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Ontario’s short-term priorities: Dismantling environmental programs, ending York University strike

Ontario Premier Doug Ford leaves his office at Queen's Park after meeting with Mayor John Tory in Toronto on July 9, 2018.

Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press

Ontario’s new Progressive Conservative government has unveiled a short-term agenda that is not in line with promises made by Premier Doug Ford on the campaign trail, focusing instead on ending the months-long strike at York University and dismantling the previous Liberal government’s environmental programs.

The Tories have set three priorities for the Ontario Legislature, which begins sitting this week for the first time with Mr. Ford in the premier’s chair. First on the list will be scrapping the cap-and-trade system on carbon emissions, ending the university strike and cancelling a new wind-power project.

Long-touted measures that were promised to be at the top of the agenda, including the firing of Hydro One’s chief executive and the scrapping of the sex-education curriculum, were missing from the list of legislative priorities.

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On Wednesday, Ontario’s education minister said that her ministry’s staff was working to inform school boards of a decision to revert to the older curriculum, which was in place before 2015. Lisa Thompson said that she was going to quickly consult with parents on how to teach sex-ed.​

Todd Smith, the new government’s House Leader, said the Tories will eventually keep all their campaign pledges, but not in the quick turnaround promised for some.

“What we’re talking about today are these three priority areas that we have to deal with because of the time sensitivity involved in these key issues,” Mr. Smith, who is also the Minister of Government and Consumer Services, told reporters on Tuesday.

“More is potentially possible, so stay tuned. We are going to live up to all of the promises that we made during the campaign,” he said, adding that the government has not abandoned its promise to open up beer and wine sales to corner stores.

New Democrat MPP Peter Tabuns said the Tories were operating with “backroom deals and closed government” by moving forward with a number of policies that were not publicly announced or debated beforehand.

“It’s an indication of a government that doesn’t like to do business in public, that doesn’t want to be transparent, that likes backroom dealing. I suspect this isn’t just a new government finding its feet, this is the style of this government,” Mr. Tabuns said.

Along with legislating an end to cap-and-trade, Mr. Smith said the Tories will work to prevent a future government from imposing a carbon price in Ontario. He could not provide details on how that would be accomplished or whether the government would reimburse companies that were required to spend $2.8-billion on now worthless carbon credits.

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The Tories have said they will go to court, along with Saskatchewan, to stop the federal government from requiring every province to set a price on carbon emissions.

While running for office, Mr. Ford repeatedly vowed that his first act as Premier would be to fire CEO Mayo Schmidt and the board of Hydro One. He labelled Mr. Schmidt the “six-million-dollar man” after the chief executive got a raise that pushed his salary to $6.2-million. Mr. Ford also blamed Mr. Schmidt’s leadership of the partially privatized electrical transmission company for Ontario’s increasingly hydro prices.

“You can take this to the bank, the CEO is gone and the board is gone,” Mr. Ford said during a news conference in April.

Mr. Smith said the government is working on his firing.

“We are taking that issue very seriously, and while it might not be the first on the list of things that we’ve accomplished, we did get down to work right away,” he said.

The new Tory government has already frozen the hiring and salaries of public servants, cancelled millions of dollars in green-energy rebates for people and businesses and changed the eligibility for free pharmaceuticals under a program known as OHIP-plus.

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The legislature will meet on Wednesday to elect a speaker. The Lieutenant-Governor will deliver the Speech from the Throne on Thursday. In its rare summer sitting, Queen’s Park will move back-to-work legislation to end a strike that has been continuing at York University since March.

The government also wants to cancel the White Pines Wind Project in Eastern Ontario. The project to build nine wind turbines in Prince Edward County has been going through the approvals process since 2010. A local group is opposed to the turbines and warns that they will harm the rural character of the region.

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