Ontario’s legislature resumed session Monday, after the longest recess in nearly a quarter century, with protests and a promise of a change in tone.
Politicians normally return for the fall session in early September, but the five-month break meant the house didn’t sit during the federal election campaign.
The Tories have promised to strike a new tone this session, with House Leader Paul Calandra saying the government wants to move away from the partisan squabbles and regular standing ovations that were a fixture in the legislature during its first year in power.
Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said Monday before question period that those changes would be nice, but what he wants is a change in priorities.
“Tone will not replace those things that Ontario’s families depend on, the things that have been lost in the last year,” he said, referring to cuts made by Premier Doug Ford’s government, such as slashing teacher jobs.
The resumption of the legislative session comes amid tough bargaining with the province’s education sector. The unions representing high school teachers, elementary teachers, and English Catholic teachers are all holding strike votes. A strike by support staff was narrowly avoided earlier this month when the Canadian Union of Public Employees reached a deal with the province, agreeing to a one-per-cent wage increase for its 55,000 education workers.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce has offered to scale back the province’s push to increase class sizes — from 28 to 25 for high school — as part of bargaining with the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, but the union called it a “poison pill.”
Labour unions and other activists organized a protest Monday to decry various cuts and changes enacted by the government, with dozens of people marching around the legislature.
Canadian Union of Public Employees president Fred Hahn said that while the Ford government wants to improve its image, people are still angry about the cuts they made.
“They’re desperate for a reboot, but what hasn’t changed is the entire agenda of the government. If they really want to reboot, then they would reinstate the funding that they cut from communities.”
Parents are also demanding an action plan for children with autism.
“We’re waiting for a new program to be announced and implemented, and it’s been just way to long. They’re taking their time with it and they are kids still languishing on the wait list,” a woman named Virginia said.
— Kevin Misener (@Misener680NEWS) October 28, 2019
Protesters setting up effigies of the Premier & a “generic banker” as part of their demonstrations. pic.twitter.com/mpLSIOldn1
— Tammie Sutherland (@citytammie) October 28, 2019
The major piece of legislation that the government left on the table before the summer break is one that would limit wage increases to an average of one per cent a year for three years for the broader public sector.
The Progressive Conservative government returns not only to the new session, but to a different political landscape than when Queen’s Park was shuttered in June.
Ford shuffled his cabinet last spring in what was a major reset for his government, which had been plagued by months of public backlash and negative headlines.
The new associate minister of small businesses and red tape reduction set to introduce a new piece of legislation Monday.