Ford government’s COVID-19 recovery plan hints at return to austerity
This is an excerpt from Ontario Majority, our brand new newsletter covering Ontario politics.
Doug Ford’s New 188-page Bill
On Wednesday, the Progressive Conservatives introduced a massive 188-page omnibus bill meant to kick-off Ontario’s COVID-19 recovery. The proposed COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act makes changes to 20 different pieces of legislation – everything from education to the environment is touched on.
To ensure our North99 community stays updated on critical policy changes like this, I took a dive into the document – here is what stands out.
Changes to the environmental assessment process
A large part of the Act is an overhaul of our province’s environmental assessment process. Entire sections of the Environmental Assessment Act would be repealed and replaced – introducing a streamlined process for assessments. Should the bill be passed, it would mean that the Progressive Conservative government can decide whether projects need an environmental assessment. As is, most projects require one by default .
It’s unclear how weakening our environmental protections will spur an economic recovery, nonetheless, that appears to be integral to the Ford government’s approach.
More ministerial zoning orders
Throughout the pandemic, the Ford government has been handing out “Minister’s zoning orders” (MZOs) to fast-track approval for real estate developers’ plans and quash opposition. The orders allow the government to help developers override usual planning processes.
This new omnibus bill amends the Planning Act to give the Minister enhanced order-making powers.
Cutting “red tape”
Apart from the changes to existing legislation, the omnibus bill also enacts the Modernizing Ontario for People and Business Act, 2020.
This piece of new legislation is perhaps our best clue to what Ford’s COVID-19 recovery will look like. The Act sets out to cut regulatory costs for businesses by “cutting red tape.”
We’ve seen this movie before – its a Ford classic. Under the guise of cutting red tape, the Ford government gets rid of important standards and oversight to help boost the profits of big business.
The language – of cutting red-tape and helping small businesses – is nearly identical to the Making Ontario Open for Business Act in 2018. That was the legislation that blocked minimum wage increases, took away paid sick leave for workers, and rolled back labour reforms.
It’s this sort of deregulation that made inspections of nursing homes non-existent and left long-term care homes with free reign to neglect their residents.
The COVID-19 recovery to come
Perhaps most telling is what’s not included in the omnibus bill. No changes to long-term care, no supports for struggling families, nothing on childcare to help parents get back to work, nothing new to help small businesses or municipalities burdened with the economic costs of the COVID-19 pandemic.
What has been included are the same old Ford policies many had hoped he would not return to. Cutting red-tape, rolling back regulations, and the usual conservative economic approach.
What does that signal for what’s to come? We can expect Ford to return to austerity economics – spending cuts for you and tax cuts for big business.
Ford’s rhetoric and public relations approach may have changed during this pandemic, but his approach to government has not.
Tell us what you think!
Every week we’ll be including a question for you. We want to hear about your thoughts on the issues we’re discussing. The top responses will then be included in next week’s newsletter.
What policies do you think the Ontario government should prioritize to restart the economy?
While you weren’t looking.
The over-looked news of the week.
- Ontario’s fiscal watchdog revealed this week that the Ford government overstated the cost of asylum seekers crossing into Ontario from the United States. The Progressive Conservatives had repeatedly misled Ontarians, telling them the cost was near $200 million. The real number unveiled this week by the Auditor General is $80 million – less than half the PC’s estimate.
- Premier Doug Ford is extending his government’s emergency powers into next year, the Toronto Star reports. The powers give the Progressive Conservative government sweeping authority to issue emergency orders despite the decline of COVID-19 cases.
- In May it was revealed that the Toronto Star’s parent company was being bought out by longtime Conservative donors. This week, news emerged that a second party has made another offer to buy Torstar Corp. The development could soon trigger a bidding war between the two parties.
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