Liberals Have Big Plans for Child Care in Ontario

The provincial government plans to create 45,000 new licensed spaces for child care in Ontario.

Another week, another major policy announcement from the Liberal government. This time, it relates to child care in Ontario. The minister of Early Years and Child Care announced a $1.6 billion plan to create 45,000 new licensed day cares in the province last week.

Though the plan is scant on details, the minister claims it will set Ontario, “on a path towards a universally accessible child care system.” The plan would be rolled out over the next five years.

The Cost of Child Care in Ontario

Like hydro and housing costs, early child care has become an increasingly painful thorn in the side of Ontario families. Fees have gone up an average of 8% since 2014, with median monthly fees reaching up to $1,649 for child care in Ontario. For some families, it costs more each year to send their kids to daycare than to university.

The billion-dollar plan aims to increase access to high-quality, licensed child care by funding new daycare spaces and providing subsidies to families in need. The government has also said it will consider changing the threshold for subsidies, which are currently unavailable to most middle-income families.

The cost of child care has been an issue for years now, but it has been difficult to ignore in light of recent events. In April, an unlicensed childcare provider was convicted in the death of a 2-year-old girl. The home daycare had operated for years without the required licence. The girl’s parents, along with those of the other 35 children who crowded the home, could not afford to place their children in a licensed facility.

Will the Plan Work?

Few would argue that the current state of licensed child care in Ontario is feasible, with families shelling out as much or more for daycare than they are for their monthly mortgages. But to some, the timing of this announcement is suspect.

This marks the third big-ticket policy move from the Liberal government in just a few months. The government made changes to residential tenancy law to protect renters in the province back in April. It also announced plans to bring in universal pharma-care for people under 25 years of age. Now, Kathleen Wynne has promised $1.6 billion to help families afford child care.

Regardless of whether you support these initiatives, it’s hard not to see it as a cynical appeal to voters in the upcoming provincial election. The campaign doesn’t start when the writ drops —in fact, it seems that it never stops in the first place.

A five-year child care plan can only come to fruition if the Liberals form the next government. It’s unlikely the Progressive Conservatives would keep the ambitious and expensive program if they came to power in Ontario. With the Wynne government trailing in the polls, parents and parents-to-be would be warned against banking on this promise.

We saw the same thing back in 2006, when the federal Liberals lost out to Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. A year prior, then-PM Paul Martin made plans to invest $5 billion in a universal child care system across Canada. That plan was snuffed just as soon as Harper ascended to power. There has been little talk of a Canada-wide childcare plan since then.

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How the Changing Workplaces Review Could Impact Ontario Employment Law

Ontario employment law

The Changing Workplaces Review recommends 173 changes to Ontario Employment Law.

On May 23rd, 2017, the Ontario government released the recommendations of the Changing Workplaces Review. The Review was launched two years ago to research and identify areas of change in Ontario employment law, particularly the Employment Standards Act (ESA) and Labour Relations Act (LRA). Now, labour leaders and business leaders are debating the merits of these potential changes to Ontario workplaces.

The focus of the Changing Workplaces Review was how work has changed in the province since the last major reforms in 2000. In particular, the Review zeroed in on the rise of ‘precarious’ employment arrangements, which were non-standard twenty years ago but are now the norm for millions of Ontarians. While the number of full-time positions are decreasing, part-time and temporary contract work is on the rise. As Finance Minister Bill Morneau said last year, we have come to accept that people are moving from job-to-job and re-training throughout their careers.

In the end, the Changing Workplaces Review sets out a whopping 173 recommendations for changes to Ontario employment law, many of which aim to address the reality of precarious work conditions. The government does not need to implement these changes, but the Review will nonetheless set the stage for the debate around employment law in the 2018 provincial election.

Let’s look at some changes that could impact the most people in Ontario.

Equal Pay for Full and Part-Time Employees

There is nothing in the law that prevents employers from paying part-time, contract, and temporary employees less than full-time employees for performing the same job. With the rise in precarious work, this has created a serious disparity in some workplaces. . The Review recommends the ESA be amended to provide that employers cannot pay part-time employees at a lower rate than comparable full-time employees. The exception would be if there is another reason to pay part-time employees less, such as a seniority system, a merit system, a system that measures earnings by quality or quantity of production.

Increase Vacation Pay

Today, the ESA entitles most employees to receive two weeks of vacation for each 12 months of employment and vacation pay equal to at least 4% of wages earned during that year. The Review recommends increasing that to three weeks and at least 6% vacation pay for employees who have been with the same employer for five years.

More Sick Days

Employers who have over 50 workers must give their employees at least 10 days of unpaid, job-protected leave to deal with sickness, injury, or certain other personal emergencies. The ESA calls this ‘Personal Emergency Leave.’ The Review suggests all workers should receive seven days of sick leave, plus three days of bereavement leave (to deal with the death of a family member). Additionally, if the employer demands a doctor’s note from the employee to prove that he or she is sick, the employer should be obligated to pay for it.

Repeal Two-Tiered Minimum Wage for Students and Liquor Servers

Currently, the minimum wage for students under 18 and people who serve alcohol is currently lower than the overall minimum wage ($10.70 per hour for students and $9.90 for servers, instead of the overall minimum of $11.40). This disparity mainly impacts women.

The Review recommends eliminating this two-tired minimum wage system and entitling students and severs to collect the full minimum wage. However, it suggests these changes would be phased in over three years rather than taking effect immediately.

More Rights for Interns

Currently, employees classified as interns or trainees are exempt from many of the protections under the ESA. The Review recommends repealing that section of the act and treating interns the same as other employees.

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Should Ontario Adopt a $15 Minimum Wage?

The Ontario Liberal government may overhaul Ontario’s employment laws, including increasing the minimum wage to $15.00 per hour. The potential change comes in response to the recommendations of the Changing Workplaces Review, which is set to release its final report soon.

Ontario Changing Workplaces Review

Back in 2015, the government launched the Changing Workplaces Review to identify areas in Ontario’s employment law in need of an update. The Changing Workplaces Review examined how the government could help employees in so-called ‘precarious’ work situations, like part-time and contract workers.

The Review released over 200 recommendations its interim report earlier this year, including a minimum number of paid sick days and making it easier for franchise employees to unionize. It appears both these suggestions are set to go up for debate in the provincial legislature.

Increasing the Minimum Wage

According to statistics Canada, 9.2% of Ontario’s workforce and 540,000 workers earn minimum wage. A Forum Research poll shows that two-thirds of Canadians support a national minimum wage of $15 per hour.

During the 2014 provincial election campaign, Premier Kathleen Wynne promised to raise the minimum wage in Ontario in line with the rate of inflation. The Liberal government followed through with this promise, raising the minimum wage from $11.25 to 11.40 in 2016.

A $15 minimum wage increase was not part of the Liberal campaign, nor was it part of the Changing Workplaces mandate. However, labour groups have advocated for a $15 minimum wage in Ontario for some time now, and Ontario NDP has committed to a $15 minimum wage since 2015.

Arguments for a $15 Minimum Wage

Since 2015, the government has increased the minimum wage every October to keep up with the rate of inflation. Some advocates argue that while this increase helps absorb the cost of housing, food, and transportation, it does not increase the purchasing power for low-wage workers.

“Most small businesses will tell you the most important thing they need is customers and if workers don’t have money to spend, they can’t participate in the economy,” says Pam Freche, a coordinator with the group Fight for $15 and Fairness.

The Ontario Federation of Labour also supports a $15 minimum. “We support immediately providing a basic income, but the income must be responsive to changes in earnings, the cost of living, and provide a standard of living above the poverty line,” argues OFL president Chris Buckley.

Kaylie Tiessen, an economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, argues for benchmarking the minimum wage against the average industrial wage as an “implicit recognition of the inherent value of all work in an economy.” Tying the minimum wage to be within 50-60% of the average would put Ontario’s minimum wage at — you guessed it — $15 an hour.

Arguments Against a $15 Minimum Wage

Economists and business owners differs on whether raising the minimum wage is the right thing to do. Part of the debate centres on whether an increase, intended to help low-income workers, would instead result in job losses for those at the bottom of the scale.

“If your productivity is $20 an hour and the minimum wage is $25 an hour, it’s just a simple game,” says Steve Hanke, an economics professor at John Hopkins University. “You can’t afford to keep people unless the owner of the business decides they will subsidize them in some way.”

When the New Democratic government of Alberta committed to raise the minimum wage to $15 by the end of 2018, the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses predicted the increase would cost the province as many as 50,000 jobs. “Job losses from minimum wage increases can take the form of hiring freezes, slower employment growth, or direct job cuts during an economic downturn,” the CFIB states.

At this point in time, the Liberal government of Ontario has no concrete plans to raise the minimum wage. But with a provincial election on the horizon and the NDP committed to a $15 raise, the debate is not going anywhere soon.

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Can the Senate Expel Don Meredith?

House of Commons

The House of Commons in Ottawa.

Don Meredith’s future as a Senator is up for debate. Since he admitted to having a sexual relationship with a teenage girl, many of his Senate colleagues have sought to expel Meredith from office. They reaffirmed this on Tuesday, May 2nd, when a senate committee recommended Senator Don Meredith be expelled from the Upper Chamber.

The report claims expulsion is the only sanction that would, “restore the dignity, reputation, and integrity of the position of senator and the institution of the senate.” It’s clear the Senate wants Don gone. What remains unclear is whether it is even possible for the Senate to expel him in the first place.

The problem lies in the fact that Meredith has not been charged and convicted of a crime. Under normal circumstances, the Senate has narrow grounds on which it can expel one of its own. Serious crimes are one such ground — failure to appear in the Senate for an extended period is another. Sexual impropriety is not, in itself, considered reason enough to ‘fire’ a Senator.

That’s where it gets complicated. And by complicated, we mean constitutional.

Whether the Senate can expel Don Meredith will ultimately come down to our oft-forgotten founding documents. Rarely have news commentators been so eager to delve into constitutional law.

On one hand, Senate law clerk Michel Patrice researched the issue and found the Senate has the same power to discipline its members as British Members of Parliament under s.18 of the British North America. Of course, others disagree. The power to expel an elected MP may not necessarily extend to senators, who are appointed by the federal Canadian government and not chosen by the public.

Legal experts and government officials will to debate the fine constitutional details. Meanwhile, the reputation of the Senate will continue to languish.

Senator Meredith’s indiscretion comes at a time when the Senate already is struggling to rebuild and ‘modernize.’ Between the trial (and acquittal) of Senator Mike Duffy, criminal charges (ultimately dropped) against Senator Patrick Brazeau, and off-colour remarks (without consequence) by Senator Lynn Beyak, the Senate has found itself at an all-time low in the eyes of the Canadian public.

Some call for the Upper Chamber to be reformed. Others wish to elect the Senate as our American neighbours do. There is even a movement to abolish it altogether. Regardless, of the Senate does not find its footing soon, its relevancy could become an election issue.

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What’s In Ontario’s New Anti-Racism Law?

 

The provincial government has introduced the Anti-Racism Act, 2017, which provides for various measures to address systemic racism in Ontario.

In February 2016, the government of Ontario formed an anti-racism directorate. Headed by Minister of Children and Youth Services Michael Coteau, the directorate aims to “address racism in all its forms.” Premier Kathleen Wynne pointed to police carding and the Syrian refugee debate as signs that Ontario needed an office with the anti-racism mandate.

The anti-racism directorate unveiled its first plan, “A Better Way Forward”, on March 7th. The Anti-Racism Act is meant as the first step in carrying out the plan to tackle systemic racism in Ontario, particularly racism against indigenous and Black Canadians.

While the Act does not define systemic racism, its preamble states:

Systemic racism is a persistent reality in Ontario, preventing many from fully participating in society and denying them equal rights, freedoms, respect and dignity.

Systemic racism is often caused by policies, practices and procedures that appear neutral but have the effect of disadvantaging racialized groups. It can be perpetuated by a failure to identify and monitor racial disparities and inequities and to take remedial action.

If the Anti-Racism Act is passed and comes into force, the government of Ontario will be required to do the following things:

  • Maintain an anti-racism strategy that aims to eliminate systemic racism and advance racial equality, including targets and indicators to measure the strategy’s effectiveness;
  • Review the anti-racism strategy at least every five years, consulting with members and representatives of groups most adversely impacted by systemic racism, including indigenous and black communities; and
  • Establish data standards that provide for collection, use, and management of information to identify and monitor systemic racism.

Additionally, the Act allows the Lieutenant Governor to require or authorize public sector organizations to collect personal information for the purpose of eliminating systemic racism and advance racial equality.

In other words, the meat of the Anti-Racism bill is all about data collection. The law does not make major changes to the status quo, nor does it impose obligations on ordinary Ontarians to tackle systemic racism or take measures to advance racial quality in their daily lives. Still, despite the law’s modest ambitions, the fact that it comes on the heels of the furor over the anti-Islamophobia motion may set it up for controversy.

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Ontario to Implement Rent Control and Foreign Buyer Tax

Since March, political debate and discussion in Ontario has been stuck on two points: rent control and the housing market.

Though these are separate issues that involve two different areas of law, they are inextricably linked. Soaring housing prices keep first-time home buyers from entering the market — paradoxically, the high cost of rent drives them to get out and invest in their own home. When both options in an area are unaffordable, people are forced to look elsewhere.

Now, the Ontario Liberals are set to tackle both issues at once. On Thursday, April 20th, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced a new housing plan with measures intended to cool the housing market and set limits on how much residential landlords can increase a tenant’s rent.

Foreign Buyers Tax

The biggest change comes with plans to impose a 15% tax on home purchases in the Greater Golden Horseshoe area for buyers who are not citizens, permanent residents, or corporations of Canada.

A rebate would be available to people who later get citizenship or permanent resident status, foreign nationals, and international students.

Rent Control

Concurrently, the province will expand rent control provisions to all private rental units in Ontario. The Residential Tenancies Act currently imposes rent control on units constructed or used as a rental unit before November 1st, 1991. That leaves thousands of units, particularly in Toronto, with no limit on how much a landlord can increase the rent once per her.

Following legislative changes, rent increases in all private rental units will be limited to the annual rent increase guidelines.

 

Other Changes in the Housing Plan

The plan contains 16 measures in total. In addition to rent control and the tax on foreign buyers, the proposed measures are:

  • Updating the Residential Tenancies Act, including a standard lease agreement
  • Developing affordable housing on surplus provincial land assets
  • Allowing municipalities to introduce a vacant homes tax
  • Ensuring property tax for new apartment buildings is in line with rates for similar properties
  • Funding construction of new rental units through a development charge rebate
  • Allowing municipalities to use property tax to encourage development
  • Creating a provincial Housing Supply team that will work with developers and municipalities
  • Undertaking to identify and tackle other factors contributing to tax avoidance and excessive speculation in the housing market
  • Reviewing the rules for real estate agents
  • Launching an advisory group to advise the government on the state of the housing market
  • Educating people on their consumer rights in real estate deals
  • Partnering with the Canada Revenue Agency to ensure people pay the correct federal and provincial taxes on real estate transactions
  • Establishing timelines for elevator repairs in residential buildings in consultation with the Technical Standards & Safety Authority
  • Requiring municipalities to consider factors like household incomes and sizes in approving high density residential buildings
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Changes Coming to Canada’s Impaired Driving Laws

Last week, the Liberal government followed through on its election promise and introduced legislation to legalize marijuana in Canada. The fanfare over the newly-tabled Cannabis Act allowed concurrent changes to impaired driving laws to slip by without much notice in the media.

On Thursday, April 13, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould introduced major changes to the Criminal Code in respect to impaired driving offences. In its press release, the government wrote that the changes would, “strengthen existing drug-impaired driving laws and create a regime that would be amongst the strongest in the world, particularly where cannabis is legal.”

However, the changes will not only impact marijuana users. The legislation also introduces sweeping changes to the law on drinking and driving, such as:

  • Increasing certain minimum fines and maximum penalties for first-time offenders;
  • Making it a crime to be over the legal limit for blood alcohol within two hours of driving, not just while driving; and
  • Limiting the “intervening drink defence” in which a driver demonstrates they consumed alcohol after driving but before providing a breath sample

But the biggest change, and the one which will face the most scrutiny, is the new authority granted to police officers in roadside traffic stops.

Currently, a police officer may only demand a breathalyzer test if he or she has reasonable suspicion that a person has been drinking and driving. Reasonable suspicion usually means an odour of alcohol on the driver’s breath, liquor bottles or cans in the vehicle, an admission of alcohol consumption, or other signs.

This is due to the protection against unreasonable search found in s.8 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. While a breathalyzer test is less invasive than a blood test or a saliva sample, it still constitutes a search. Currently, the law ensures that police cannot search someone for no reason, or on unreasonable grounds.

However, the new law would empower police to demand a mandatory alcohol screening during any lawful traffic stop, even if there is no reason to believe the driver has been drinking. This is a massive shift from the current law on traffic stops. Essentially, it would grant police the authority to demand breathalyzers from any driver for just about any reason.

This part of the law would likely be challenged in court as a Charter infringement.

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How the Federal Government Makes Laws in Canada

When we’re gabbing about the Canadian government, the lawmaking process comes up a lot. We gossip about the various bills and motions Members of Parliament have their hands in this week. We do a post-game analysis after the House of Commons votes on legislation. Once a bill becomes law, we like to pick apart it and try to get our heads around what it means.

Of course, since we spend so much time discussing these things, we should all know exactly how the Canadian government makes a law.

…Right?

Well, most of us learned it at some point. But you’d be forgiven for forgetting the ins and outs. Lawmaking is complicated business. Even the political junkies and #cdnpoli goons among us probably don’t know all the details off the cuff.

Here’s a quick Lawmaking 101: How the Government Makes Laws in Canada.

Who Makes the Laws?

Laws come from either the House of Commons or the Senate. The House of Commons consists of Members of Parliament that were elected in the federal election, with one for each of Canada’s 338 ridings. Senators are chosen by the Prime Minister.

Laws begin their life as bills, which is a draft of a new law or amendments to an existing one. In the House of Commons, bills may originate from the Department of Justice or from individual Members. A government bill is drafted by the DoJ on the instructions of the party in power, while a private member’s bill is created and introduced by a member alone.

Senators can introduce bills as well. These are known as Senate public bills.

Introducing a Bill and First Reading

Whether the bill comes from the House of Commons or the Senate, it follows a similar path to become law. First, either the bill is introduced to the chamber with notice, printed, and assigned a number. The assigned numbers are based on the chronological order in which the bill was introduced. House of Commons bills begin with a C, while Senate bill start with S. Government bills are numbered from 1 to 200. Private member’s bills and public Senate bills are numbered 201 to 1000.

This stage is called the First Reading of the bill. There is no debate at this point – it is basically a formality.

Second Reading

After the bill is formally introduced and given first reading, members of the chamber debate the bill’s principle. Next, vote on it for the first time. If at least half the members present support the bill, it passes on to the committee stage.

Committee

Members of a committee study the bill and hold hearings to gather information about it. They may ask members and outside experts to answer questions about it. Based on its findings, the committee may propose changes to the bill.

Report Stage

The committee sends the bill back to its chamber of origin. At this point, the entire house debates the bill for a second time. Members can suggest amendments to the bill in the from of a motion.

Third Reading

The chamber debates and votes on the bill a third and final time. Members who voted for the bill the first time around may change their vote at this point, as the final product may not be the same as the bill in second reading.

Other Chamber

If the bill passes third reading, it then goes to the other chamber. Senate bills go to the House of Commons, while House bills go to the Senate. The other house goes through the same stages – first reading, second reading, committee, report, and third reading.

If the other house amends the bill, both chambers must agree on the change before the bill can become law.

Royal Assent

Once both chambers have passed the bill, it goes on to receive Royal Assent. Royal Assent is the formal process of turning a bill into law. The Governor General or one of his or her deputies can give Royal Assent in writing or in a ceremony in the Senate Chamber.

Royal assent turns the bill into an Act of Parliament.

When Does the Law Come into Force?

Acts don’t necessarily become enforceable laws right away. The legislation may specify a future date that it comes into force. The Governor General can also set a date for enforcement.

What Happens if the Bill Fails?

If the House or Senate rejects a bill, it does not become a law. However, a member can reintroduce the it as a new bill with a new number in the next session.

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