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Ontario to ban mandatory retirement age

By Richard Mackie

Toronto Globe and Mail, April 30, 2003

The Ontario government will announce plans to ban mandatory retirement at 65, along with upgrades to the education and health-care systems and an attack on impaired driving, in today's Speech from the Throne.

Plans to add hundreds of police officers in the province to combat child pornography and gun crimes also are set out in the speech to be delivered in the legislature by Lieutenant-Governor James Bartleman.

Premier Ernie Eves said yesterday that the speech will present "a lot of future direction and vision on the part of the government."

It will not outline an election-campaign platform, and it will not be heavy on specifics, he told reporters. "You're not going to see tons of detail. . . . This isn't the platform. This is a direction as to where we think the province should be going in the future."

The ban on mandatory retirement marks a major change in policy. Ontario and the federal government allow companies to force workers to retire at 65 through contracts, pension plans or company regulations, although no law requires it.

The Ontario Human Rights Code does not cover discrimination on the basis of age and, to date, courts have upheld mandatory retirement. It has had wide support among business groups and organized labour.

But Ontario's Human Rights Commissioner, Keith Norton, and groups representing older people have been campaigning for a change, arguing that many workers want to, or have an economic need to, continue in their jobs.

Quebec, Alberta and Manitoba have led the way in banning mandatory retirement.

Recent polling by Ipsos-Reid showed that a commitment to eliminate it could give the Tories a slight boost in popularity.

In education, parents will be allowed to send their children to the school they choose within their school board, according to a government source. This follows on the government's theme of allowing parents more choice by providing a tax credit for those who opt for private schools.

Specialist instructors, without formal training as teachers, will be allowed to deliver courses in arts, athletics and the trades if they have a defined expertise.

To upgrade literacy, the government will move to ensure there is more access to the phonics method of instruction, first by providing the materials and then by adjusting the curriculum.

To improve instruction in mathematics, a scholarship program will give incentives to teachers to specialize in teaching basic math.

On health care, the government will promise to establish guaranteed maximum waiting times for specific surgery, such as hip replacement.

In a crackdown on drinking and driving, there will be permanent suspension of a driver's licence for a second offence, which now brings a two-year suspension.

Those who continue to drive without a licence will face the seizure of their their vehicles.

Government services will be upgraded by keeping offices that deal directly with the public open longer and by increasing the number of computer kiosks that provide basic services.

For MPPs, the government will permit free votes on private-member's bills, double the time for debate of such bills to four hours a week from two, and permit co-sponsoring of the bills.

In drafting the Throne Speech, the government also looked at allowing home owners to deduct part of the interest costs for their mortgages from their incomes when calculating their provincial taxes.

But this has the potential to cost the province $5-billion in forgone revenues and Mr. Eves has suggested it would be too expensive, although it would be very popular politically.

There also was talk of a promise to ban strikes by teachers during the school year, which could move the Tories much closer to the Liberals in the public-opinion race, according to polling.

But that also would renew fighting over the government's eight-year record in handling the troubled education system.

Earl Manners, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation and a nominated New Democratic Party candidate, argued this week that voters would see through a ban on strikes.

"This would be pure political posturing on the part of the government. There's no smoking gun. We're reaching collective agreements and this would just be an attempt by this government to try and find a scapegoat once again as they walk into an election," he said. OSSTF has settled 21 of its 31 contacts.

Annie Kidder of the public action group People For Education also criticized the idea of a ban on strikes.

"It's just politics and politics is not what we want at this point," she said.

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