After 6-week sitting, Ontario Legislature begins 2-month winter break
Ford government cut fall sitting at Queen's Park in half
Ontario's MPPs are scheduled to sit at Queen's Park on Thursday for the last time this year before the Legislature adjourns for its two-month winter break.
The truncated sitting lasted just six weeks, as Premier Doug Ford's government extended the summer break until late October. That allowed Ford and his Progressive Conservatives to avoid the spotlight of question period during the federal election campaign.
After adjourning Thursday afternoon, the Legislature is not scheduled to resume until Feb. 18. However, MPPs do not go on holiday, as they work in their constituencies, and cabinet ministers' jobs don't stop just because Queen's Park is not in session.
In addition, the Legislature could be called back for an emergency sitting if the government wants to bring in a back-to-work bill to end any strikes by education unions.
Five government bills became law this fall:
- A bill capping public-sector wage hikes at one per cent annually for the next three years, legislation that will face a court challenge.
- A red-tape reduction bill that was criticized by environmental groups.
- The fall budget update.
- A new system for monitoring animal welfare, taking over from the Ontario SPCA.
- A new mental health and addictions strategy that includes joining other provinces in a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers.
The government toned down its antics in the Legislature during the fall sitting. Ford's PCs stopped giving themselves multiple standing ovations in question period as they'd done during their first year in power, and reduced their heckling of the opposition members.
Ford, however, increasingly exercised his option to decline to respond to opposition questions, passing them off instead to his cabinet ministers.
That change in tone is "what I'm most proud of," said Government House Leader Paul Calandra.
"When we first came back, we said we were going to have a new tone, a new way of doing things," Calandra said in an interview on Wednesday. "I think we've accomplished that."
The Ford government's agenda is too focused on cost-cutting, said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
"Unfortunately, what they've accomplished is cuts to education; they've accomplished chaos in the education system," Horwath said in an interview Wednesday.
"They're trying to prove that they're going to be able to cut costs of government. What they are not looking at is the other side of that coin and what that does to families and communities."
While the fall sitting went far more smoothly for the government than its controversial spring, the past six weeks were not without their rocky moments.
- The first province-wide teachers' strike in two decades hit Ontario on Dec. 4, as the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation held a one-day walkout, with talks at an impasse.
- The auditor general accused the government of overstating the impact of its proposals for cutting carbon emissions, and said it's unlikely the province will hit its climate change goals.
- Energy Minister Greg Rickford quoted a climate-change denial blog in the Legislature, and refused to apologize.
The sitting showed that the Ford government has no plan for climate change and harbours a "culture of climate change denial," said John Fraser, the interim leader of the Liberals.
"There is a welcome change in tone," Fraser told a news conference Wednesday. "I don't think the priorities have changed."