Fines for drunk driving are going up starting New Year’s Day while the minimum wage holds steady at $14 and politicians will once again be allowed to attend their fundraising events under Ontario law.
Other changes taking effect Jan. 1 under Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government include a tax credit for low-income families, higher political donation limits and new rules for collection agencies.
Impaired drivers with blood alcohol concentrations in the “warning range” between .05 per cent and .08 per cent will now face fines of $250 for a first offence, $350 for a second offence and $450 for third and subsequent offences.
The same penalties apply for failing a roadside sobriety test or violating “zero tolerance” rules for new and commercial drivers.
Police will also be able to issue $580 fines to drivers who refuse to take a drug or alcohol test, whose blood alcohol hits .08 per cent or who are determined to be impaired by an officer trained as a drug recognition evaluator.
While the government said in a statement these measures will “ensure Ontario’s roads are safe for everyone,” Andrew Murrie, president of the lobby group Mothers Against Drunk Driving, told the Star that increasing fines isn’t much of a deterrent.
He called on Ford’s government to pass a law that vehicles be impounded for three days if drivers are caught with a blood-alcohol level in the warning range, as several other provinces do.
“That makes an incredible difference in driver behaviour,” Murrie said. “People do not want to lose their car at roadside.”
B.C., for example, saw drunk driving-related deaths halved and Saskatchewan has seen a 40-per-cent reduction, he added.
On minimum wage, Ford is keeping a campaign promise to hold it steady at $14, axing the previous Liberal government’s plan for a $1 raise to $15.
The move, widely applauded by business groups and criticized by anti-poverty advocates, comes with other measures to tone down Liberal labour law reforms Ford said would cost employers too much and hurt job creation.
“When business succeeds, workers succeed, families succeed, communities succeed,” he said this fall in touting his “open for business” strategy.
Mandatory paid leave days have been repealed and replaced with requirements that employers allow a minimum of three unpaid days for personal illness, two unpaid bereavement days and three unpaid leave days for family emergencies.
The minimum wage will be frozen until 2020 and then increase by the annual rate of inflation, meaning the $15 level won’t be reached for another four or five years.
To offset the impact of the static minimum wage, the PCs are bringing in a new tax credit called LIFT — short for low income individuals and families.
“It will provide low-income and minimum wage workers up to $850 in Ontario personal income tax relief and couples up to $1,700 when they file their 2019 tax returns,” the government said in a year-end statement.
Critics say low-income workers would be better off with a minimum-wage increase because the money comes right away in their pay — instead of waiting another year to file their 2019 tax returns — and that many low-rate workers don’t pay income tax.
As Ontario’s political parties recover from expenses incurred in last spring’s election campaign, allowable donations are being increased to match the federal maximum of $1,600.
The previous Liberal government’s ban on MPPs and prospective candidates attending fundraisers is being lifted, raising the spectre of “cash for access” events where donors get to lobby politicians.
Donors will no longer have to certify their contributions are being made from their own funds — a move criticized as a “back door” way for unions and corporations to bankroll political parties.
In a measure aimed at discouraging collection agencies from using unsavoury tactics in recouping funds, agencies employing more than 10 people will be required to record all telephone calls and to keep them for one year.
Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1