By MPP Toby Barrett
Looking back at 2020, by and large, life and work went on, both locally and at Queen’s Park.
The commencement of last year saw passage of the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act. Ontario was the first province in Canada to introduce such a provincially-operated enforcement system.
On Jan. 25, the first case of coronavirus was identified in Ontario.
On Feb. 24, militants blocked the Caledonia bypass and the CN line in support of the West Coast Wet’suwt’en Coastal Gas Link pipeline protest – a tactic we have seen over the previous 14 years and a tactic we were to see throughout 2020.
Last winter, after consultation with the NDP and independent MPPs, legislation was introduced to change the way the Ontario Legislature conducts business. I am an advocate for history and tradition; however, I have long thought the proceedings of the Legislature can always be streamlined. For instance, an MPP in a wheel chair would no longer need unanimous consent from the legislature to vote without standing, rather the Speaker would be able to grant this exception.
In March, my Private Member’s Bill, the Great Lakes Protection Amendment Act, 2020 passed second reading. The bill adds the promotion of tourism and other economic activities to the legislation governing the Ontario side of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin, while respecting the ecological health of the basin.
Bill 132, Better for People, Smarter for Business Act was passed at the end of February to again take on the plethora of rules and regulations and red tape in Ontario.
The pandemic accelerated in the second quarter of 2020 and dominated the news, and just about all communications to and from my office.
Global economies ground to a halt. Government and health care systems adapted quickly. We saw heartache and loss, locally and across the planet — families lost loved ones. Billions and billions of provincial and federal dollars rolled out to not only help support the health and well-being of citizens, but also to provide support for jobs, employers, and our economy.
Our local health unit gained considerable media attention during the pandemic for restrictions that went above and beyond what the province implemented. Some examples that made the news were restrictions on bunkhouse occupancy, cottage use bans, walking trails not being open, and the closure of car washes.
Unfortunately, Haldimand-Norfolk also made the news because of outbreaks at Hagersville’s Anson Place and on Norfolk farms.
Covid brought about a renewed emphasis on local production, and in Haldimand-Norfolk, this was best seen in the agriculture industry. As Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, I was actively engaging stakeholders in the early days to see where they needed assistance from government. COVID-19 caused a significant disruption to our food supply chain. From trying to ease deadlines for paperwork and licenses to providing funding for Covid costs, OMAFRA did its best to assist farm producers.
Efforts to expand high-speed Internet in rural Ontario started to come to fruition in early summer with high speed in the works for Bealton, Bloomsberg, Boston, Dundurn, Townsend Centre, Villa Nova, Waterford and Wilsonville. Later in the year, broadband was announced for Turkey Point, Walsh and Normandale.
To be continued. . . .
Toby Barrett is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk.