• Feb 21, 2024
  • Insights

New Legislative session begins at Queen’s Park 


As the new year officially gets underway in the provincial legislature, Ontario Premier Doug Ford hopes to turn over a new leaf for the government in the middle of its second mandate. Hounded by a series of controversial inquiries and court cases at the end of 2023 and the start of 2024, Premier Ford and the Progressive Conservative Party are looking to fast-track infrastructure projects, slow a rising cost of living for Ontarians and get away from the $8 billion Greenbelt land swap scandal, currently being investigated by the RCMP.  

The first piece of new legislation tabled by the Ford government is an omnibus bill titled the Get It Done Act which would freeze increases to drivers’ licence fees and eliminate licence plate renewals for drivers, ban new tolls on all freeways (except the 407) and remove barriers to road, sewer and electricity infrastructure construction. 

Bill 162, Get It Done Act, 2024, tabled by Transportation Minister Prabmeet Singh Sarkaria, fast tracks highway construction and a number of other key policies of the provincial government. The bill would change the designation of highway construction to “low risk,” similar to the designation for public transit projects, in order to expedite the environmental assessment and approvals process. This would directly impact the government’s proposed Highway 413 project and the Bradford Bypass project to link Highways 400 and 404, all north of Toronto. The legislation would also force future provincial governments to hold a referendum before implementing any new provincial carbon pricing program or carbon tax, an apparent challenge to new Ontario Liberal Party Leader Bonnie Crombie, though she did not campaign for the leadership on any new carbon tax or pricing program. 

The omnibus legislation will also undo the dissolution of Peel Region into three separate entities, Brampton, Mississauga and Caledon. The dissolution was originally passed by the Ford government in June 2023, only to have a change of heart by December when the premier announced an abrupt end to the devolution of the regional municipality. 

The next major piece of legislation expected to be tabled by the government is a repeal of 2019’s Bill 124, the public sector wage cap, since deemed unconstitutional by the Ontario Court of Appeal earlier in February. 

When the decision was announced, the Ontario government said it would not appeal and would introduce legislation to repeal the bill. With the decision by the appeals court, public sector workers in Ontario won pay increases of almost 20 per cent for the three years wages were frozen by Bill 124. Pay increases were frozen at one per cent a year for 2022, 2023 and 2024 by the legislation. According to the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, the retroactive pay increase of 9.5 per cent over three years is the largest pay increase for the union since 2012.  

On Tuesday, Leader of the NDP and the Official Opposition Marit Stiles called on the premier to apologize to public sector workers, including nurses, PSWs, teachers and educational assistants in light of the decision to backtrack on the wage freeze. For his part, Premier Ford refused to apologize or express any regret over the issue.  

Recent public opinion polls in January and February have shown the Ontario Liberal Party under new leader Bonnie Crombie slowly gaining ground on the Progressive Conservative Party and Premier Ford. Public polling aggregator 338Canada has the Progressive Conservative Party with 36 per cent of the popular vote, while the Ontario Liberals are up to 31 per cent and the NDP coming in at 22 per cent support as of February 20.  

Popular vote projection

Newly elected Ontario Liberal Leader Bonnie Crombie, still without a seat in the legislature, continued to challenge Doug Ford the decisions of the government and policy reversals on Tuesday, from outside of Queen’s Park.

The first test of the year for the Ford government will come in March when the byelection in Lambton-Kent-Middlesex takes place to replace former PC MPP Monte McNaughton. The riding is expected to remain in Progressive Conservative hands, but the share of the vote taken by each party could reveal more about the public’s perception of the PC government’s strategy and policies at the midpoint of its mandate.  

But it’s not just the PC Party that will be watching the results closely. Opposition NDP Leader Marit Stiles will be looking for a better result after the NDP failed to retain the Kitchener Centre seat in a byelection in November of last year. The seat had been held by the NDP since the 2018 election, but was ultimately won by Green Party candidate Andrea Perrella, an associate professor of political science at Wilfrid Laurier University. The win was a boon for Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner, who doubled the size of his caucus with the win.  

Another byelection will take place before the end of June, though no date has yet been set. In January, PC MPP and former cabinet minister Parm Gill abruptly resigned his seat in Milton in order to seek nomination and run for the Conservative Party in the next federal election. Gill is also a former Conservative member of Parliament.  

For the Liberals, party leader Bonnie Crombie told media she is “seriously considering” entering the upcoming byelection in Milton. The former Mississauga mayor said she would make her decision once the byelection is called and nominations are officially opened. Milton borders Crombie’s hometown of Mississauga and could be a prime opportunity to flip a seat to the Liberals from the PCs. 

As required by provincial legislation, the government will table the 2024 no later than March 31, as well as the latest economic and fiscal update. No specific date has yet been announced by the government.  

The byelection in Lambton-Kent-Middlesex is required to take place by the end of March, though no date has yet been announced. Former MPP Monte McNaughton resigned in September of 2023 and a byelection must take place within six months of the vacancy. 

The legislature will rise for the summer break on June 14, 2024, and return on September 9.