In recent years I’ve noticed somewhat of a resurgence in the phenomenon of superhero interest. It’s in comic books still but also on the big screen. Subscription TV moguls like Netflix and Prime are even producing series programs on both new and old superhero characters. Some have some pretty interesting superpowers like the Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Dare Devil, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and of course Super-Man and Super-Girl to name but a few.
Some days when in the political arena, I wish I had the superpower of Luke Cage who has extremely thick skin and muscle tissue to protect me from political snipes and jabs. However, I am quite content to stick to the reality of my own mere mortal powers as I endeavour to serve the people of Algoma-Manitoulin. But lately it seems clear to me that there are some at Queen’s Park who have an unsettling interest in super powers that extend way beyond my comfort level.
Working as mere mortals, the NDP has long been trying to champion the cause of access to reliable, affordable high-speed internet; across the province — North and South. This fight stretches back into the previous Wynne Liberal government. In fact, just recently my NDP colleague John Vanthof presented Bill 226, the Broadband is an Essential Service Act which would set a deadline for 2030 to make affordable high-speed internet available province wide.
When the pandemic set in we quickly learned how essential access to reliable, affordable, up-to-date internet is in the daily lives of all Ontarians. People in rural and Northern Ontario have to pay some of the highest rates and yet can only access the slowest most basic service in the province. It’s time for us to catch up.
For these reasons, just days ago, I introduced a motion that would improve access and affordability of broadband for rural and Northern Ontarians. The motion called upon the Ford government to eliminate the 8 percent provincial sales tax from broadband bills to help reduce costs. I also called upon the government to legislate that internet cannot be disconnected during a pandemic in the same way that power companies are not permitted to cut power to homes in winter.
Unfortunately, Doug Ford turned his back on helping the people of Ontario. While John’s bill passed, it has been left to float indefinitely at the committee level where it may never see the light of day again. As for my motion, it was outright defeated.
And this is where the Conservatives unsettling desire for not just power but superpowers come in to play.
After defeating the above bill and motion, the government turned around and presented their own version, Bill 257, the Supporting Broadband and Infrastructure Expansion Act. It is important to note here that this bill is divided up into 3 schedules. The first two deal with the broadband by improving both access and service levels. (Sound familiar?) Schedule one and two are definitely worthy of further debate and possible support of the NDP.
But the third schedule allows the province to override Ontario laws and regulations that are in place to protect our precious natural spaces, greenbelts and wetlands that are essential to our ecosystem. Schedule three has a much to do with broadband legislation as does the price of tea in China. If Bill 257 passes it would exempt Ministerial Zoning Orders (MZO) from planning laws and policy. It would give the go ahead for environmentally destructive projects, even if they are in violation of basic planning rules by allowing the orders to override the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS).
In other words, it is providing Doug Ford with a superpower to help his deep pocketed supporters and developers to profit, all to the detriment of the People of Ontario. This is in direct contrast to characters such as the superheroes The Flash or Supergirl who use their powers for justice and to protect all people.
Now some would say, what the heck, it’s just one wetland that would be paved over for development way down south in Pickering. What does that matter to Northern Ontarians? Well, that is one way of looking at it. However, what’s to stop Ford from doing it again, and again?
The laws and regulations are in place for a reason. They are there to ensure we do not destroy vital precious lands. They are there for the good of all people. So what makes Doug Ford think that he needs to play superhero and use superpowers that break the rules? The Conservatives are resorting to the use of superpower MZO for purposes that amount to no more than rewarding rich investors and developers who only see the land in terms of dollar signs.
So what is there to stop him from using an MZO closer to our homes? What is there to stop him from using an MZO to develop sensitive, protected conservation areas, or develop a wetland that is essential to area farmers to filter and drain run off from their tiled farm fields? Without the naturally occurring wetlands, tiled farm fields would get backed up and cease to function properly. This would result in the failure of all the fields in the area that drain into the wetland. What is there to stop Ford from developing any lands set aside just to reward deep pocketed friends and supporters? The answer is … nothing would stop them if they use their superpowers.
Let’s call it what it is. This is plain backroom deal cronyism and is an injustice to the people of Ontario. All of us have to abide by rules and regulations, even if we want to do something that would improve our business or help a family member or friend. So why should Doug Ford be exempt from the obeying the law?
It would not surprise me of Doug Ford is also having fantasies of having the superpowers of characters like Superman so he could just fly away from the pandemic issues or controversy. Or maybe the superpowers of Invisible Girl so that he could just disappear from the Legislature during question period or from a media scrum when put upon the hot seat.
There is nothing wrong with the concept of superhero’s and superpowers if it is just imaginary. But in the real world there is no place for a government that resorts to superpowers to override their own laws and regulations.
As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues, or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 705-461-9710 or Toll free 1-800-831-1899.
Michael Mantha MPP/député