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Ontario touts passage of 18 bills as contentious legislative session ends

Thursday, July 23, 2020 @ 12:28 PM | By John Schofield


As it ended the current legislative session, the Ontario government celebrated the passage of 18 bills, including controversial legislation critics say could give the government sweeping emergency powers, undermine access to justice and hurt those hit hardest by the pandemic.

In a July 22 government news release, Premier Doug Ford applauded the cross-party co-operation that helped his majority government bring the legislation to life since the start of the session in February. MPPs are slated to start the next session on Sept. 14.

“In our hour of greatest need, MPPs stood shoulder to shoulder as Team Ontario to protect the public during the COVID-19 outbreak,” said Ford. “The people of this province expected us to work together and we reached across party lines to quickly introduce and pass critical legislation.”

The NDP Official Opposition offered a different version of events: “Ford claimed there were bipartisan efforts,” it posted on Twitter. “The government ended multi-party House meetings months ago and passed sweeping legislation this week without any opportunity for public comment — a move that was opposed by every Opposition MPP.”

In a separate statement, NDP House Leader Gilles Bisson noted that on the last day of the legislature alone, the government passed three pieces of legislation: Bill 184, the Protecting Tenants and Strengthening Community Housing Act, 2020; Bill 197, the COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act, 2020; and Bill 195, the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act.

“Today the government passed three bills that give Ford more power and help his well-connected insiders at the expense of everyday people,” Bisson said in the July 21 statement. “With Bill 195, Ford hands himself unprecedented and undemocratic powers to make rules in secret behind closed doors.”

Bill 195 — which could extend the government’s emergency powers for up to two years — was also opposed by Progressive Conservative MPP Belinda Karahalios of Cambridge, who called it an “unnecessary overreach on our parliamentary democracy.” The government, which characterized the bill as essential for the “continued safe and gradual reopening of the province,” ejected her from the PC caucus later that same day.

“By transferring away the ability for Ontario MPPs to consider, debate and vote on how emergency powers are used on Ontarians,” Karahalios said in a news release, “Bill 195 essentially silences every single Ontario MPP on the most important issue facing our legislature today.”

The Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) mourned the passage of both Bill 195 and Bill 197, which amended dozens of pieces of legislation, including the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Bill 195 “provides extensive powers to override collective agreements and take away the rights of our nurses and health-care professionals who have been working so hard to provide care during the pandemic,” ONA president Vicki McKenna said in a July 22 news release.

“Bill 197,” she added, “does not appear to have much to do with COVID-19 economic recovery. Instead, it allows health and safety measures and environmental protections to be watered down.”

The government’s long list of passed legislation also included Bill 161, the Smarter and Stronger Justice Act, 2020, which it said will make it “easier, faster and more affordable for people to access the justice system.”

Bill 161 was opposed by the union local that represents Ontario’s staff legal aid lawyers. “There is broad consensus within the legal profession and across the political spectrum that Ontario has an access to justice crisis,” Dana Fisher, vice-president of the Society of United Professionals Legal Aid Ontario Lawyers Local said in a June statement. “In spite of this, Bill 161 seeks to literally remove the words “access to justice” from the purpose of the Legal Aid Services Act.”

The Smarter and Stronger Justice Act, 2020 is also expected to have an impact on class actions by, among other things, applying a more rigorous certification test.

Critics said Bill 184, the Protecting Tenants and Strengthening Community Housing Act, 2020, could make tenants more vulnerable to eviction by opening the way for landlords to obtain eviction orders without going through Landlord and Tenant Board hearings.

Other legislation passed during the session included the Building Transit Faster Act, 2020, which focuses on transit projects in Toronto and opens the way for public-private partnerships; the Connecting People to Home and Community Care Act, 2020; and the Rebuilding Consumer Confidence Act, 2020, which is focused on the new home construction industry.

A complete list of legislation passed is available in this government backgrounder.

If you have any information, story ideas or news tips for The Lawyer’s Daily please contact John Schofield at john.schofield@lexisnexis.ca or call (905) 415-5891.