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Sabrina Maddeaux: Forget Greenbelt scandal, Doug Ford lost his best cabinet minister

As labour minister, Monte McNaughton actually got things done — and now he's gone

Monte McNaughton
Ontario Labour Minister Monte McNaughton takes to the podium during a news conference in Toronto on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. Photo by Chris Young /The Canadian Press

Given the state of Canadian politics, it’s rare to find myself bothered by a politician’s resignation. In fact, it’s usually the opposite — the list of elected officials I think should resign for a variety of screw ups grows ever longer.

However, I was upset at the news of now-former Ontario minister of labour, immigration, training and skills development Monte McNaughton’s departure for a private sector job.

National Post

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Many politicians talk a big game about helping the working class and young people now that they’re desirable swing voters, but few actually promote effective policy on their behalf, let alone actually implement it. McNaughton may not coin catchy, if all too mockable, catch phrases like Justin Trudeau’s long-dead “deliverology,” but he didn’t need to, because he actually delivered.

While the Ford government’s Greenbelt scandal, followed by his decision to reverse land removals, made for the splashiest headlines last week, it’s McNaughton’s exit that may prove to be the biggest undertow.

Simply put: McNaughton’s exit is a massive blow not just to Ontario Premier Doug Ford, but the public in a time where good government is hard to come by, but desperately needed to fix a seemingly ever-growing list of crises.

While McNaughton was never directly responsible for the housing file, his efforts to address Ontario’s dire skilled trades shortage may prove one of the most consequential steps to actually getting more homes built. His Working for Workers Act 3 improved international credentials recognition and removed barriers for immigrants who want to continue their careers in relegated professions.

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This is the type of policy nearly every politician, regardless of stripe, agrees upon in theory but shirks away from when it’s time to actually make waves and potentially upset stakeholders. I have it on good authority Ontario’s skilled trades colleges were not happy about this proposed change, but McNaughton saw it through regardless.

The other side of the skilled trades shortage is that we’ve spent decades telling youth that blue collar jobs are less desirable than white collar ones while simultaneously discouraging half the population — women — from entering these fields.

It’s unbelievable that, until now, employers were never required to provide female construction workers with properly fitting safety gear. Typically, they’d end up wearing too-large garments and even boots made for men, increasing their risk for workplace injuries. McNaughton changed this and also required large construction sites to provide at least one female-only bathroom, so women don’t have to walk blocks to the nearest Tim Hortons for privacy and safety.

He also created a program that allows grade 11 students to enter the skilled trades more quickly, allowing them to apprentice full-time and still earn a high school diploma. This is what meeting a problem with solutions looks like, an act too many elected officials have become estranged from in favour of partisan cage matches.

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McNaughton’s efforts on behalf of gig workers and freelancers, who are disproportionately millennials and Gen Z, and often the very last type of worker politicians think about, were also groundbreaking. In particular, his commitment to create a portable benefits program for health, vision and dental coverage attached to workers rather than specific, ever rarer full-time jobs.

As someone who, without a full-time job complete with a health plan, struggled to pay for dentist visits in my early twenties, I know the capacity this has to improve lives and also save the broader healthcare system money through preventative care. Ford should see this program through, but I worry, without McNaughton, it’ll tumble down the priorities list in favour of shinier objects and damage control.

The list goes on: giving employees who work from home the same rights as in-office workers during layoffs, instituting maximum corporate fines for health and safety offences, taking a hard line on employers of temporary foreign workers who confiscate passports or work permits, and improving much-needed cancer coverage for firefighters.

If McNaughton wasn’t the most effective politician in the country, he was certainly in the top echelons. In this regard, perhaps it’s in some ways better he make a clean exit as the Ford government careens into dangerous territory. The Ontario PC’s would be lucky to count him as leader one day, and it’d be a shame to see him tainted by the incompetence and alleged corruption of some of his now-former colleagues.

If he does wish to return to public office one day, Ontarians should hope he gets the opportunity sooner rather than later.

National Post

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