Yesterday was cold, wet and gray. It was also the last day of winter. Very fitting. A slight warming snap has resulted in patches of hard black ice among the big puddles at the corner of College St. and University Avenue. The trees, brushes, sidewalks and roadways to Toronto's Queens Park [QP] legislature are gritty with the winter debris.
I caught a ride downtown with Janet on her way to work to visit the legislature for the first visit since I retired from teaching and my union executive last July. Arriving early I grabbed a coffee at the crowded Tim Horton's on the corner, and checked my email, with an eye on the clock. I headed over to the legislature for Question Period at 10:30, and the Bill 122 Standing Committee at 12 noon, both resuming this week after March Break.
My purpose was pretty straight forward. I like to check things out for myself in person to catch the flavour of the moment. Helps me put what I hear and read in a more accurate perspective. I think so. Not scientific, I know, but I will be back later, to get a better sense over time. Anyway this is what I saw and heard.
I got an invite so I could sit on the floor in the members gallery, rather than up in the rafters on the nose bleed observation deck, so to speak. It was packed with visitors, mostly from community housing and the banking co-ops. I was squeezed into the opposition side, which as always was an unusual, rather awkward mix of staid Tory supporters and NDP activists. Folks look uneasily at each other out of the corner of the eye not quite sure what to say.
We were introduced to the house, as is the custom, at the beginning of question period, myself as a retired teacher. I was surprised Premier Wynne still recognized me. There was some polite applause, as for the other guests, mine from the OLP and NDP seats. A single clap, once, from a PC member. Ha.
Hudak began with a fierce if not rather incredulous denunciation of the Liberals lack of a spring budget, while he touted his "million jobs promise", which he asked the premier to adopt. Much guffaws and laughs ensued from both the OLP and NDP benches with one Dipper [NDP'er] calling it the "Austin Powers Plan" which amused half the members gallery to no end, the others not. A guard walked over to tell us that no clapping is allowed. He would return later to wake up the older women sitting beside me and remind her that no snoozing is permitted either, after she had dozed off for a bit, a rather embarrassing + unnecessary gesture I should think.
She could well be excused for falling asleep simply due to the lack of any real discussion or debate on the floor. NDP Party leader Andrea Horwath was drilling the Liberals on Go Transit. Necessary no doubt for commuters but low key enough that she, like Tim, was soon off and about traversing the floor, heading in and out of the assembly. Both separately visited the members gallery to introduce and greet everybody to surprisingly polite indifference. The dark bags under Timbo's eyes as they darted fugitively around at us were particularly noticable. Basically it seemed like the floor and the galleries were still shaking off the March break political slumber as the house slowly turned its mind again to the business ahead.
The level of discussion and debate was regrettably base and mundane, more so just catcalling and much insults, a loud cacophony such that I usually had to lean forward to hear. The Speaker frequently stood to quiet everybody down with a stern rather toothless reprimand to pay attention or else, sort of like being in school these days. The MPP's would fall silent for a moment until he sat back down, then carry on business or the lack thereof as usual. A real mad chatter's tea party. It is too bad this is what now passes for the business of government in Ontario: blandishments, toadying, posturing, shallow + rather dubious outrage, the rubber stamping of decisions that have all ready obviously been formulated or are being formulated elsewhere with everybody just following the script. Think of our teacher union AGM's as of late and you will get the picture.
As the legislature recessed for lunch I made my way down to Room 1 on the main floor, west wing to observe the Standing Committee on Bill 122, the School Board Collective Bargaining Act, 2014. I took my time to check out the paintings, artwork, displays and archaic architecture inside our Ontario legislature building. I was told by a security guard that I couldn't listen in on a news scrum because I didn't have a media badge. Also that I couldn't dawdle and look around unless I was on a tour. I was polite but just carried on my merry way. Let's face it, I'm an ornery old white haired retired school teacher, for all intent purposes of little possible threat to law and order here in the seat of government, among the sea of suits and figures of great import strutting about like they got a pickle up their butt. Absurd!
It is regrettable that the Ontario legislature has become so uptight and anal. I can recall it getting like this during the Harris Years, but being much more relaxed over the past ten years or so. After all, it is our citizens assembly. I suppose security is paramount, but one has to wonder, who is this show all for? Maybe not just the average constituents anymore?
I saw Andrea Horwath standing in the second floor upper foyer with one of her aids, so ambled over to greet her. She was polite, much more unassuming than most of the others I took time to talk to. She noted that the NDP are working on some amendments to Bill 122 and realized how important this was to teachers. I wished her luck if there's a spring election though I kind of hope there isn't one, more on this later.
I sat among the media seats in the committee room. Half of the members were present, the rest conspicuous by their absence. I saw a fair number of labour union types and reporters listening in taking copious notes. Some I recognized, others not but one usually pretty much always runs into the same crowd at these sort of affairs, be it at the Ontario Labour Relation Board, QP or so on.
The Conservative member rambled on about how disappointed he was that so little time was being spent reviewing Bill 122 clause by clause. By golly now, March break is over and they've hardly got started. He was adamant that the Bill had to be amended to make sure extracurriculars were included in the Bill, so that they wouldn't be interrupted again by teacher "collective bargaining". He then stuffed his face with a sandwich while his Tory partner carried on the lament and wanted to know if the OLRB hearings on teacher extracurriculars had been examined. [ETFO at he OLRB? See Related Readings below] When the chair decided to call a vote on the clause he requested a committee break, 40 minutes into the first meeting in a couple of weeks. As the committee dispersed into the corridors I approached the NDP's Peter Tabun to ask if he would be speaking today. He was affable, confirmed that he had a few amendments he wanted to make. Didn't know when. The committee was supposed to have met during March break. He claimed he came each day, but since the Conservative members were absent, the committee couldn't proceed. So much for their outrage.
Well my colleagues, I figured I'd had enough for one day. Headed upstairs to the offices to get my coat and bag, say good bye, then headed downtown for lunch, some window shopping and to meet Janet after work, my day's business done.
Take from my report what you will, I think it is safe to say QP is off to a slow, languid start for the spring session with little if any strong hint of anything much in the air as of yet.
Here's some of my thoughts on a possible spring election, the big issue if there are any at present clearly hanging in the musty QP air. If today was any indicator, and I would be rather wary after just one visit, the house seemed very lethargic. It's just going through the motions awaiting the Liberal spring budget. As we know it will then basically be up to the NDP to roll the dice by supporting it or not. I would suppose they will ask for a number of concessions, which Premier Wynne would be well advised to heed. Here's how I see it:
Check my Teacher News + Views blogs from January through March of this year, even further back. The polling has suggested that none of the parties is headed for a clear majority. I don't think I'd like to see anyone win one either. This is my prejudice, but over the years no "winner take all" provincial government be it OLP, NDP or PC has served us well.
We have suffered from OLP MOU's and Bill 115, the misnamed PC "Common Sense Revoluton", and even the NDP Social Contract and Rae Days. In a majority government situation there are few checks and balances to restrain the worst excesses of any powers that be.
Minority coalition governments are NOT uncommon in a parliamentary democracy, and perhaps even better serve to make sure they remain just that; democratic and accountable to all of the body politic. But an election right now? On balance: The OLP badly need a party housecleaning. The NDP might even lose some seats by the latest counts despite Horwath's admirable efforts. Hudak is just a plain evil and mean spirited man. Should he even form a minority government, the most likely scenario right now it would seem, he takes over the QP agenda and we are headed for a very rough ride ahead indeed.
I've inquired a fair bit, and although nobody will publicly say so, the OLP and the NDP would form a coalition government to deny him this possibility. I liked the OLP NDP coalition government in the late 1980's. It had a sense of checks and balances, and brought out the best in both parties. The NDP now needs to consolidate its gains and demonstrate its potential to govern. Wynne could well use an opportunity to shake up the party, lose the right leaning deadbeats and any others with a sense of entitlement, to firmly take the reins in her own rite. Would Hudak survive another defeat? I think not. Still, a coalition government denying the PC's a minority win could provide a lot of fodder for the mean machine and not turn out to be a very popular move indeed.
Of course, in the roll of the election dice any outcome is possible, even an upset. Quite frankly I don't see any of the parties well prepared for an unexpected majority win except for Hudak's PC loyalists, and we know what that means. Better the three parties work with what they now have at Queens Park, nay work to make it work, until the current term of government runs its course. Then lets see what they can do. Anything else right now would be a reckless political gamble during such a period of political, and economic uncertainty. Better to hold off on a spring election. If by next year we still face a minority coalition government, then so be it. We shouldn't expect a majority government scenario to be in our best interests as teachers, or as just plain citizenry anyway.
I'll probably return to QP before long to take another reading as the political climate, and indeed the weather heats up in the spring daze ahead. Hope this is of some help.
A Teacher's Study Guide to Bill 122 is @ This link!
ETFO's OLRB Extracurricular hearing is @ Here and Here and Here and Here and There!