News from the Park – could’a been a contender

As I write this week’s column, sitting here in my Queen’s Park office, it’s the day after the Conservatives declared the summer recess of the Ontario Legislature.  For only the second time in my career, I found myself in the House during the summer months.  However, I do not regret this in any way.  There is no doubt that the extended sitting was far more than just essential.  It was urgent.

Some readers can relate to the feeling you get when you are looking forward to the end of the day just before you expect to go on vacation, but you are told by the boss that you need to postpone your holiday.  Or for younger readers, when you are expecting your school day to end and the teacher makes you stay for some extra work.  Well, let me tell you, that is not at all how my NDP colleagues and I felt this week.  We know there is work to be done and this was a great opportunity for Ontario to bring in much needed change to many issues including long-term-care, health care, employment and education among others.  The onset of the epidemic, as horrendous as it was, also brought with it potential, incredible opportunity.

This morning I listened to Andrea Horwath in a press conference summing up her thoughts on the session we just concluded.  She spoke for all new Democrats when she expressed her sincere disappointment at what a missed opportunity Ontario just experienced.  I couldn’t help but think of the great actor Marlon Brando’s line in the American classic film, On the Waterfront, “I could’a been a contender.”  Our last session – could’a been a contender too.

Now, I share the exact same deep desire as most politicians.  The thing I want most in my career is to make a difference. I don’t think we brought about enough positive change this time around.  We had so many opportunities to help people make it through the COVID-19 epidemic.  The government had weeks to get the job done but they missed the target.

For example, look at Doug Ford’s determination to ram three bills through before the recess.  To do so he ran roughshod over standards of democracy such as public consultation and debate in the Legislature.  No matter what title Ford gave the bills, his main objective was to grab and extend his special emergency powers and reward well connected insiders at the expense of everyday people.

With Bill 195, the “Reopening Ontario Act”, Ford handed himself unprecedented and undemocratic powers to make rules in secret behind closed doors.  Even Ford’s own PC MPP Belinda Karahalios (Cambridge) voted against Bill 195, calling it ‘an unnecessary overreach on our parliamentary democracy’.  New Democrats and like minded people congratulate Ms. Karahalios on her principled stand – a stand for which Doug Ford punished her by kicking her out of his caucus.  It’s clear that Ford is still on a mission to attack anyone who disagrees with him.  This is not democracy at its finest.

COVID-19 has brought about terrible hardship for thousands of Ontario families because many found themselves out of work and having to decide to either feed the kids or pay the rent.  So how does Doug Ford help them out?  He rams through Bill 184, the Protecting Tenants and Strengthening Community Housing Act.  This act does the exact opposite of protecting tenants.  Under the current law, all landlord/tenant disputes must be heard by the Landlord and Tenant Board. This law now makes it easier for landlords to evict tenants, which is the last thing Ontarians need as the pandemic continues and we face a potential second wave of the virus.

Then we have Ford’s sweeping legislation, Bill 197, the COVID-19 Recovery ActThis omnibus bill that the Ford Conservatives introduced does nothing at all to help families, devastated long-term care homes, small businesses, schools, day cares, First Nations, or municipalities to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

This all encompassing bill doesn’t include a single change to safeguard long-term care residents, improve the quality of care, or increase the staff wages.  This bill does not include a single dime for small and medium-sized businesses that are still struggling.  It doesn’t add even one more child care space, or increase the number of classrooms, teachers or education workers so all students can return to school safely.  Bill 197 doesn’t include a single cent for municipalities, which are facing billions of dollars in deficits and cuts.  Nor does it include anything at all to support First Nations communities, which are still struggling to keep the virus at bay and don’t even have clean water, let alone equitable access to health care.  And it doesn’t provide the much-needed paid sick days all workers need.

What Bill 197 does do is drastically roll back environmental protections, allows school boards to appoint directors of education who have no teaching qualifications whatsoever and it lines the pockets of Ford’s big developer friends.

What I’d like to know is, who is the COVID-19 Recovery Act meant to help recover, because it sure isn’t the average Ontarian.

Like I said above, I really believe the one thing I want most in my career is to make a difference; and this is true of MPPs on both sides of the House.  Then again, I can honestly say my favourite hockey team (that shares the same jersey colour as the Conservatives) has dreamed of winning the Stanley Cup since the 1967 season but annually finish the season in the early spring.  I hear my team uttering the same quote as Marlon Brando.  I’m sure Doug Ford walked away from this session with the same movie line on his lips.

As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues, or any other provincial matters.

Mike Mantha