access to bathrooms, those who drive and make deliveries using apps such as Uber and Skip the Dishes are calling for something more. They want the province to classify them as employees. Currently, they are classified as independent contractors, which means they are not legally entitled to measures other workers take for granted, including minimum wage, vacation days, or statutory holiday pay. When asked by CBC News, Labour Minister Monte McNaughton did not promise to reclassify gig economy workers as employees, he did say new protections were on the way.

Goodbye CRB, hello CWLB: The federal government has announced that the Canada Recovery Benefit will expire tomorrow, and will be replaced by a more targeted program to help workers through potential lockdowns. The Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit would provide $300 a week to workers who are subject to a lockdown. It comes into effect on Sunday. Some economists and business groups say the ending of federal wage and rent subsidy programs is happening too quickly.

This article was updated at 4:20 p.m. on Friday.