The Liberals and Progressive Conservatives have closed a deal that will fast-track eight pieces of bills before the end of the year, smashing the political deadlock that has slowed legislation to a crawl in Ontario’s assembly.
Under the agreement, five government bills and three Tory bills must be passed into law by Dec. 13, 2013. Liberal legislation to be fast-tracked includes a ban on the use of tanning beds by people under 18, measures to promote Ontario food, protections for consumers against aggressive door-to-door salespeople and expensive mobile phone contracts, and a bill to regulate the professional association of human resources workers. The PC bills are a law that mandates carbon monoxide detectors in homes, a measure that will allow dentists to treat their spouses and a bill that will allow construction company EllisDon to use non-unionized workers.
The accord will also set up a legislative committee on services to people with developmental disabilities.
Premier Kathleen Wynne presented PC Leader Tim Hudak with a list with most of these bills on it last week. On Monday, the Tories unveiled a fast-tracking motion that set out a schedule for getting the legislation passed. After some back-and-forth between the two parties over which bills to include in the legislative package, Government House Leader John Milloy and PC House Leader Jim Wilson reached agreement in a meeting Tuesday. On Thursday, the fast-tracking motion came up for debate.
“What we’re trying to do in the legislature right now is get some bills forward where there is agreement,” Ms. Wynne said Thursday. “It’s what I believe people expect of us to make minority parliament work.”
The deal is a remarkable turnaround in relations between the two parties. Last spring, for instance, the PCs declared they vote down the government and trigger an election no matter what Ms. Wynne put in her budget, a move that forced the Premier to deal exclusively with the NDP to craft a budget deal.
The Liberals also accused the Tories of unnecessarily delaying legislation by dragging out the debate on innocuous bills that all three parties supported.
On Thursday, the Tories explained their decision to co-operate with the government as a way of “clearing the decks” so the legislature can focus on economic matters.
“We now hope that the Liberal government will turn their minds to those issues that are important to Ontarians rather than all this other stuff that we’ve been dealing with for two years,” Mr. Wilson said after Question Period. “We’re on the side of those that need a job, we’re on the side of those that are tired of the high taxes paying for our deficit.”
The New Democrats are not part of the fast-tracking agreement. On Thursday, they accused the other two parties of using the move to “ram through” the EllisDon legislation because the construction company donates to them.
“The government and the conservatives are ganging up to ram this bill through for the benefit of a donor that’s quite generous to both of those parties,” NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said. “I don’t think that’s what people expect when they send legislators here to do their job. I think they expect us to work on their behalf, not on the behalf of a single company.”
Asked whether her party is being influenced to vote against the EllisDon bill because of donations from trade unions, which traditionally form a large part of the NDP’s support base, Ms. Horwath said the situations are different.
“There’s quite a big difference here. [The EllisDon bill] isn’t about broad stakeholders, this isn’t about the construction sector, this isn’t about the trade union movement,” she said. “This is about one single company who got a bill tailor-made for themselves at the same time as they are big donors to these two parties.”
PC Labour Critic Monte McNaughton, who sponsored the bill, said the legislation was not motivated by campaign donations. Rather, he said, the legislation is necessary to allow Ontario-based EllisDon to compete with foreign companies that use non-unionized labour.
The agreement forcing EllisDon to hire only unionized workers dates to the 1950s and has become outdated, he said.
“What the NDP is doing is putting one of Ontario’s best companies at a competitive disadvantage,” Mr. McNaughton said. “Why would we as legislators give benefit to an American company or to a Spanish company? This bill is going to fix an injustice and keep thousands of people working in Ontario.”
Ms. Wynne also stood up for the law change, saying it was necessary to ensure a “level playing field” for construction companies.
“If there’s an anomalous situation, we need to look at that,” she said.