By Kirk Winter

Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MPP Laurie Scott sat down with me on March 1 and we discussed a wide range of topics. The interview, that was only scheduled for 30 minutes, stretched to almost an hour, and the naturally gregarious Scott could have talked much longer if other commitments weren’t pressing.

When asked what about the Ford government's priorities for 2019, Scott focused on health care “transformation” and educational reform. Scott, a nurse by training, was enthusiastic about the sweeping changes being proposed in the field of health care by Minister Christine Elliot. Scott said the goal in health care was “eliminating bureaucracy” so that the funding could be put directly into frontline services like nurses and homecare. Scott was particularly pleased that the government has negotiated a four-year deal with the Ontario Medical Association, something that had eluded the previous Liberal government.

Regarding education, Scott shared that she “is seeing ever increasing public support for the idea of one provincially funded school system” as recommended by the audit of government spending commissioned by the Ford Conservatives. But she admits the government “isn’t quite there yet“ on that issue anytime in the forseeable future.

Scott said that declining enrollment in schools across Ontario is going to be a real issue moving forward, with school closures especially problematic in rural Ontario. Scott restated that the Conservatives, “as of a month ago” were still committed to delivering full day kindergarten in Ontario, but in what format is still to be determined.

Scott was caught by surprise by the Ministry of Education edict to refrain from new teacher hires until March 15, which was made public a few hours before our interview. She said that something was likely to be made public that day that could clarify the situation moving forward.

In Minister Scott’s own portfolio, changes are coming at a dizzying pace on all kinds of issues. The final touches are being put on changes to the tendering process for municipal projects that would allow all firms, not just unionized ones, to bid on significant local projects. Scott said this “competitive tendering could save the municipal governments at least $370 million.”

Scott was also enthusiastic about programs being implemented at the Ministry of Labour that would allow for the delivery of training, certifications, and job awareness programs online, rather than forcing individuals to travel hundreds of miles to participate in programming in urban centres only.

Scott, a passionate voice while in Opposition against human trafficking, has continued to advocate for the rights of people who were brought to Canada under false pretences or by criminal syndicates. The arrest in Barrie and area last month of 42 Mexican workers who had been smuggled into Canada and were being exploited by unscrupulous cleaning contractors involved in hotel and resort maintenance had a happy ending Scott shared. Not only were the workers freed from their traffickers, but the communities in which they had been working found them all places to live and permanent jobs so they could continue to support their extended families in Mexico.

When I asked Scott about this summer, when virtually all government contracts expire for employees in Ontario except for doctors and paramedics, Scott was hopeful. She said Ontario has an enviable labour history where “98 percent” of all collective agreements are negotiated to a successful conclusion at the bargaining table. Scott said as Minister “she meets with the unions all of the time” and hopes that this summer will see success at achieving new contracts with Ontario’s teachers, nurses, hospital workers, CUPE and OPSEU.

Minister Scott says her Ministry is prepared to offer whatever assistance the other ministries need to negotiate successful deals with their individual workers.

My final question for Ms. Scott dealt with her ability to balance representing one of the largest geographic ridings in Ontario that isn’t in the Far North with the responsibilities of being Labour Minister. Scott believes that she “had achieved a good balance.” She shared that March and June are the busiest months at Queen’s Park and finding time to deal with constituency issues can be “crazy.” Minister Scott is very thankful that local people are prepared to “re-accommodate” her cabinet responsibilities, and she tries to be in the riding most every weekend.

Scott finished by saying how “invigorated both she and the new government feel,” and that the current pace of change across the government bureaucracy is likely to continue.

Paul Fox, Professor of Political Science at University of Toronto once noted “that years in opposition are seldom satisfying or beneficial to a party or individual” and that “governing is much more fun.”

It was clear from my meeting that MPP Scott is clearly enjoying her new challenges, and is looking forward to even more changes for the people and government of Ontario. Only time will tell if these are beneficial changes or simply change for change sake.

PoliticsDeb Crossen