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What’s ON: The week that was in Ontario politics (January 31-February 4) – TVO

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Every Friday, TVO.org provides a summary of the most notable developments in Ontario politics over the past week.

Here’s what caught our attention:

Queen’s Park keywords

Trucker chaos: Toronto officials are preparing for a possible truck convoy protest at Queen’s Park this weekend, similar to the demonstrations that have paralyzed much of Ottawa’s downtown for the past week. Of particular concern are a number of hospitals close to the legislature. Authorities say they are taking steps to ensure emergency vehicles, patients, and medical personnel will be able to easily access the hospitals despite any protests. Meanwhile, after ongoing calls to do more about the Ottawa demonstrators, police there have announced they will begin a “surge and contain strategy.”

Nurse pay: The Ontario Nurses Association concluded a meeting with Premier Doug Ford on Thursday without any commitment from the government to repeal Bill 124, which limits pay raises for nurses and other public sector workers. “While I am deeply disappointed that the Premier did not commit to repealing Bill 124, I am hopeful that our meeting next week will be productive. We do agree with Premier Ford’s position that Canada’s federal health transfers should increase,” said ONA President Cathryn Hoy in a news release.

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Vaccine passports: Chief Medical Officer of Health Kieran Moore says the province will need to soon decide whether it keeps or does away with its vaccine passport system. “The vaccine isn’t providing significant benefit at two doses against the risk of transmission, as compared to someone unvaccinated,” he said Thursday. “We have to reassess the value of the passports in the coming weeks and months.” Currently, one only needs two jabs to qualify for the passport, but some experts have said the requirement needs to change to three. Moore also said that when public health rules are further relaxed, masks “will be the last of the measures to go.”

LTC visits: Starting Monday, the province is loosening limits on the number of visitors allowed into long-term-care homes. The number of designated caregivers per resident will increase from two to four, though only two can visit at a time. And residents who have had at least three doses of COVID-19 vaccine will be again allowed to leave their LTC facility for social trips.

Rapid tests: Ontario says it’s still waiting for 35 million rapid COVID-19 tests that the federal government promised to deliver in January. “Our ability to manage the pandemic relies in part on the federal government’s ability to meet their commitments to provinces,” said Alexandra Hilkene, spokesperson for Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott. The office of federal health minister Jean-Yves Duclos told the Toronto Star that deliveries to provinces and territories are slightly behind schedule, but will be completed by the end of this week.

Testing kids for COVID-19: Despite the province’s irritation at the slow arrival of rapid tests, Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced Tuesday 3.6 million of them will be shipped out to Ontario school boards and child-care providers this week – with more coming on a bi-weekly basis from now on.

Portable benefits: Gig workers are going to have to wait until after June’s provincial election for details on the portable benefits package promised by Labour Minister Monte McNaughton. He told CTV News an advisory panel looking into the idea will be appointed in March and submit its final recommendations to the government in July. “It’s going to take time, I’m going to get it right,” he said. The package is meant to address the fact that many people today work in precarious jobs that don’t have any health benefits. However, there are concerns such a program could be expensive for both businesses and taxpayers.

Not interested: Premier Doug Ford quickly stamped out speculation that he might make a bid to become the next federal Conservative leader. “No, I have my hands full. I love being premier of this province,” Ford said on Tuesday, in advance of the vote that ousted Erin O’Toole.  

Parish out: The NDP has dropped Steve Parish as its candidate in Ajax after he came under fire for dedicating a street after a man who fought for the Third Reich during World War II. In 2007, when Parish was mayor of Ajax, a street was named after Hans Langsdorff, who captained the German battleship involved in 1939’s Battle of the River Plate. (Learn more about Ajax’s relationship to that historic battle). Langsdorff is considered a hero by some because he disobeyed Adolf Hitler’s order to fight to the death and decided to scuttle his ship rather than risk the lives of more than 1000 crew members in what he thought would be certain defeat. Parish continued to defend the decision to honour Langsdorff for many years, despite complaints that it was inappropriate to memorialize anyone who served a racist regime bent on exterminating people it considered inferior. (The street has since been renamed).

146,000: That’s how many jobs Ontario lost in January, according to the latest report from Statistics Canada. The figure represents 73 per cent of the country’s job losses for the month. The decline in employment, which was mostly in part-time positions, is being at least partly blamed on the public health measures the province imposed in response to a surge in COVID-19 cases.

$103.1 million: That’s how much the courts have ordered the province to pay education workers’ unions as compensation for the Putting Students First Act, imposed under Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty. The act was a deficit-control measure that imposed contracts, froze salaries, and eliminated the banking of paid sick days. The money is on top of more than $100 million unions have already received after courts ruled the act violated collective bargaining rights in 2016.  

4 million: That’s how many people may have caught COVID-19 during the recent Omicron wave, according to wastewater data studied by Ontario’s Science Advisory Table. Scientists are using wastewater to estimate the spread of the virus, since the province’s testing system has become overwhelmed and is no longer an accurate measure of how many people are infected. (To find out more about the pros and cons of wastewater testing, check out this report by TVO.org Hamilton-Niagara reporter Justin Chandler). The science table’s full estimate ranges between 1.5 million and 4 million infections.

290: That’s how many medical exemptions for the COVID-19 vaccine have been handed out in Ontario under a new system intended to combat fraud. Under this system, any exemptions issued by doctors have to be verified by the local public health unit. “We’re very pleased that given the limited number of valid medical exemptions issued to date, the process is working and individuals with legitimate medical exemptions are able to be accommodated,” said Alexandra Hilkene, a spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott.

“Prolonged peak”: Modelling released this week by the Science Advisory Table says that the Omicron wave has likely plateaued and headed towards a decline, but there will be a “prolonged peak” of hospital patients with COVID-19. Scientists also warn people to expect at least a slight increase in infections because of the province’s decision to partially relax public health measures this week.

Fighting hate: Ontario Minister of Citizenship and Multiculturalism Parm Gill has announced $25 million in funding to help places of worship and cultural community centres purchase security cameras, alarms, lighting and other safety measures. “We hope this grant will help to support the important work these groups are doing and empower communities most at risk of being targeted with hate-motivated crime feel safer and more secure,” Gill said.

Cash-for-coyotes: The province says that a controversial annual coyote-hunting contest organized by a hunting supplies retailer in Belleville is legal. “Coyote populations are stable and secure across Ontario and there are no sustainability concerns with the province’s coyote population,” the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry said in a statement. Chesher’s Outdoor Store has held the contest for at least the past 5 years and awards $2,500 in prizes to the hunters who kill the heaviest coyotes. Animal activists say the competition violates Ontario conservation laws, which prohibit hunting or encouraging someone else to hunt for “gain or the expectation of gain,” unless specifically authorized by the government.

More Ontario politics coverage on TVO

The Agenda: Does Ontario’s COVID plan ignore disabled people?

Getting through two years of the COVID-19 pandemic has been tough enough for most people, but what about the challenges for people with visual impairment or other disabilities? Steve Paikin talks with two advocates from the disability community to see what the important issues are, and whether the Ontario government has adequately addressed them.

The Agenda: Is Ontario Making Strides in Black Health?

Nam Kiwanuka explores anti-Black racism in Ontario’s health-care system with Roberta Timothy, who is developing a master’s program in Black health at the University of Toronto — the first of its kind in North America.

#onpoli podcast: How Queen’s Park responded to the trucker convoy

Hosts Steve Paikin and John Michael McGrath dug into the early response from Queen’s Park over the trucker convoy in Ottawa. Also, opposition MPPs are asking for stronger measures against independent MPP Randy Hillier over racist comments he made on Twitter. And, why public health and Premier Doug Ford are changing their messaging around COVID-19.

Beyond the Pink Palace

Living with COVID-19: Matt Gurney talks to psychologist Steve Joordens about how the human mind perceives threat, and what insight that gives us into the very different ways people have reacted to the pandemic.

‘Loudmouths’: According to John Michael McGrath, the protesters who took over downtown Ottawa are losing the debate over public health rules, and the actual mass movement in the country is the millions of people who are actually trying to end this pandemic.

Erin O’Toole’s lesson: Steve Paikin offers his analysis on Erin O’Toole’s ouster as leader of the federal Conservative party.

Conservative insider: Matt Gurney speaks with a member of Erin O’Toole’s inner circle on conversion therapy, the convoy, and what comes next for the Conservatives.

Nuclear fusion: Ontario’s Bruce Power, which operates the world’s largest nuclear plant, apparently won’t have enough on its plate in the 2030s. So it’s signed a deal with a Canadian fusion-power startup, John Michael McGrath reports.

Homelessness in Thunder Bay: TVO.org’s Josh Sherman speaks with the Thunder Bay social-services board about what’s changing and what isn’t when it comes to homelessness in the district.

Groundhogs: Wiarton Willie predicted spring will come early. TVO.org reporter for northwestern Ontario Charnel Anderson speaks with Lakehead University biology professor Michael Rennie about the reliability of rodent prognostication — and which furry guys have the best track records.

Black History Month: It’s a month to remember what Black people in Canada and around the world have gone through, and how they have enriched society and culture. Check out TVO’s selection of articles, interviews and documentaries on Black history.

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Politics This Morning: Trudeau in Germany for G7 leaders' summit – The Hill Times

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A ‘small army’ of Conservative Party staffers are going through hundreds of thousands of party memberships with ‘rigour and speed’ to weed out fraudulent memberships, says party spokesman Yaroslav Baran.
Even if Pierre Poilievre doesn’t win, Conservative pundits and political analysts believe that whoever does will have to accommodate Poilievre. But if he does win, he’ll need to reach out to his Quebec and Atlantic caucu
When Peter Van Dusen was first hired by CPAC more than 20 years ago, it pretty much covered the House proceedings, but he turned it around. Today, it covers news, leadership conventions, and election campaigns.

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'Pride is a protest' — queer folk voice power amid politics and pandemic – Mission Local

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Missing the Pride Parade was not an option for Emily. 

Though she attended numerous parades in the past as an out lesbian, recent political attacks on the queer community imbued a different sentiment for Sunday’s parade. 

“People think it’s time to have a rager,” Emily said. “But our rights are in danger as we speak.” 

So the 19-year-old threw on her rainbow-striped button-down and, friends in tow, came to San Francisco’s annual LGBTQ Pride Parade determined to counter “the [negative] way Republicans paint us.” How? By celebrating. “Queer joy is really radical right now,” she said. 

On Sunday, the city’s 52nd annual Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Pride Parade kicked off at the Embarcadero and ended in usual fun at Civic Center. Parade participants included local gay politicos State Sen. Scott Wiener and District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, longtime queer organizations like Dykes on Bikes and San Francisco Bay Times, and any company that could capitalize on the optics. 

But as Emily said, for many spectators it was a few hours of radical joy. 

Take Malaki, a 16-year-old from Fresno. He didn’t know he was going to Pride until yesterday — his very first one — and the gay young man was thrilled. “I was visiting my family, and they asked if I’d like to go. I was like, yeah, Oh my god!” 

It’s been years since Malaki started noticing his feelings toward men had changed, and as a sixth grader, he realized he was gay. Luckily, Malaki’s family is supportive and inclusive, and joined him Sunday. 

“It’s so good to be here,” said Malaki, flashing a huge smile. “I feel so safe. I have a warm feeling that I am not alone, and that I’m able to be who I am. I can be hype!” 

Malaki, 16, enjoys his first Pride Parade. Photo by Annika Hom. Taken June 26, 2022.

It was 13-year-old Bibi’s first Pride Parade too. “I really wanted to go,” he said, waving a transgender flag and holding a stream of colorful balloons. 

The new teen rose at 7 a.m. to make it from Novato on time, and thus he was perfectly positioned in front to collect the tiny flags and beaded necklaces that parade participants threw out.  

Bibi, assigned a female at birth, realized at the age of 10 that he was a transgender boy and bisexual. 

Accompanying him at the parade was his mother, Sol Rocha, who is still learning about how best to support her son. “It hasn’t been easy,” she said. “I’m learning, and it’s a process. But I want to understand. As parents, you have to accept them no matter what. Like when you held them as babies for the first time — unconditional love.”

Bibi, 13, and mom, Sol Rocha at the Pride Parade. Photo by Annika Hom. Taken June 26, 2022.

Just a few people over, Courtney, Ash, and Trystan whooped at the roller skaters and pocketed Planned Parenthood condoms. 

“I wanted to go to Pride in 2019, but the pandemic happened,” Courtney said, who uses she/they pronouns. This was their first one “out” as a bisexual. “With everything going on, I wanted to support everyone. People want to take away our rights,” they said. 

Relatives on Courtney’s mother’s side rejected her after coming out, but after her mother passed, she cares less what her family thinks. And “if they think that I should stay in the closet, I don’t want to be in that family.”

Their friend Ash came from Willows, a small town near Chico. In that environment, Ash said he doesn’t correct people when they misgender him for “safety reasons.” But the parade is a relief, and a nice place to be with “like-minded people.” ​​

Trystan agreed. “Pride has always been a big thing for me until Covid-19 stopped that. This is my first as an adult. I can dress up more,” they said, pointing out the rainbow sequins on her face and the yellow, black, blue, and pink striped jersey. 

Trystan, Ash and Courtney grab their spots before the Pride Parade. Photo by
Annika Hom. Taken June 26, 2022.

Other parade veterans celebrated the post-pandemic party as well. Oakland resident Greg Cabiness, 66, and San Franciscan Sam Kaufman, 59, said “it was good to be out.” The pair have been partners for 10 years, and after some typical couple back-and-forth, figured out they had marched in it twice. 

“It’s nice. We may go to Civic Center after this. That’s where the party is at,” Cabiness said. “It seems like a more diverse crowd. A lot more allies and acceptance is good to see,” Kaufman added. 

Greg Cabiness and Sam Kaufman watch another Pride Parade. They’ve marched in two. Photo by Annika Hom. Taken June 26, 2022.

And Emily, the 19-year-old in the rainbow button-down, brought along plenty of allies from home. One of Emily’s friends Isaiah noted he was adopted by gay parents. He’s been at Pride for years, and it’s a joy to return. His other friends stressed the importance of love at Sunday’s parade in the face of politics.

“When there’s so much shit happening with Roe v. Wade, it’s important to stick together and show there’s resistance,” said Matt, a Lower Haight resident. “People want to think of Pride as a party. It’s a protest.”

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How much influence should politicians have over police? – CBC.ca

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Controversy erupted this week when allegations came to light that the Liberal government may have tried to interfere in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) investigation into the 2020 Nova Scotia mass shooting where 17 people were killed.

According to RCMP Supt. Darren Campbell’s notes, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said in a phone call that she had promised the Prime Minister’s Office and then-Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair that the RCMP would publicly release information about the weapons the gunman used. Lucki was reportedly angry when the RCMP did not do so.

The Liberal government is alleged to have wanted the information made public to further their gun control agenda. Critics and opposition politicians have accused the government of attempting to use the tragedy for political gain. Lucki, Blair and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have denied that there was interference in the investigation.

But how and when — if ever — should those who make laws be able to boss around those who enforce them? When has police interference taken place, and to what consequences did it lead?

CBC News spoke to some experts in an attempt to explain the tense, legally fuzzy and often controversial relationship between police and policymakers in Canada.

Why is policing supposed to be separate from politics?

The Supreme Court of Canada cites the Rule of Law as the founding principle of Canada’s democracy. It’s considered important to our constitutional order that no one, even the most powerful politicians in the country, can think of themselves as above the law.

But there’s another reason for police independence — in our democracy the government is supposed to be accountable to the people, which means people aren’t suppose to fear police going after them on the orders of the government.

“I think what we want to do is avoid a ‘police state,'” Kent Roach, a professor in the University of Toronto’s faculty of law, said. “And by that, I mean we want to avoid politicians telling the police who to investigate and who not to investigate.”

In states where the government can tell police what to do, experts say a pattern quickly emerges of government critics and opponents ending up in jail.

For those reasons, police autonomy in enforcing the law and protecting the public is a key ingredient in most well-functioning liberal democracies.

“Political leaders are not supposed to micromanage police services, that is antithetical to the very idea of democracy,” Temitope Oriola, a professor of criminology and sociology at the University of Alberta, said.

What does the law say?

While those principles seem like part of a basic civics lesson they’re ones Roach says many people, including police officers and politicians, often don’t understand well.

But there may be a reasonable excuse — the law itself isn’t clear.

“I think part of the problem here is that the lines of legitimate government direction to the police and illegitimate government direction are very vague.” he said.

While police independence from government is important in our democracy, Roach says it’s a principle that’s not always reflected in our laws.

“For example, the police cannot lay hate propaganda charges without prior approval of the attorney general,” he said.

“So there’s kind of no absolutes.”

Kent Roach, law professor at the University of Toronto, said Canadian law is very vague when it comes to inappropriate government direction of law enforcement. (Oliver Salathiel)

In Lucki’s case, the RCMP Act states the Commissioner “has the control and management of the force and all matters connected with the force” but “under the direction of the minister.”

Roach said the law is confusing because it doesn’t go into details about what direction means, including what type of direction is appropriate for a minister to give to an RCMP Commissioner. It also doesn’t say whether a direction has to be in writing or can be given orally.

“It’s utterly vague, right?” Roach said. 

Roach would like to see the RCMP Act amended to clarify what types of orders the government can legally give RCMP leadership. 

He said there is a clear divide between directions that set rules for police generally, which are acceptable in a democracy, and directions for police to act in a particular way in a specific case, or to take action against a particular person, which are not.

He says a legitimate government directive to police might be guidelines on what information the police are allowed make public, or ordering the police to stop using a particular technique or practice.

But a directive that would not be acceptable would be directing police to charge someone with a crime.

During the 1997 APEC Summit in Vancouver, the government was found to have interfered with RCMP operations by directing how the Mounties protected then Indonesian president Suharto. In a public inquiry report on the summit, Justice Ted Hughes concluded that the government twice tried to interfere with police operations by attempting to get police to keep protestors away from Suharto.

Hughes recommended the government amend the RCMP Act to legally clarify police independence from government. To date, no government has taken up the recommendation.

Roach says there may be a reason for the lack of action and clarity.

 “I suspect that in some ways both the police and the politicians like to kind of keep the status quo, which is quite vague and murky,” he said. “I think that is unfortunate.”

What happens when politicians try to be police?

Politicians aren’t supposed to tell police what to do, but sometimes they can’t resist. While some politicians do come from a law enforcement background, most don’t — and it can show when they try to interfere with police work.

“They don’t have the the skill, the knowledge, the expertise, the lived experience, to make operational decisions,” Laura Huey, a professor of sociology at Western University, said.

She cited the 1997 APEC Suharto controversy as an example, but there are more recent ones too.

Huey says Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson’s attempt to negotiate with the freedom convoy protestors earlier this year comes to mind — a move critical incident command experts told her made a bad situation worse.

Ottawa mayor Jim Watson attempted to negotiate with Freedom Convoy protestors during the occupation of Ottawa earlier this year. Western University professor Laura Suey says the incident is a good example of why it’s a bad idea for politicians to take over law enforcement’s responsibilities. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

“Most police services that deal with public order have people that are highly experienced, highly trained professionals that specialize in negotiating in situations like that,” she said.

“So do we want the mayor going down and mucking around on something of which he knows absolutely nothing and had zero effect anyway?”

Roach says his favourite example involves former RCMP Commissioner Leonard Nicholson, the most decorated Mountie in history whose name the RCMP headquarters bears.

In 1959, the John Diefenbaker government told Nicholson to send more officers to police a labour dispute in Newfoundland. Nicholson chose to resign instead of comply with the order.

“So that kind of shows that this idea that the RCMP doesn’t like political direction … is built into the RCMP’s DNA,” Roach said.

Is there a better way?

If too much political interference in policing is an issue, there are also perils in too little.

Voters don’t elect police officers but do elect politicians, so they have a role acting as a check on police.

“Society also cannot afford to have a police service that is not accountable to anybody,” Oriola said.

A section of the Liberal’s 2021 campaign platform is dedicated to changes to the RCMP, in particular making the Mounties more accountable.

Oriola calls the government-police relationship a “delicate” one that requires “a fine balance” and one where intentions should be considered.

“Are you giving directions to the police service to punish political opponents, or are you giving direction … in order that we might have a better society, and improved society based on the policy priorities that you campaigned on?” he said.

Huey says more training for police services boards, who hire police chiefs, may allow them to make better hiring decisions, which in turn could inspire more confidence in police leadership and result in less political interference.

“I think that if we hire highly competent people, we need to give them the space to make the decisions,” she said. 

Roach says a potential solution, on top of more legal clarity on interference, is a law requiring any government ministers who direct police to do so in writing — including a requirement that the direction be public.

He thinks the RCMP Act could be amended with this requirement, and to permit it only outside of individual cases.

“It seems to me, in a democracy, citizens have a right to know what the minister is doing,” Roach said. “I think that that directive system could not only promote transparency, but could avoid all of these controversies.”

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