New Democrats argue that public pressure, and falling polls, have brought about changes in pending.

opinionviolet 100x100By Andrew Drummond

November 6th, 2019



Queens Park

Has the Ford government learned how to govern?

This past week, the Ontario government returned to the legislature after an extended five-month break. Upon their return, they prioritized Bill 124 that would cap yearly public wage increases to significantly below the rate of inflation (with exceptions for groups that typically support the Conservatives like Doctors and Police Officers). However, they also last week announced significant retreats to three previously announced policies. These retreats were unexpected, and well received, and it is worth digging into how impactful these retreats are and why the government did not maintain their initial policies. Then perhaps more importantly what this means for public action against future government policy.

In September, two senior members of the Ontario opposition shadow cabinet (Marit Stiles and Sandy Shaw) came to Burlington for a town hall on education issues. One of the things they said to the crowd in Burlington was that it was possible to fight the government on its changes. Marit offered the example of the Health and Phys-Ed curriculum as an example of where public pressure pushed the government into changing its mind about a policy supported by Conservative members. The government had made a big deal about holding back the curriculum introduced by the previous government, but after a year of protests essentially allowed that curriculum to move forward with only minor tweaks.

This week, one of their backtracks was on regional amalgamation. Last year, the Ford government made a number of aggressive unilateral overhauls to municipal governments. It cancelled the decisions of the Regions of Peel, York, Niagara, and Muskoka to have a Regional Chair position while infamously using legislation to change the ward boundaries in the City of Toronto in the middle of their municipal campaign. When in January Ford appointed an advisory committee on regional government many residents in Burlington and elsewhere were worried it would spark another round of unilateral changes, possibly including the amalgamation of Halton Region in some way.

We love Burlington Prov Review sign

Public pressure worked.

In response, residents across Ontario organized to oppose any forced amalgamation. In Burlington, the grassroots group “We Love Burlington – Stop Amalgamation” formed. Across Ontario similar groups formed that organized responses to the advisory committee and emailed their MPPs. In all over 8,500 submissions were received and the government announced this week that no amalgamations would be forced upon municipalities. The answer was that public pressure worked.

The second backtrack was regarding advertising for vaping products. Everyone in Ontario has seen the proliferation of vaping advertising in the past year. Last October, the Ford government passed Bill 36 which primarily dealt with regulations around cannabis products, but also included the enabling of vaping companies to actively promote their products in stores. It was a reversal of previous Liberal policy to ban such advertisements, and was criticized by many including the Canadian Cancer Society. It was a transparent capitulation to lobbying pressure with the government absurdly claiming that

“The government is focusing on protecting young people from the potential harms of e-cigarettes and secondhand vapour. Retailers can’t sell the products to minors and they can only be promoted if the promotion complies with federal law.”

In September, CBC ran a story that outlined a story that showed just how little the provincial government was acting to restrict teens’ access to vaping. Despite hundreds of reports to local health authorities, across Durham, Toronto, and Peel only 16 fines had been levied all year. Many stores that had public reputations for selling products directly to minors had never been targeted for enforcement. Local health, already struggling under cuts to their funding didn’t have the resources to apply enforcement. The result of all of this has been a 74% increase in teen vaping over the last 12 months. Nearly 15% of teens 15-19 regularly vape, which in Burlington means approximately 780 teens have likely been newly addicted to vaping since the government allowed the increased advertising.

Fortunately, the government has been able to see past its free market ideology and is starting to backtrack in order to protect teens from the dangers of vaping. The government announced this week that as of January 1, 2020 vaping products will only be legally advertised within establishments that restrict entrance to ages 19+.

The last government backtrack is actually not much of a backtrack at all.

Education Minister Lecce announced last week that government will only look to increase secondary school class sizes from 22 to 25 instead of the previously announced 28. This is a relatively transparent negotiating ploy for the government’s upcoming negotiations with both the elementary and secondary teacher federations. Unfortunately, for the government, few in the public accept that the 9% increase in class sizes is necessary and most are rightly concerned about the detrimental effect it will have on public education. Minister Lecce’s public comments that tax cuts can only be funded if education costs are cut did little to make anyone think that quality education was his top priority.

Making only half of their initially proposed cuts is not actually a solution. The beginning of the cuts came this year as secondary class sizes were raised from 22 to 22.5. This resulted in 124 teachers being cut from Halton region alone. The “walk back” from the government will result in “only” 600-700 more teachers being laid off over the next three years. While this is a backtrack from the over 1,000 that were going to be eliminated under the government’s initial plan, it will still have an incredibly damaging impact on school in our region.

But the point is that fighting the government has worked. Pressure on the education piece has made the government relent a little bit.

vaping female

Restrict teens’ access to vaping.

Pressure on teenage vaping has gotten the government to do a flip-flop on their initial proposal. Pressure from local activists has made the government completely abandon its efforts to amalgamate local municipalities. The government has changed its priorities since the first year of its mandate, mainly in reaction to the plummeting polls. They are now considering walking back many other parts of their initial agenda.

The responsibility we have as residents is to keep the pressure on so that as little as possible gets cut to fund further tax cuts.

Andrew Drummond is  Burlington resident who ran for the provincial seat in the last election. He works with a telecommunications firm in the private sector where hew applies his marketing skills.

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2 comments to New Democrats argue that public pressure, and falling polls, have brought about changes in pending.

  • Joe Gaetan

    It looks to me like we have a Conservative government that is spending (sorry, I should have used “investing”, the government vernacular for our money they spend on our behalf) $1.3 billion more that the Wynne Liberal government before it and the unions are emptying their piggy banks complaining about monetary cuts that aren’t happening. Something doesn’t make sense and saying Ford wants to “privatize education completely” is utter nonsense.

  • Hans Jacobs

    Re: “..few in the public accept that the 9% increase in class sizes…” – I may be missing something but going from 22 to 25 is closer to 14%. The effect on classes is not likely to be linear and the system disruption is likely to be much greater.

    This – Snobellen’s “create a crisis”, followed by proposing a solution that fits the government’s dogma – is a good strategy for Ford, who would like to privatize education completely. Unfortunately it would be a disaster for education in Ontario.