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editorial

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, right, speaks to Liz Plank onstage at the 2016 Liberal Biennial Convention in Winnipeg, Saturday, May 28, 2016.John Woods/The Canadian Press

Did Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne try to pull off a political sleight of hand on Tuesday?

On the one hand, the Premier suddenly announced that her government will modernize the province's definition of the word "parent" by the end of the year. On the other, the announced reform is so overdue that its timing seems suspiciously like a distraction from the controversies buffeting Ms. Wynne and her party.

There is no question that Ontario needs to amend its laws that define who is a parent, and that the Premier's announcement has merit. Current laws fail to take into account the shape-shifting nature of modern families, and as a consequence they create obvious inequities – in particular for same-sex couples.

The most blatant one concerns lesbian couples who have a child together. Under the law, the birth mother is automatically deemed a parent, but the partner has to go to court to get that status.

There are also the many complications created by assisted reproduction technologies and by surrogacy. Where once upon a time it could be assumed that, except in cases of adoption, a birth mother was the parent to her child, that is no longer true. As a 2012 study on parenting in Canada put it, today "a child may have separate genetic, gestational and child-rearing mothers."

It's a changing world, one that the long-reigning Liberal government of Ontario had opportunities to address in the past. The courts largely settled the issue a decade ago, and the other provinces have adopted the necessary legislation.

But even now, Ms. Wynne's government is only able to move quickly because Cheri DiNovo, an NDP MPP, last year tabled a comprehensive private-member's bill addressing all the complexities of this reform. The Premier has asked the Attorney-General to work with Ms. DiNovo on a new bill.

So here we are talking about this worthy initiative – which is exactly what the government wants. Voters could instead be focused on the Liberal Party's cash-for-access funding scandal, or the government's questionable plan to spend billions of dollars to bribe Ontarians into downsizing their carbon footprints, or allegations from the Financial Accountability Officer that cabinet ministers are keeping critical documents from him.

They could be, but for a well-timed bit of progress on an old file.