2018 was a year of huge political moves in our province. Let's take a look at some of the legislation, scandals, and events that set this year apart from the rest.
Patrick Brown's fall from grace
Patrick Brown’s political career has been one to watch as he rose through the ranks of the Progressive Conservative party, taking leadership in 2015. Many were certain he would be the next premier of Ontario, but that all came crashing down in January 2018 when allegations of sexual misconduct were raised against him.
In the age of the #MeToo movement, many called for Brown to step down, sympathizing with the two women who came forward. Many others, however, found holes in the stories of the two accusers, believing Brown was wrongfully accused.
Either way, Brown denied the allegations and after mounting pressure within the party, he resigned as leader in January and was ejected from the PC caucus in February. In a strange twist of events, Brown rejoined the PC leadership race briefly before withdrawing his candidacy citing the difficulties of running for a leadership position while also fighting allegations against him.
Departing from provincial politics, Brown returned to municipal politics, running for Brampton mayor and unseating incumbent Linda Jeffrey.
Currently, Brown is seeking $8-million in damages from CTV, stating that the network and its journalists failed to scrutinize the allegations properly. According to the defamation lawsuit, the reporting “subverted” Ontario’s democratic process and “has altered, for the foreseeable future, the political landscape and governance of Ontario.” CTV has vowed to stand by its reporting and defend it in court.
Doug Ford's Progressive Conservatives take office
Ontario's 42nd general election took place on June 7, 2018. The PCs took 76 seats, while the NDP took 40, the Liberals took 7, and the Green took 1.
This was a historical moment for the Green Party of Ontario, as leader Mike Schreiner pulled a win in Guelph, securing the first-ever Green seat in legislature.
It was also historic for the PCs, as they brought home a majority government, ending nearly 15 years of Liberal power in the province.
Voter turnout jumped from 51.3 per cent in 2014 to 58 per cent in 2018.
Aside from the numbers though, this election also saw newly-elected Premier Doug Ford make promises that starkly contrasted those of his opponents, vowing to cut $6 billion from Ontario's budget without laying off any public employees, convening an 'outside audit' to probe spending under the Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne, abolishing and cutting corporate, gas, and small business tax rates while scrapping a number of Liberal labour reforms.
While he has wasted no time getting to work on some of these commitments, only time will tell whether he sees them all through and whether or not Ontarians will feel satisfied with his time in office.
Controversial revamp of the sex-ed curriculum
Although newly-elected Premier Doug Ford campaigned on the promise to scrap the 2015 sex-ed curriculum, many Ontarians were still shocked and outraged to see it actually happen.
The curriculum will be replaced, but until a new version is created, the 1998 version will be taught to kids. The concern for many parents and teachers is that a lot has changed in 20 years. Discussions on topics such as consent, same-sex marriages, online bullying, sexting, gender identity, transgender or queer youth will be missing from the 1998 curriculum in an age where those issues are critical to proper education.
Ontario Education Minister Lisa Thompson stated in July that the government would conduct consultations with parents across the province in order to create the new curriculum, potentially in time for the 2019-2020 school year. The first consultation, done online at ForTheParents.ca, received roughly 1,600 submissions, majority of which called for the 2015 curriculum to be reinstated.
Many parents, teachers, social workers and advocacy groups are concerned that children will not learn how to navigate the diverse, modern world. A small minority spoke in favour of repealing the document.
The consultations, which ended Saturday, will be used as data as the government writes and tests a new curriculum throughout the spring, according to Thompson.
Minimum wage hike freeze and other labour reforms
In 2017, former-premier Kathleen Wynne’s government hiked the minimum wage from $11.40 to $14.00 per hour starting in 2018, with a scheduled raise to $15.00 per hour at the start of 2019. There was a mixed response to this, with some arguing that it was a good move to fight poverty and improve the quality of life for minimum-wage earners and others arguing that it was damaging to small and locally owned businesses.
When Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives came into office, they were quick to put a stop to the scheduled increase.
The PCs capped the minimum wage at $14.00 in October until 2020, on the premise that this would stimulate job growth and ease the burden on business owners.
Another element of Ontario’s sweeping labour reform that has largely divided Ontarians is the replacing Bill 148 with Bill 47. The change will officially take place on Jan. 1, 2019, and it means that equal pay for equal work will be repealed, 10 personal emergency leave days becomes 8 unpaid leave days and employers will again be allowed to ask for a doctor’s note.
How will this impact employee-employer relations and the economy? We are sure to find out in 2019.
Ontarians hit the polls... again!
In addition to hitting the polls in June for provincial elections, Ontarians also cast their ballot in October for their municipal leaders as well.
We elected mayors, councillors, school board trustees and other elected officials to make decisions on our behalf for the next four years.
In total across the province, there was 6,646 candidates, 3,658 seats directly elected, and 9,236,849 eligible voters, according to the Association of Municipalities Ontario. The same source indicates that the municipal elections saw a 37.66% voter turnout, down from 2014’s 43%.
One significant factor that was new to our province this year was the adoption of online voting in some municipalities. Over 150 municipalities conducted their elections primarily online, either entirely abandoning polling stations or limiting them to only a few.
Of course, this did not come without headache, as 51 of those municipalities were affected by Dominion Voting Systems’ technical failure. This made it impossible for many voters to access the server at primetime, 5:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., leading some municipalities to extend voting for a few hours. Some, including Sudbury, Waterloo, Pembroke, and Prince Edward county, extended it a full 24 hours.
This election was also intense for Toronto, as Premier Doug Ford slashed Toronto’s council in half from 47 to 25 councillors, changing the ward boundaries and, according to some, attacking local democracy.
Canada's rise in gun violence hits Toronto hard
Canada’s national homicide rates reached a decade-high in 2017, with 660 reported, according to Statistics Canada, due to a spike in gang-related violence and shootings.
2018 saw this trend continue with shootings being reported across the country, but in particular, Toronto
Moves and promises by the federal government to fund $327 million over a five year period to stop criminal gun and gang activities came after a rash of shootings that took place this summer, particularly at Danforth Avenue in July which killed two and injured 13.
As of Dec. 24, the Toronto Police Service have reported 406 shootings in 2018, with 573 victims. In August, Premier Doug Ford committed $25 million in new funding to combat gun violence in Toronto. $7.6 million will be allocated to the creation of legal teams that will operate at all of Toronto’ provincial court houses, designed to ensure gun criminals are more severely punished. Majority of the money will be used to create what Ford has described as ‘legal SWAT teams,’ dedicated to stopping those charged with firearms offences from getting bail.
Ford has said he would not support a handgun ban, however, federal consultations on such a ban are ongoing.
This is sure to be an issue that will continue in talks between the federal and provincial governments as they work to fund a solution.
Toronto devastated by van attack
In April, the city of Toronto united in grief when Alex Minassian plowed a van into a number of pedestrians on busy Yonge Street in North York, Toronto, killing 10. He was charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of attempted murder.
While the incident was deemed not to be a national security threat, the head of the Toronto Police Association, Mike McCormack, said that, in 30 years, he had never seen anything like it before.
Former-premier Kathleen Wynne stated after the incident that federal and provincial officials remained in close contact as the investigation took place. She also expressed pride in the handling of the arrest of the suspect by Toronto police constable Ken Lam.
Following the attack, Wynne said that the province would offer whatever resources were necessary for Toronto police to conduct their investigation and process evidence.
While this tragedy rocked the city of Toronto, with thousands - including Wynne and Trudeau - attending a vigil in the city of Toronto, Canadians and specifically.
Ontarians far and wide joined in solidarity, taking to social media with #TorontoStrong and donating to a Toronto Foundation fund to support survivors and families.
Controversial pick for OPP commissioner
Ontario’s PC government admitted to lowering the qualification requirements for the position of Ontario Provincial Police commissioner to attract a wider range of candidates for the job.
This admission came shortly after reports of concerns were sparked across the province that the Ford government had altered the posting of the job in order to appoint Ron Taverner, a friend of Ford. Premier Ford has stated that he had no hand in appointing Toronto police superintendent Ron Taverner for the position, however, he did admit that he was in the cabinet meeting that made the decision.
Ford’s government has come under fire, with Democracy Watch, a national organization that advocates for government accountability, requesting that Ontario’s integrity commissioner, J. David Wake, launch an investigation into the controversial appointment. Provincial Green Party Mike Schreiner has called the appointment an error in judgment, and NDP leader Andrea Horwath has questioned Ford about it at Queen’s Park as well.
As of now, the appointment is in limbo while Wake investigates whether or not Ford personally played a role in Taverner’s hiring.The investigation is ongoing, and is sure to make headlines in the new year.
Ford slashes provincial funding for education
Ontario’s PC government made the decision in mid-December to cut $25 million for programs that are aimed at providing students with extra skills and support, enraging many Ontarians.
This move came after a review of the ‘Education Programs - Other’ fund, will affect all 72 school boards across the province differently depending largely on what kind of programs they already fund. The cancellations include programs that assist with leadership, provide tutors in classrooms, as well as specific services for Indigenous and otherwise racialized students.
Teachers are concerned about how special needs students will be affected, and boards are now in a scramble to to analyze how the cuts will affect their schools.
These cuts come in conjunction with the elimination of three independent officers of the legislature (environmental commissioner, independent children’s advocate, and French language services commissioner).
Additionally, all spending announced by the previous Liberal government, including $2.2 billion for universal child care, $242 million for shelter spaces and counselling for people fleeing violence, and $800 million over two years to reimburse drug and dental costs for the uninsured, have been cancelled.
This all comes in an effort to fulfil Ford’s campaign promise to find $6 billion in efficiencies to restore Ontario to fiscal health.
With less than a year under their belt, we can be sure to see more big moves coming from the PC government over the next three years.
Province of Ontario becomes your friendly neighbourhood pot dealer
The greatly anticipated legalization of recreational cannabis in Canada on Oct. 17 has prompted provincial governments to decide how they will go about regulating the product.
Ontario’s PCs strayed from the previous Liberal regime’s plan to sell marijuana at government-run outlets, announcing that as of April 1 2019, private retailers will be selling the product.
The government announced in August 2018 that Ontario municipalities will be given a one-time chance to opt-out of allowing physical cannabis stores within each municipality’s boundaries, which will be regulated by provincial rules. Until then, Ontarians have been and will continue to be able to purchase pot from the Ontario Cannabis Store, an online retailer ran by the government.
With the legalization of the drug came new challenges for police services across the province, who have had to enact new safety laws and penalties to deal with drug-impaired driving, public intoxication, and growing and possessing more than the legal amount.
It has also forced employers and supervisors to familiarize themselves with the rules for the workplace.
With newly elected city councils across the province making the decision as to whether or not they will opt in and out, and considering the fact that there will be a limit on how many retailers will be allowed, this is sure to be a story to follow in the new year, as it could hugely impact Ontario's economy