Wrecking ballA new omnibus Bill being fast tracked through the Ontario legislature will bring in sweeping changes that will corrupt our democracy and make it easier for big corporations to influence government decisions, says Fred Hahn, President of CUPE Ontario.

Bill 57, entitled the Restoring Trust, Transparency and Accountability Act will have only one day of public hearing on Monday, just two weeks after being first introduced.

The Bill will eliminate independent oversight of the government by getting rid of the Child Advocate; the Environmental Commissioner; the French Language Services Commissioner; and the Conflict of Interest Commissioner and also makes it possible for the government to suspend all other independent officers of the legislature such as the Auditor General; the Integrity Commissioner; the Chief Electoral Officer; and the Freedom of Information Officer.

“These are the very people whose job it is to ensure that no government abuses their power or misuses their power for personal gain, and Bill 57 will give Premier Ford the ability to suspend them if they’re about to release a report that criticizes his government,” says Hahn. “The Conservatives were the first to praise the Auditor General when she exposed problems with the previous Liberal governments accounting. Now that they’re in charge they’re changing the laws to muzzle her and her colleagues. This is very alarming, and we should all be very concerned about the future of our democracy.”

Hahn points out that just last week Ford’s government announced the sale of the Hearn Generating Station for hundreds of millions of dollars less than it is worth, with no proper process. One of the key buyers has turned out to be a big developer whose family donated over $11,000.00 to the Premier’s leadership campaign and $30,000.00 to his brother’s mayoralty campaign.

“What people need to understand is that this it’s about more than just lucrative financial deals for friends of the Premier – which is bad enough,” says Candace Rennick, Secretary-Treasurer for CUPE Ontario. “This is about a government that is giving away hundreds of millions of dollars that should be going to the public services we all need. It means less money for seniors in long-term care, less money for health care, and less money for our kids’ schools. We all pay the price for these types of actions.”

The Bill also makes changes to the structure of Metrolinx, brings in changes that will allow the Premier to sell off Ontario Place and dissolves the Trillium Fund that was created to finance all the infrastructure improvements needed around the province.

“Make no mistake, it’s ‘the people’ the Premier likes to talk about that should be most worried about these changes. Will the Premier sell Ontario Place to payback more big developer donors with another questionable land deal? Will changes to Metrolinx lead to more costly privatization schemes? What will the Premier do with the $6 billion dollars currently in the Trillium Fund?” says Hahn. “Given his attempt to muzzle all independent oversite, another critical question is – will we even be able to find out?”

Bill 57 also eliminates rent controls on new buildings and cancels the Pay Transparency Act that was created to stop companies from being able to hide salary levels when male employees are being paid more than women doing equivalent jobs.

“These changes will further line developers’ pockets with ever soaring and unaffordable rental incomes and save corporations on their payroll, allowing them to continue to underpay women – it’s just wrong,” says Rennick. “When you first look at this Bill it seems like many unrelated issues, randomly thrown together, but all you have to do is look at who benefits to recognize the pattern. It’s corporate interests of the needs of people.”

“And the cherry on the top of this mess of corporate pandering is that the Bill brings big corporate money back into political fundraising through cash-for-access fundraisers and direct corporate donations,” says Hahn. “The Ford Tories may be calling this the ‘Restoring Trust, Transparency and Accountability Act,’ but what it does is damage our democracy, demolish government accountability and open the doors wide for even greater corporate influence over government decisions. The people will pay while corporations benefit – period.”