The Ontario Legislative Assembly at Queen’s Park resumed on Monday after a summer break which saw Doug Ford’s government face a series of controversies over a now reversed Greenbelt land swap. In a one month period, Premier Ford saw two ministers, a chief of staff and a policy director, resign in the wake of an investigation by the integrity commissioner, and a third resignation by his Labour Minister Monte McNaughton, one of the stars of the front bench since the 2018 election.
An eventful summer comes to an end
McNaughton’s announcement follows the resignation of Steve Clark as municipal affairs earlier this month and more recently, Kaleed Rasheed as minister of public and business service delivery, after inaccurate information was provided to the integrity commissioner’s office during the investigation in the Greenbelt land swap.
On Monday, Premier Ford once again apologized and announced his government would move forward with new legislation from new housing Minister Paul Calandra later this week to reverse the plans to open protected Greenbelt lands for housing. Ford said that during his party’s caucus retreat in Niagara Falls last week, members shared what they’ve been hearing from constituents, and he made the decision to reverse the land swap.
At the heart of the premier’s apologies over the last week was his commitment to accountability. It was a key to his original victory in the 2018 election, and he will want to revive that narrative with his admissions regarding the Greenbelt scandal. Expect the government to focus on achieving its 2022 priorities to send a signal to voters they’re focused on the issues that got them elected in the first place.
A major test of the accountability will come with the Supreme Court’s decision on whether or not the government can keep the letters secret from the public. In 2019, the information and privacy commissioner ordered the release of the letters, which was appealed by the government multiple times. In March, the province used its final option by appealing the decision to the Supreme Court after being denied at every other level.
Over the summer, Global News released the contents of the original 2018 mandate letters, after a source provided them to reporter Colin D’Mello.
On Friday, Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles said that despite the premier’s apology, there are still questions about the deal that remain unanswered and the Greenbelt situation casts “a long, dark shadow” over the government and every decision it makes. She said her party will continue to hold the government to account on the now-reversed Greenbelt deal, as well as the privatization of health care in the province and the on-going sale of the lease for Ontario Place. “I think we need to shine a light on every corner,” she told media last week.
Housing and affordability
Housing and affordability remain a core focus of the government in the wake of the Greenbelt investigation fallout. Ford and his government had initially stated the sections of the Greenbelt portioned out to developers would eventually contain 50,000 units of different types of housing, including affordable rentals. With this land swap reversed, the government will need to figure out other ways to add those units to the housing market in order to meet its commitment to build 1.5 million units over the next 10 years.
The government made its first legislative move on the housing file this week, as Infrastructure Minister Kinga Surma introduced Bill 131, the Transportation for the Future Act, 2023. If passed, the legislative amendments will allow municipalities to charge fees to developers to fund the construction of new GO Transit stations – which the government says will spur more housing development in the Greater Toronto Area around transit hubs.
Major infrastructure projects will also be a focus for the government over the fall sitting. Highway projects including the 413 and Bradford Bypass are undergoing environmental impact assessment by the Ministry of Transportation and the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada. Both projects are facing opposition from interest groups, some residents, and the opposition parties at Queen’s Park, but the government intends to see shovels in the ground once approved.
The government will also want to see progress on the construction of key transit projects, including the Ontario Line and the long-delayed Eglinton Crosstown light rail extension in Toronto. Metrolink CEO Phil Verster is expected to provide a long-awaited update on the $18.8 billion project on Wednesday afternoon.
Liberal leadership race
The Ontario Liberal Party’s leadership is in full swing ahead of the vote on December 2, 2023. Mississauga mayor, and former federal Liberal MP, Bonnie Crombie, is by most accounts the front runner in the race so far.
According to Elections Ontario filings from August, Crombie’s campaign had raised more than $720,000 dollars to date, while Kingston-area MPP Ted Hsu had raised just shy of $230,000 and Toronto-area MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith had raised just over $215,000. The other two candidates, Ottawa Centre MP Yasir Naqvi and MPP Adil Shamji were trailing the pack having raised just over $180,000 and $70,000 respectively.
The candidates combined have claimed to have brought in nearly 80,000 new members to the party, ahead of the September 11 deadline to register for the leadership vote. Those numbers had yet to be verified by the party but would be the largest increase in membership in the party’s history, according to interim Liberal Leader John Fraser, and more than double the total number of members who voted in the 2020 leadership race.
There are four more leadership debates scheduled before the final vote in December, on October 1 in Stratford, October 24 in Toronto, November 8 in Ottawa and either November 18 or 19 in Brampton.
- November 2023: Fall Economic Update
- December 2: Liberal Leadership Election Vote