With the Legislative Assembly due to resume sitting next Monday September 12th, we thought it would be a good time to revisit the events of the summer of 2016, as well as look ahead to what we might expect in the fall session.
It has been approximately 90 days since the Ontario Legislature rose for the summer recess on June 9th. After months of adjournment and time spent at home in their ridings, MPPs and Ministers are gearing up for the upcoming legislative session. By most accounts it was an interesting summer in provincial politics, and highlighting some of the main developments will prepare stakeholders for what promises to be a very busy next few months.
Cabinet Shuffle – New Ministers, Parliamentary Assistants, and Staff
One of the spring and summer rumours that was fulfilled early in the summer recess, was the cabinet shuffle. On June 13th, Premier Wynne increased her cabinet from 27 to 30, adding 7 new faces to new portfolios and shifting many ministers to new roles. While some thought the shuffle would be a more substantial and politically intriguing event, it was largely a low drama affair. A handful of new faces or “rookies” were promoted, some of the older and more experienced ministers volunteered their resignation, some of the shuffled veterans returned to old and familiar roles, and leadership at the “big ministries” Health and Finance remained unchanged.
Early summer cabinet shuffles are also a semi-regular part of governance, with the slower pace of the weeks following allowing for briefings, staffing, and other changes to get in place before the House resumes for the Fall. Most if not all offices are now fully staffed and briefed, and stakeholders interested in engaging and educating these new faces on issues of interest should be able to do so as of the publication of this article. We can expect the two opposition parties to test the newcomers to cabinet early in the fall session, looking for any vulnerabilities.
The specific details of the shuffle have been well reported on, including by Sussex through a post that is currently on the firm’s website here: (http://sussex-strategy.com/posts/ontarios-cabinet-shuffle-update).
In the days leading up to the summer recess, one of the most popular rumours circulating around Queen’s Park was the possibility that the government would prorogue. This didn’t happen while the house was in session or in the early part of the summer recess, but still may in the remaining days; the Premier does not need the House to be in session to cause a prorogation. For those who may not know, proroguing the House is akin to hitting the Reset Button. The current session of parliament ends, a Speech from the Throne is prepared and delivered, and the House behaves very much like it does right after an election.
As well, should the government prorogue prior to the House coming back, it will likely mean that all of the bills, motions, points of order currently on the Order Paper would be erased. We say “likely” in reference to legislation being dismissed because the government does have the ability to preserve and bring certain bills forward to the next legislative session. This, however, requires a dedicated action, and is usually reserved for large government bills.
In addition, legislative committees will be dissolved, and any bills that have been assigned to them for consideration will be stricken. New committees will be formed, and new committee chairs elected.
Politically, governments prorogue in order to refocus their efforts, and the public’s attention, on a new or modified agenda. We believe that the Premier’s comments to reporters after the Scarborough Rouge River by-elections suggest she may indeed choose to prorogue. Stay tuned; if it is going to happen, it would have to happen before September 12th.
By-Elections – One decided, two still to come
On March 22nd, Ontario Liberal MPP Bas Balkissoon announced he was resigning his seat in the historically Liberal riding of Scarborough-Rouge River. The by-election happened on September 1st, with the PC candidate and former City of Toronto Councillor, Raymond Cho, beating his Liberal and NDP opponents in what most media outlets reported as an upset. Largely characterised in the media as a referendum on the Wynne government and a vindication of recent polling numbers, the PC win, their third by-election victory in a row, helps that party build momentum into 2018. PC Leader Patrick Brown had his own stumbles during the by-election, as a letter bearing his name and claiming that he would scrap the new sex education curriculum if elected Premier, was circulated, followed after several days with Brown personally saying that in fact he would not. This 360 degree chain of events did not appear to hurt the PC cause in the by-election; as well, for a new opposition leader, better to work these kinks out in a by-election than in a general provincial one.
On August 9th, Ontario PC MPP and former leader of the PC Party, Tim Hudak, announced he was resigning his seat in Niagara West-Glanbrook. The by-election has yet to be called, but this should also be a difficult contest for the governing Liberals. The Liberals will hope to retain Ottawa-Vanier, vacated by the resignation of former Attorney General Madeleine Meilleur. No dates have been set.
Ontario Retirement Pension Plan (ORPP) Scrapped
The summer also saw a potentially defining initiative of the Wynne administration scrapped. Claiming victory after the Trudeau government announced an expansion to the Canadian Pension Plan (CPP), the Premier announced that it was no longer necessary to continue with the implementation of a dedicated provincial retirement program. The initiative, which attracted the attention of many stakeholders across many industries, was one of the major planks for the Wynne Liberals during the 2014 election. The wind up of the ORPP meant that Associate Minister Indira Naidoo-Harris, appointed the ORPP minister in June, would be moved to become Associate Minister of Education, with responsibility for early years and daycare. There, she will work with new Education Minister Mitzie Hunter, the ORPP Minister until this June’s shuffle. What caused grief for the government was the media coverage that some ORPP senior staff, some of whom had been on the job for less than 90 days, would receive lucrative, six digit severance packages.
Ontario Doctors Spoke—to their own Association and to the Ontario Government
In a surprising turn of events, the Minister if Health and the Ontario Medical Association reached agreement on a hastily arranged new deal. Unfortunately, OMA members did not ratify the agreement; in fact, they turned it down with a substantial majority in August. What this means for the future of the OMA is unclear; usually, negotiations with other health providers have to take a back seat until a deal with the doctors is reached. From what we hear, lawyers are being retained and consulted. This could take a while to sort itself out.
Fall Session – What Should We Expect?
As the second half of the Premier’s four year mandate commences, there are several things we can expect to see. Anticipating each of these will help stakeholders in the planning and optimization of their government relations approaches.
Possible Speech from the Throne – should government prorogue, the fall session will commence with a Speech from the Throne. The Speech will be drafted by the Premier and read by the Lieutenant Governor during the first meeting of the House. This speech will outline all of the things that the administration will attempt to accomplish before the election in 2018 (and will likely focus more on implementation of commitments rather than the introduction of new ideas and policies). It may happen that new Ministerial mandate letters will be drafted and made public as well.
Government will table its Fall Economic Statement (“FES”) – this yearly event will showcase how effective the government has been in meeting its promise to balance its budget by 2017/2018. The event will also serve to update Ontarians on progress on key commitments such as the implementation of cap-and-trade, establishment of new funding programs like the Green Investment Fund and the Business Growth Initiative, and the schedule for infrastructure spending and project execution. The FES typically occurs in October or November.
Premier Wynne will lead a trade delegation to Japan and South Korea (November 28 – December 2) – In August, the Premier announced that she would be leading a trade delegation to Japan and South Korea that will focus on securing investment in auto manufacturing, information technology and life sciences. This will be the first time an Ontario premier has made an official visit to South Korea in 30 years, and the first to Japan in a decade. Businesses and organization interested in joining the Premier should contact us, and we will liaise with the Ministry of Economic Development and Growth on your behalf.
Pre-Budget consultations will commence - The Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs has traditionally convened dedicated committee meetings to hear pre-budget proposals from across the province and will likely be doing so again in the fall of 2016. Although not a mandatory requirement, the Finance Minister has also held his own consultations across the province. Stakeholders with a budgetary proposal will have the opportunity to present it either in the late fall or early winter, but should be building their case now. We can assist with the process and preparing submissions.
“Patient’s First” legislation will progress and offer opportunity for consultation – The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care’s sweeping legislation that aims to change the way health care is delivered in Ontario was tabled just before the House rose for the summer recess. We can expect this bill to survive prorogation if it happens, and in any event, this will pick back up in the fall, which should fuel media attention and stakeholder involvement.
New political fundraising rules will come in to force – in response to media and public interest earlier this spring, the Wynne government announced its intention to change political fundraising rules with the introduction of Bill 201, Election Finances Statute Law Amendment Act in May 2016. Prior to the summer recess, the bill passed Second Reading and is tracking to receive Royal Assent this fall. The new law will put in place rules prohibiting corporate and union political donations, bringing Ontario in line with other jurisdictions and governments including the Government of Canada.
Staff turnover will continue – a phenomenon that happens in the second half of many administrations is that staff will continue to depart to seek opportunities in less volatile industries. We anticipate the same will happen in the fall of 2016 and over the course of the next 1.5-2yrs. For instance, it is expected that at least one senior Chief of Staff will be departing his post over the next couple of weeks to seek an opportunity in the private sector. Staff turnover can sometimes affect the momentum of files that stakeholders are concerned with both in a positive and a negative way. Stakeholders should incorporate a degree of political staffing risk into their planning at this point in the Wynne mandate.
With everything we can logically expect over the coming fall session, there will assuredly be many developments that neither we nor anyone else will see coming. It is also wise to be mindful of this as you develop and execute your government relations strategies. Should you have any questions on the above you are encouraged to contact myself of your Sussex consultant.
For more information contact: Henry Boyd - Senior Associate