TORONTO – The Ontario government abruptly ended the fall sitting of the legislature a week ahead of schedule on Thursday, after spending weeks fending off criticism from all sides.
The Progressive Conservatives did not give an explanation for the decision, which came hours after U.S. regulators rejected a multibillion-dollar merger of Hydro One Ltd. with a U.S. company, citing political interference from the provincial government.
“It’s been a whirlwind, frankly,” NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said of the fall session. “I’m not surprised that the government’s leaving early. I think that they know they’ve made some pretty big mistakes.”
In recent weeks, Premier Doud Ford and his Tories have also faced mounting criticism over the appointment of a Ford family friend as provincial police commissioner. The appointment of Ronald Taverner, 72, as OPP commissioner has prompted calls for an investigation, although Ford has said he was not involved in the hiring process.
The Tories are also grappling with the loss of one of their legislators, Amanda Simard, who left caucus last week in the wake of the government’s decision to eliminate the independent office of the French-language services commissioner and scrap a planned French-language university.
The government blamed the slashed services on budget shortfalls left by the previous Liberal government, and offered concessions including the creation of a commissioner position within the office of the provincial ombudsman, establishment a Ministry of Francophone Affairs and hiring of a senior policy adviser on francophone affairs in the premier’s office.
During the fall session, General Motors also announced it would be shuttering its plant in Oshawa, Ont., killing 2,500 jobs. Ford said the closure was a done deal, but vowed to help those affected find new jobs.
The session also saw Ford’s government table major legislation, including the hotly anticipated climate change plan, which will see the province spend $400 million over four years on a fund that aims to entice companies to invest in initiatives that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The plan does not, however, put a price on carbon – a federal requirement that Ford is fighting in court.
Other legislation tabled by the Tories included changes to labour laws that freezed the province’s minimum wage at $14 an hour until 2020 and cut two paid personal leave days for workers. The government said those changes would boost job growth in the province.
On Thursday, the government introduced a bill aimed at reducing regulations businesses have to comply with. Economic Development Minister Todd Smith said if passed, the Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act would cut red tape for business and help create jobs.
The legislature is set to resume Feb. 19.