OPS WFH comes to an end
And bargaining ramps up
ABOVE THE FOLD
OPS WFH — Another shake-up for the Ontario Public Service’s work-from-home crowd: they’re expected to be back in the office at least three days a week starting April 4.
It follows our scoop that the gradual return-to-work plan would be delayed again, from November until March 31. Roughly half of the 60,000-large OPS have been working remotely throughout the pandemic.
“This is a temporary hybrid model. Work is underway with leaders, employees, and bargaining agents on the future of work,” reads a Tuesday memo from Cabinet Secretary MICHELLE DIEMANUELE, who promised “flexibility” for those who may be feeling anxious about heading back to the office.
OPS is also dropping proof-of-vaccination or negative test requirements, except for high-risk congregate settings.
BARGAINING RAMPS UP — Meanwhile, AMAPCEO — which represents 14,000 professional and supervisory public servants — kicked off collective bargaining talks with the province yesterday.
Remote work is expected to be a major sticking point for the union, which wants to enshrine more of it permanently. Most members are hoping for half-and-half — with an even split of remote and in-person work each week.
As we previously reported, OPSEU — the province’s biggest public service union — launched negotiations last November.
NDP CASH ARSENAL — Following our report on political parties’ latest fundraising standings, the NDP want you to know that they’ve pulled in more cash than was disclosed publicly. Per their internal tally, so far this year the NDP has pulled in $650,273 from 14,000-plus donors.
That’s more than the PCs and Liberals (though those parties didn’t share their internal figures, which are likely higher than what’s already out there.) Get the standings here.
Context: Elections Ontario doesn’t disclose donations under $200, and the NDP typically pulls in more cash from smaller donors, so their internal numbers are much higher.
— 9 a.m.: Financial Accountability Officer PETER WELTMAN will release a report on the province’s spending for the first three quarters of fiscal 2021-22.
(Spoiler alert: These regular updates from the budget watchdog tend to result in Oppo criticizing the Tories for not doling out much-needed cash earlier, while the government promises funds will flow by year-end.)
— 10 a.m.: Liberal Leader STEVEN DEL DUCA will make a platform announcement alongside candidates in Scarborough.
— 10 a.m.: Independent ROMAN BABER is in the Media Studio to talk about his anti-vax mandate bill for workers, the Jobs and Jabs Act, which goes for second-reading debate tomorrow.
— 1 p.m.: New Blues BELINDA and JIM KARAHALIOS lay out their legislative priorities in the Media Studio.
FUNDRAISING WATCH — 6 p.m.: A $1,000-a-head PC fundraiser in support of Labour Minister MONTE MCNAUGHTON. Invite. Meanwhile, Liberal Leader STEVEN DEL. DUCA co-hosts a fundraiser with Ottawa Centre candidate KATIE GIBBS and ex-MPP-now-MP YASIR NAQVI for $100 apiece. Invite.
— 7 p.m.: GRAYDON SMITH, Bracebridge Mayor and PC candidate for Parry Sound—Muskoka, hosts a fundraiser for $500 a pop. RSVP. Over in Oakville North—Burlington, DEL DUCA and candidate KANIZ MOULI headline a $100 event.
ON THE ORDER PAPER
THE HOUSE IS IN — First up for morning debate is the PCs motion with another round of changes to the Standing Orders. Catch up on what’s in it.
— After Question Period, Bill 84 — the government’s latest red-tape reduction package featuring licence plate renewal refunds and a pushed-back budget deadline — chugs through third-reading debate.
— Later on, NDP MPP LAURA MAE LINDO will move second-reading of her private member’s Bill 67, Racial Equity in the Education System Act, aimed at beefing up anti-racism accountability in schools and adding anti-Asian racism to the forms of systemic racism listed in the law.
ON THE COMMITTEE CIRCUIT — The Public Accounts committee meets behind closed doors to draft their report on the Auditor General’s 2020 audit of the Electrical Safety Authority.
AROUND THE PRECINCT — Visiting the Pink Palace? You’ll have to answer a new crop of Covid screening questions, on symptoms, travel, and whether folks have been deemed a “close contact” or are living with someone who tested positive. Proof-of-vaccination (or negative test) is no longer the cost of admission.
☕ HAPPENING TOMORROW — Like your breakfast with a side of #onpoli chatter? Join pollster GREG LYLE of Innovative Research Group and yours truly as we tee up the campaign with the savvy folks at Sussex Strategy Group on Thursday. RSVP.
— FREE RIDE: A vote-grabbing goody for the 905 and beyond: Starting March 14, the PCs are scrapping transit fares for riders that connect to GO Transit from their local systems, and offering a bigger discount for youth and post-secondary students. But that won’t apply to TTC customers in Toronto.
Context: Free transit was a proposal by now-MP MICHAEL COTEAU during his bid for the provincial Liberal leadership. Coteau’s deputy campaign manager JONATHAN SCOTT — a local councillor in Bradford — lauded the PCs move: “When Coteau proposed doing this during the OLP leadership race, we called it a tax cut for the 905 and for the climate. Now that the Ford government’s implementing the idea, I can’t wait to work to implement it in my municipality.”
— MASK ON, MASK OFF: A day after Premier DOUG FORD said “we aren’t far away” from dropping mask mandates, Health Minister CHRISTINE ELLIOTT offered another hint, telling reporters that’ll happen “probably within the next few weeks.”
Sources have long told Queen’s Park Observer that all remaining Covid restrictions will be lifted come campaign season.
— BUDGET DELAYED, DEL DUCA DENIED: Grit captain STEVEN DEL DUCA decried the Ford government’s move to push their self-imposed deadline for tabling the budget back by a month, to April 30, saying Premier DOUG FORD “decided for purely political reasons to hide his budget until the last possible moment before the election. If he wants to play those political games, he should have to pay the fine, not change the law.” Del Duca promised to reinstate the March 31 timeline if he takes the Premier’s seat in June — but the PCs change only applies to this year, so it’s a moot point.
Richard Southern @RichardCityNewsNEW - Liberal leader Steven Del Duca says if elected the Liberals will reinstate the March 31st deadline for a budget. Last week the government tabled legislation to change the budget date to as late as April 30. https://t.co/z10WhkUFg3
— VOTE ON: Chief Electoral Officer GREG ESSENSA was at the Legislature to kick-off Voter Registration Month, encouraging Ontario’s electorate to confirm, update or add their info to the voters list ahead of the campaign. Register.
— OPIOID CRISIS: Workplaces at high risk of a worker opioid overdose — such as bars and night clubs — must have naloxone kits on hand, should the PCs new Working for Workers Act pass as expected.
Another interesting nugget from the bill: It also dissolves the College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists of Ontario.
— EA CHANGES PANNED: Environmental Defence and other advocates are challenging the Ford government’s changes to the Environmental Assessment Act. “These changes would not only make it easier for companies to launch experimental technologies that claim to recover fuel and/or chemicals from waste, they would also remove important public oversight from these controversial projects.”
— CLEARING THE BACKLOG: “Ontario doctors are recommending that the province fund a new model of outpatient health-care centres to help tackle a growing backlog of surgeries and other procedures.” More from the Canadian Press. Also: the “Ontario Health Coalition continues to sound the alarm about healthcare privatization.”
— GASSED UP: Prices at the pumps are expected to soar again this week.
— RIGHT TO READ: “Ontario is revamping its approach to literacy in schools after the Ontario Human Rights Commission called for change in a damning report.” Said Education Minister STEPHEN LECCE: “Ontario is overhauling the language curriculum with a focus on phonics, investing in new reading supports for students, and hiring more specialized staff to help put our province and country on a strong footing to compete globally and thrive economically.”
— DAVIS TRIBUTE: Much-loved late ex-premier BILL DAVIS will be honoured in Brampton with a $150,000 monument in Gage Park.
PRESENTED BY the Ontario Association of Naturopathic Doctors
Queen’s Park Observer is speaking with stakeholders from around the province to learn about the causes that are important to them — and what they want to see from Ontario’s decision-makers. Here, we chat with the Ontario Association of Naturopathic Doctors’s CEO JOHN WELLNER about how naturopaths can help ease the burden on the health-care system.
Tell us about your organization and what naturopathic medicine is all about. Naturopathic medicine is a distinct form of health care built on a patient-centred approach that emphasizes prevention and treatment to help the patient achieve optimal health. Naturopathic doctors (a.k.a. naturopaths, or even just NDs) take a four-year post-graduate degree, entry to practice exams and ongoing continuing education requirements. They have been regulated in Ontario under the RHPA since 2015 and provide complimentary primary care that is paid for by the patient — not OHIP. The Ontario Association of Naturopathic Doctors is the provincial membership association.
What do you want to see from the powers-that-be? To put it simply, naturopaths want to be able to order more lab tests for patients. Naturopaths can already order blood and other lab tests for hormone, chemical and vitamin levels, but there are many more that our patients have to go to a physician for — just to get the test ordered. That includes public health tests (if an infectious disease is suspected), auto-immune tests (for regular monitoring of a patient's progress), or even a simple lab pregnancy test (when considering a treatment that is not recommended during pregnancy).
What would it mean if NDs could requisition more lab tests? It may sound like a small issue, but it is an example of how a small change in regulation can make a significant difference to the pressure on our health system.
Naturopaths are limited in what they can treat, so they have to refer to a family doctor if their patient is diagnosed with something they can’t treat. But the only way to do that is to order a lab test, which they can’t order. So even though they may know what’s wrong, they have to send their patient to a family doctor just for a lab test order, only to end up back at that doctor once the results come in.
We want to skip that unnecessary first visit and give naturopaths the ability to order the lab test and confirm a diagnosis, so that if their patients have to go to a family doctor, they already have the results in hand.
It’s not logical that patients have to make two separate appointments when health care can work in a much more collaborative and efficient way. This won’t change what naturopaths can treat, it just makes the system work better for patients.
How would this impact our already-strained health system? There is tremendous pressure on the health care system right now and we need to do everything we can to alleviate that pressure.
We estimate that this small change could prevent a million unnecessary visits to family doctors each year. A third-party analysis said this would also save the government at least $20 million.
So why hasn’t that happened yet? We’ve been asking the government for this small regulatory change for more than three years and been met largely with silence and delay. We understand that during the peak of Covid there were other priorities — but as we try to address a huge medical backlog and ease pressure on the system, those delays don’t make sense anymore.
This is a government that has committed to cutting red tape and ending hallway medicine. Reducing the red tape in this regulation would help alleviate that pressure and make things easier for patients.
MOVERS AND SHAKERS
BEYOND THE BUBBLE — Former longtime provincial Liberal staffer LIZ DAVIDSON has moved on to the federal political arena, as director of communications to ex-MPP, now-MP HELENA JACZEK, Minister responsible for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario.
FORD was in the House but wasn’t roused to respond until several questions in, when Green MIKE SCHREINER hammered him over protecting provincially significant wetlands in the wake of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.
“The climate fire is burning all around us. But instead of using a fire hose to put it out, the Premier is using a tiny red shovel,” Schreiner said.
To which Ford replied (taking the opportunity to slam other Oppo parties): “The difference between our government and the previous government that was propped up by the NDP: They all talk about the environment, but they do nothing — zero.”
MPPs also paid tribute to late MPP and Liberal leader Dr. STUART LYON SMITH.
THE HIGHLIGHTS: When is this government going to come up a plan and the appropriate investments to clear the backlogs? — Repeal wage-capping Bill 124 — Classifying gig workers as employees for full protections — Ending Code Zeros in Hamilton — Protecting provincially significant wetlands — What’s the plan to stop big speculators from Core Development from destroying the dream of home ownership? — What’s the plan for vaccinating five- to 11-year-olds? — Is the hold-up on $10-a-day child care an election ploy? — Funding for the West Don Lands school — Why is the Premier dithering on the budget? — Fix the gaping holes in eligibility requirements for small business supports. TRANSCRIPT.
Here are the new, renewed and amended registrations over the past 24 hours:
— Elizabeth Wagdin and Vince Amodeo, Global Public Affairs: Amazon Web Services
— Vince Amodeo, Global Public Affairs: VIN Verification Services
— Marc Kealey, Kealey & Associates: Scientific Games International
— Will Stewart, Hill + Knowlton Strategies: CSA Group
— Alexander Glista, StrategyCorp: Ontario Professional Planners Institute
— Brian Teefy, StrategyCorp: Enbridge Inc.
— Kailey Vokes, StrategyCorp: Town of Caledon
— John Matheson and Saad Baig, StrategyCorp: Federation of Rental-Housing Providers of Ontario
— Saad Baig, Tahereh Granpayehvaghei, Kailey Vokes, John Matheson, Aidan Grove-White and Garry Keller, StrategyCorp: Ontario Professional Planners Institute
In-house organizations: Huawei Technologies Canada — Canadian Credit Union Association — Investment Industry Association of Canada — Canadian Urban Transit Research and Innovation Consortium — Lundbeck Canada.
🥳 HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Finance Minister PETER BETHLENFALVY…Ex-Minister ROD PHILLIPS…CityNews 680 reporter RICHARD SOUTHERN.
⏳ COUNTDOWN: T-minus 92 days until the Election…63 days until the official start of the 2022 campaign…59 days until the budget is (now legally) due out.