Ontario’s Liberal government and Progressive Conservative opposition are on the verge of a deal that would break the province’s legislative gridlock while freezing out the NDP.
The Tories said Monday they are willing to help Premier Kathleen Wynne fast-track eight bills and have put together a schedule that would allow the laws to be passed by Dec. 12. The assembly has been mired in procedural wrangling for months. It passed just one bill – the budget, which the Liberals and New Democrats supported, while the PCs voted against – since February. The Liberals accuse the Tories of obstructing legislation by insisting on lengthy debates on non-contentious legislation.
Last week, Ms. Wynne asked PC Leader Tim Hudak to help her get nine bills – six from the government, three from the opposition – through the House. On Monday, the Tories said they would back eight of those bills. They also presented the government with a programming motion, which would set out a process for fast-tracking the laws.
Ms. Wynne said she was “cautiously optimistic” after learning that the PCs had agreed to help her.
“We’re very pleased that the Tories are looking at the possibility of working with us to get some legislation through,” she said Monday, during a break from a conference on trade ties with Pacific Rim countries. “I’ve said all along that there is room for common ground.”
The Liberal laws the Tories would help pass are a ban on tanning beds for minors, the local-food act, a law on co-op housing and measures to protect consumers from expensive mobile-phone contracts and aggressive door-to-door salespeople. Conservative bills that would be pushed through are a measure to allow construction company EllisDon to use non-unionized labour, a law to put carbon-monoxide detectors in all homes and legislation to permit dentists to operate on their spouses. The Tories would also add an amendment to the local-food bill to give farmers a tax credit for donating produce to food banks. They will also require that a committee be struck to examine ways of improving the province’s treatment of people with developmental disabilities.
The PCs framed the move as a way to get non-contentious bills out of the way so the legislature can focus on economic matters. The Tories have built most of their policies around the economy and hope that, by taking everything else off the table, they can push the Premier to battle them on their own turf.
“We believe it’s time to clear the decks and get on with the big issues in the province,” Mr. Hudak said in the legislature. “That’s to create jobs, grow our economy and get government spending within our means.”
The Tory motion would also quash the Grits’ accusations that the PCs are needlessly delaying legislation.
The NDP looks set to be shut out of the programming motion, with none of their bills included for fast-tracking, as they typically oppose attempts to regulate debating time.
“We come here to do our job as legislators. We debate bills, we allow them to pass through the process, we make sure they get their due diligence,” NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said. “I know there is legislation that can easily be passed without any complicated motions like the Tories are bringing forward.”
The Liberals decided not to put the programming motion to a vote immediately. They said the motion might have to be changed, since two of the bills it covers may pass the legislature without the fast-tracking measures. Debate on the co-op housing legislation ended Monday, meaning it will come to a final vote Tuesday morning; the tanning bed bill, meanwhile, is finished at committee and is ready to be returned to the legislature.