Ontario Liberals to create new financial watchdog

Ontario's governing Liberals introduced legislation Monday that if implemented will create a new independent financial watchdog tasked with monitoring legislative spending.

Legislature's fall session gets underway

Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa announced Monday the governing Liberals plan to create a new financial accountability officer. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Ontario's governing Liberals introduced legislation Monday that if implemented will create a new independent financial watchdog tasked with monitoring legislative spending.

The move had been expected, as the Liberals promised to create a financial accountability officer in order to secure the New Democrats' support of the Ontario budget.

Finance Minister Charles Sousa said the watchdog could review all bills that have a financial impact and outline the consequences before they become law.

"If passed, the financial accountability officer would be able to provide independent analysis to all MPPs about the state of the province’s finances, including the Ontario budget, as well as look at the impacts of economic trends," he said Monday ahead of the start of the new legislative session.

"In addition, at the request of a legislative committee or MPP, other types of research could be provided," which Sousa said could include reviewing and providing estimates on proposed legislation or ideas floated in white papers.

Contempt motion quashed

The Progressive Conservatives introduced a contempt motion on Monday related to a pair of cancelled gas plants, as they said they would do. But the Speaker dismissed it, saying that despite the Opposition's claims, he never felt that Liberal staffers pressured him to alter his ruling on a prior contempt motion, which also related to the Oakville and Mississauga gas plants.

"At no time, in any discussion I might have had after delivering my September 13 ruling, was I the recipient of any inappropriate overture or suggestion," Levac told the legislature.

"I have not been pressured, intimidated, cajoled, warned or threatened in any way. Nor was any influence exerted upon me to do so or say any particular thing or to pursue any particular course of action."

The Speaker’s ruling means that legislative business won’t be derailed by debate over the contempt motion, as what was seen in the legislature last year.

But the legislature’s justice committee will continue holding hearings into the cancelled plants and the province’s auditor general will deliver a report on the costs associated with the Oakville plant that was scrapped.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath says her party will make sure the Liberals keep their promises, such as cutting auto insurance rates by 15 per cent and banning young people using tanning beds.

Premier Kathleen Wynne says she wants to work with the opposition parties in the new session, but Progressive Conservative House Leader Jim Wilson predicts the Liberals will trigger an election this fall.

When speaking with reporters, Wynne said that an election could be called if opposition parties prevent any bills from being passed. But the premier said she would be meeting with opposition leaders to see what bills they might possibly pass together.

Hudak demotes Shurman over housing allowance 

There will also be a push to change the rules for the accommodation allowance for members of the legislature who live more than 50 kilometres away from Queen's Park.

It was revealed last week that Thornhill MPP Tory Peter Shurman billed the maximum $20,719 last year after moving to Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Opposition Leader Tim Hudak issued a statement Sunday saying that he had removed Shurman as the party's finance critic.

Hudak said Monday he requested a face-to-face meeting with Shurman to discuss the issue and demand that he pay back the money. When Shurman refused, Hudak demoted him.

Hudak also said that if Shurman had repaid the money, he would still be finance critic.

With files from CBC's Genevieve Tomney and The Canadian Press