TORONTO — With roughly three months before a spring election, Ontario’s governing Liberals are using the last legislative session to push back against any state that adopts Buy American provisions, saying the move is necessary to protect the province’s workers and businesses.
The Liberals kicked off the session Tuesday by introducing a bill that would reduce procurement opportunities for states that adopt such provisions, by allowing provincial officials to write regulations targeting individual states.
Premier Kathleen Wynne had earlier this month declared her intentions to counter protectionist measures put in place by some U.S. states, a decision she said was inspired by a recent infrastructure bill from the state of New York.
If passed, the legislation would apply to organizations within the Ontario government and the broader public sector, though some could obtain exemptions, the province said Tuesday.
The regulations would be proportional to the restrictions imposed in the targeted state, and would be revoked if the state cancels its Buy American policy, the province said. Any contract that violates the legislation or regulations would be proclaimed void, it said.
“Our government’s priority is to ensure that Ontario businesses and workers have access to other markets and are treated fairly when operating within those markets,” International Trade Minister Michael Chan said in a statement.
“Our proposed legislation would achieve that by creating a level playing field between Ontario and U.S. states when it comes to government procurement.”
The opposition parties have said they would review the legislation when it is tabled, but have also called the move a reckless political gambit from the Liberals as they fight to remain in power.
“I think that these kinds of issues are important to be dealt with by the federal government frankly as well, and I worry if we’re out of step with other provinces it might cause some bigger problems for the nation,” said Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
Wynne has previously said the federal government is aware of her plans, and that she intends to discuss the idea with other Canadian premiers at an upcoming conference.
The Ontario legislature also resumes at a time of political upheaval, with both opposition parties dealing with significant changes in their ranks.
The Progressive Conservatives are in the middle of a leadership race that has exposed a growing rift between party factions. The contest was launched after the party’s former leader, Patrick Brown, resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct, which he has repeatedly denied.
Brown, who has since mounted a campaign to clear his name, announced on Friday that he planned to run for his old job — just hours after he was booted out of the Tory caucus. The Barrie, Ont., politician will have to sit as an independent when he returns to the legislature. He was not present Tuesday.
Interim Tory leader Vic Fedeli said that while the last few weeks have been trying, the Tories have emerged stronger than ever. He said the party is focused on its true goal — defeating the Liberals.
“Anything they promise in the coming months will be nothing more than a costly re-election ploy they have no intention of keeping,” he said.
Horwath, meanwhile, recently removed her chief of staff and campaign director after he was accused of not taking seriously sexual misconduct allegations brought to him during his time at Manitoba’s legislature. He has denied he was told about the formal complaints.
The NDP leader said the party is nonetheless ready for the election campaign and to tackle hospital overcrowding, long wait times for health care, and other issues.
“For the next number of weeks throughout this session, we’re going to continue to not only keep the government’s feet to the fire, we’re also going to be continuing to bring forward our great ideas for the people of Ontario,” Horwath said.