Under the cover of COVID, Christmas came early this year for the friends of Doug Ford.
The owners and directors of Long Term Home corporations (including former premier Mike Harris) are off the hook for liability for their well-documented shoddy operations during the pandemic.
Ford’s friend and funder Charles McVety will get his Christian College turned into a fully fledged university with the ability to grant arts and science degrees.
His developer buddies will like Mr. Ford’s new rules for conservation authorities whose power is now much diminished.
And what did Santa Doug do to make all this happen? He stuffed the stockings hung by the chimney with care. Every one of these treats was snuck into omnibus bills designed to deal with the pandemic.
The legislation limiting peoples’ ability to sue long-term care homes was stuffed into the Supporting Ontario’s Recovery and Municipal Elections Act. You now have to prove the home was not merely negligent, but “grossly” negligent.
There’s plenty of evidence of negligence. Just ask the army. Or personal support workers who have come forward with tales of poor infection control, lack of personal protective equipment, low staffing levels and abysmal pay. But ‘gross negligence’ is harder to prove.
Those factors have contributed to horrible statistics: for-profit homes have logged ten times the deaths per bed as non-profit homes. Residents in for-profit homes are three times more likely to catch COVID and staff twice as likely—a record worse than European countries and even the US.
Of course it may have helped that the long-term care association lobbied the government hard in the months leading up to the passage of the Act. And no doubt lobbyists’ donations to Mr. Ford’s party got the attention of MPPs. Indeed, many of those donors used to work for the Tories.
The legislation for rebranding McVety’s Canadian Christian College as an accredited university was tucked into the stocking labelled Bill 213, an omnibus bill dealing with urgent pandemic matters. Schedule 2 of the Bill simply declares, much like a papal bull, that the college can now grant Bachelor-level degrees.
It doesn’t upgrade the academic qualifications of Mr. McVety and his staff (which are questionable to begin with). It doesn’t elevate the College’s low standards for graduates. And it doesn’t whitewash McVety’s homophobic and racist speech. But it does give McVety, a long-time supporter and funder of the Ontario PCs, what he wanted for Christmas.
Finally (for now at least) is legislation which practically eviscerates the ability of the province’s conservation authorities (CAs) to regulate development to protect the environment. Schedule 6 does the damage and it’s buried in omnibus Bill 229, an act to implement the Conservatives’ 2020 pandemic budget.
The government spin is that it simply increases transparency of what CAs are up to. It does that, but it also expands the authority of the minister to override decisions made by a CA. It narrows the authority and scope of what CAs can do to protect the environment. And it restricts the ability of CAs to act on things like flood control and protecting clean water sources.
Bill 229 (the Protect, Support and Recover from COVID-19 Act) also has a bonus stocking stuffer. This one is for the logging industry. As the Canadian Environmental Law Association notes, Schedule 8 exempts them from prohibitions against destroying the habitat of endangered species. That covers logging operations across nearly two-thirds of the province.
Mr. Grinch didn’t steal Christmas. He gave it to his friends.
David McLaren has worked in government, the private sector, in the arts, with ENGOs and with First Nations in Ontario. He ran for the NDP in the federal election of 2015. He now writes from his home on the Bruce Peninsula, at Neyaashiinigmiing, home of the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation.