Ontario politicians return to legislature for new Speaker, throne speech, budget

By Allison Jones

Provincial politicians are returning to Ontario’s legislature today and the opposition parties plan to press the government for more solutions to a health staffing crisis and to raise disability support payment rates.

The first order of business in the new session is electing a Speaker, and two Tories are vying for the job – Ted Arnott, who has held the role for the past four years, and Nina Tangri, who served as associate minister of small business and red tape reduction.

On Tuesday, there will be a throne speech, which will outline the re-elected Progressive Conservative government’s agenda, followed by the budget, which is expected to be largely unchanged from when it was introduced but not passed in the spring before the election.

The only new item that Premier Doug Ford has signalled will be in the budget is a five per cent increase to Ontario Disability Support Program rates, which have been frozen since 2018 at up to $1,169 a month for a single person for basic needs and shelter.

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner says Ford needs to instead double rates, so people with disabilities don’t have to live in “legislated poverty.”

The Liberals and the Opposition NDP have also called on the government to increase those payments, and all three parties have also been calling for Ford to repeal wage restraint legislation as a way to ease a nursing staff shortage that has seen emergency rooms temporarily close across the province this summer.

Nursing groups and opposition politicians have been calling on the government to repeal Bill 124 – passed in 2019 – that capped wage increases for nurses and other public sector workers at one per cent a year for three years.

Schreiner says his priorities also include seeing an end to exclusionary zoning and investments in deeply affordable housing, as well as cancelling highway projects such as Ford’s signature pledge to build Highway 413 around the Greater Toronto Area.

It is not yet clear how long the legislature will sit – for a short summer session or continue right through to the winter holiday break – but one other piece of legislation that the government has indicated is coming is a so-called strong mayor bill.

Ford has said his government is aiming to have a system putting more power in the hands of the Toronto and Ottawa mayors before the municipal elections planned for October.