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Queen’s Park fall wrap-up & preview of what’s next in 2015

During the fall legislative session, the Wynne government re-introduced 17 pieces of legislation, and limited debate on seven key bills so that they could be passed before the end of the year.

StrategyCorp has prepared quick reference guides for: government Bills passed this fallgovernment legislation still being debated, and hovernment legislation that died on the order paper when the June 2014 election was called, which we anticipate will be reintroduced.

Notable legislation that was passed included:

  • Measures designed to reduce insurance fraud and auto insurance rates
  • An indexing of the minimum wage to inflation
  • Capping of executive compensation in the broader public sector

Of interest to many reading this wrap-up, the provincial government also passed Bill 8, which impacts many in-house lobbyists.  Among other things, the definition of “in-house” now includes anyone in an organization, including board members, who are engaged in any lobbying activity.

In addition, violating the bill could result in a ban on lobbying for up to two years and fines up to $100,000.  Once enacted, these amendments will impact lobbying practices across the province.  Most notably, the legislation will require all businesses and organizations to register when their staff collectively spend 50 hours or more per year lobbying public office holders.

Additionally, the new law brings directors paid by a business or organization into the definition of “in-house lobbyist”, provides the Ontario Integrity Commissioner with sweeping new investigative powers, and allows for fines of up to $100,000 and bans on lobbying for up to two years for violating the act.  As we always advise clients: if you are not sure, register. For more information on the new law please refer to the Ontario government website.**

The Auditor General released her annual report on December 9, 2014, highlights of which include examining the cost of smart meters, the use of the Alternative Financing and Procurement model (or Public-Private Partnerships) for large infrastructure projects and the controversial loan to the MaRS project.  The opposition parties were quick to jump on the report and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future but we do not expect that there will be any noticeable impact on the government’s 2015 agenda.

Friends and foes

The acrimony between the provincial and federal governments that peaked during the Ontario general election has continued, most recently involving infrastructure funding and whether the Prime Minister should accede to the Premier’s requests for a meeting.  As the 2015 federal election, tentatively scheduled for October 19th, approaches, we expect this sniping to increase markedly.

At the provincial level, Quebec and Ontario have agreed to work together on a variety of issues including sharing electricity and coordinating on key issues such as carbon pricing and Energy East.

At the municipal level, the tensions between the Wynne government and Mayor Rob Ford have now been replaced by a more cooperative tone, with Mayor Tory meeting with Premier Wynne on his first day of office.

Next up on the municipal political agenda, we’ll see how well Mayor Tory’s SmartTrack plan and the provincial transit plan can align to reduce traffic congestion in the GTA.

What’s on deck for 2015?

Top of the list for 2015 is the provincial budget.  If the Wynne government is serious about balancing its books by 2017-18, the next budget will be the one that sets the framework and the schedule for the government to implement change.

While an “austerity budget” would be incongruent with this government’s approach to date, even slowing or stopping growth in non-priority areas is likely to cause consternation among many Liberals and stakeholders alike.

Look to the ongoing Treasury Board program review, led by Minister Deb Matthews and her team, to reduce costs within the public service in order to meet the government’s ambitious fiscal objective.

Other key issues certain to be front and centre in early 2015 include:

  • moving forward on the recently-introduced legislation designed to create an Ontario Retirement Pension Plan (ORPP) by January 1, 2017;
  • labour negotiations with teachers’ unions, doctors, nurses and OPSEU. The government has already stated that there is “no new money” for compensation increases in the public sector;
  • the final report of the Premier’s Advisory Council on Government Assets, including the implementation of the Council’s recommendations – especially as it relates to the consolidation of electricity distribution companies;
  • key transit projects; and,
  • bills that died on the order paper in June that have not yet been reintroduced

 

Opposition updates

Progressive Conservatives

The Progressive Conservatives, who form the official opposition, will continue to focus on their leadership race, which will be resolved on May 9th, 2015.  Party members will vote by preferential ballot on either May 3rd or May 7th in each of the province’s 107 ridings. The candidate who receives 50 per cent of Electoral Votes is elected as leader.  According to the Electoral Votes system, if a riding has 100 or fewer ballots, the number of votes cast per candidate is the same as the Electoral Vote total (ie. 60 votes equals 60 electoral votes).  If the riding has more than 100 ballots, the candidate receives the percentage of votes cast (i.e. 100 of 200 votes cast equals 50 electoral votes).

While Christine Elliott is believed to have taken the early lead in the PC leadership contest among the broader public, she will have to convert that lead into support among party members.  The dynamic of this race has yet to surface, and the PC Party may find it challenging to maintain the relatively cordial debate that we have seen so far.

Ontario NDP

Andrea Horwath remains leader of the Third Party after obtaining a strong showing of support of 77% at the New Democrats’ fall convention.  Expect the NDP to continue its return to a greater focus on traditional social democratic priorities, and push back against the Liberals on issues such as privatization, outsourcing, and labour negotiations.

** This article does not constitute a legal opinion and readers should not act on the basis of it without first consulting a lawyer who will provide analysis and advice on a specific matter.

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