Doug Ford was elected on a platform that promised to find billions of dollars in efficiencies in Ontario’s provincial budget. Now that he and his majority Conservative government have been sworn in, we’re keeping a running tally on where exactly the Ford government is making those promised cuts—and what the consequences of those actions might be.
Nearly half of Toronto city council
Ford initially announced his plans to reduce the size of city council in late July, and the Ontario premier is intent on making that happen no matter what the courts say.
On September 10, Justice Edward Belobaba ruled against Ford’s proposed Bill 5—an act that would cut the number of Toronto city councillors from 47 to 25—due to it being unconstitutional and infringing on candidate’s and voter’s right to freedom of expression as outlined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In response, Ford said he would not accept that ruling and planned on invoking the “notwithstanding clause” (section 33)—a legal loophole that allows federal or provincial leaders to enact laws that go against sections of the Charter. Essentially, it allows political leaders to not follow legislation that they don’t agree with. Before Ford’s latest actions, this clause had never been used by the provincial government in Ontario. (In fact, it’s only been used around 15 times in Canadian history)
“I believe the judge’s decision is deeply concerning and the result is unacceptable to the people of Ontario,” Ford announced on Monday, adding that they will “take a stand” by reintroducing the Better Local Government Act and invoking section 33 of the charter.
“I was elected. The judge was appointed,” said Ford in response to concerns about a politician overriding the courts.
Mayor John Tory told reporters on Monday that the use of the clause is a “mistake” and compared it to “using a sledgehammer on a fly.” By Wednesday, Toronto’s City Hall became a protest site with an estimated 400 demonstrators vocalizing their opposition for the premier’s actions. The scene at the Ontario legislature was equally chaotic, with NDP MPPs, including NDP leader Andrea Horwath, protesting the new bill and consequently getting removed from the House.
The Basic Income Project
On August 1, Children, Community and Social Services minister Lisa MacLeod announced that the PCs would be ending the Liberal government’s pilot project into providing Ontarians with a no-strings-attached “basic income.” The pilot involved 4,000 people earning less than $34,000 annually who were given up to $17,000. Unlike traditional welfare, the payment not conditional upon employment status. Couples would receive up to $24,000 and those with disabilities were eligible for up to an additional $6,000. The experiment began in April 2017 and was set to last three years.
In her announcement of the pilot cancellation, MacLeod said that it was scrapped because it wasn’t working, although she was unable to provide any data to clarify what that meant. There were also no details on how the program would be wound down for those currently supported by it. This comes on the heels of another announcement on July 31, when MacLeod said the government would increase disability support rates by 1.5% instead of the 3% promised by the Liberals before the election.
“We need to do more than just help people remain mired in poverty,” MacLeod told reporters. “We’re going to hit the pause button on the previous government’s patchwork system and replace it with a system that helps stabilize people in need and support them to succeed.” She went on to say that the government had set itself a 100-day deadline to formulate a plan to revamp the social assistance system in Ontario.
The sex-ed curriculum
Starting this September, Ontario schools will revert back to teaching the 1998 sex-ed curriculum. On July 11, the newly-appointed Education Minister, Lisa Thompson, announced that the Ontario government would repeal the changes made to the sex-ed curriculum introduced by the Liberal government in 2015. The updated curriculum aimed to better reflect the issues children face today, including topics such as same-sex relationships, online safety and gender identity—all of which are not part of the 1998 curriculum that students be taught in September. Ford and the Ministry of Education plan to consult parents on how to update the sex-ed curriculum moving forward.
Hydro One’s CEO and its board of directors
On July 11, Ford announced the retirement of Hydro One CEO Mayo Schmidt, effective immediately. Schmidt will leave with a $400,000 lump sum payment, a far cry from the estimated $10.7 million severance he would be entitled to if he was removed by the board of directors. According to a statement from Hydro One, Schmidt will not be entitled to severance. The remaining Hydro One board members will resign and be replaced on a staggered basis over the next month.
During the election campaign, Ford promised that Schmidt would be removed from Hydro One (reportedly “livid” over the CEO’s salary), even if it meant replacing the entire board. “I’m happy to say we kept our promise. The CEO and the board of Hydro One, they’re done, they’re gone,” Ford told reporters outside of his Queen’s Park office.
Writing sessions to revise Indigenous education curriculum
The Conservative government will go ahead with planned revisions to Ontario’s curriculum, updated to reflect the experiences of Indigenous Canadians. These updates were a key recommendation of 2015’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and will include teaching the dark history of residential schools. What they have cancelled, however, are the curriculum writing sessions—which were supposed to happen this week—to further update the curriculum. The Ministry of Education has said that the cancellations are the result on the new ban on non-essential travel.
Hiring in the public sector
Even before he was sworn in as premier on June 29, Doug Ford announced a hiring freeze across the public service. Additionally, Ford shut down all discretionary spending, so no non-essential travel, for instance, or food at meetings. This freeze will be in place until the Progressive Conservatives have done a line-by-line audit of the province’s finances. (Frontline workers, like fire fighters and the police, are exempt. And teachers and doctors don’t actually work for the public service, so this doesn’t apply to them, either.)
Free prescriptions for children and young adults with private coverage
On June 30, the Ford government’s health minister Christine Elliott announced that the PCs would be dialling back the Liberal OHIP+ extension. When the program came into effect last year, all Ontarians under 25 qualified for free prescriptions to 4,400 medications covered under the Ontario Drug Benefit Program. Under Ford, however, this will now apply to only to under 25s who don’t already have drug coverage under private insurance. (Those who do have private insurance will bill their insurers first for prescription costs, and the government second.)
The cap-and-trade program
One of Ford’s key campaign promises was to lower the price of gas by 10 cents per litre. The primary way he planned to achieve this was by scrapping the cap-and-trade program. Basically, this is Ontario withdrawing from a joint marketplace with Quebec and California in which companies could buy and sell credits that allowed them to produce carbon emissions. The idea behind the program was that companies would have to “pay” to pollute, and so would be incentivized into maker greener investments in their businesses. The extra cost to businesses to buy these carbon credits was passed on to consumers, and again, this was designed to spur people to make more conscious, environmentally-friendly choices. Cancelling the program was Ford’s first act as premier. When he did so, he said in a statement: “Every cent spent from the cap-and-trade slush fund is money that has been taken out of the pockets of Ontario families and businesses. We believe that this money belongs back in the pockets of people. Cancelling the cap-and-trade carbon tax will result in lower prices at the gas pump, on your home heating bills and on virtually every other product that you buy.”
The Green Ontario Fund
The Green Ontario Fund was financed (to the tune of around $377 million) by proceeds from the cap-and-trade program, and was designed to help people retrofit their homes and businesses with green technologies via a rebate system. The rebates applied to things like smart thermostats, more energy-efficient windows and other improvements to reduce a building’s carbon footprint. The government announced in June that it would wind down by September.
$100 million in funding for school repairs
Another consequence of cancelling the cap-and-trade program is that school boards across Ontario are suddenly short $100 million in money earmarked for repairs to its facilities via the cap-and-trade-backed Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund. The Toronto District School Board, for example, has a $300 million annual budget for repairs, of which $25 million came from this fund. It has a total repair backlog of $4 billion.
With files from Jessie Borsellino