Monthly Column – The Long Awaited 2017 Budget

May 1, 2017

 

The government presented its budget on the last Thursday of the month. It contains several funding promises, re-announcements of previously committed infrastructure funds, as well as a plan for universal drug coverage for Ontarians under 25. While the government would like us to believe that they have solved their spending problem, they still have an operating deficit of $5 billion. They tried to hide it though cash grabs, unauthorized pension assets, and one-time and unusual revenue.  Meanwhile, our debt load continues to climb by another $10 billion this year alone, and now totals over $311 billion. That translates to over $22,000 for every man, woman and child in Ontario.

 

The government themselves predict a bleak future, with housing starts declining by 6% next year and job creation numbers slowing by a third to 66,000 per year by 2020. There is no plan to stop school closures, nor is there any commitment to tackling the cause of skyrocketing hydro rates, including mismanagement of our electricity supply, unaffordable wind and solar subsidies and waste. On the contrary, the day after releasing a plan to cut electricity bills by refinancing current supply at a cost of $25 billion in interest, they signed contracts for another 1,100 wind turbines.  The cap-and-trade cash grab will continue funneling money from Ontarians’ pockets to California and the government’s pet projects, which have proven unaccountable and dismally poor investments.

 

This is an electioneering budget, intended to make the government look good ahead of next year’s election. Their figures don’t add up, which means we’ll pay through higher taxes and less public services.

 

During the month, the government faced pressure on many fronts. School communities continued their rallies at Queen’s Park, demanding the government follow the PC Caucus’ motion to place a moratorium on further closings until an all-party review is completed on rural education. This government has already closed more schools than any other government in Ontario’s history and over 300 schools are still facing closure.  Of all the new schools bragged about in this budget, not a single one is located in rural and small town Ontario. The closest meeting to our region of the hastily put-together committee of government MPPs will be this Friday, May 5th, 6.30pm at the Easton Corners/Merrickville-Wilford Community Centre. I encourage people to attend this meeting and provide your views on public education.  It’s unfortunate that the fate of many schools will have already been determined before this committee holds its first community meeting, but we must send a clear message that the current plan is not working.

 

Executive salaries have increased by 600% at Hydro One, laying bare just how little oversight the government exercised over the utility. When the fire sale of Hydro One was first announced, the government stated salaries would be “modest”. Hydro One’s CEO earns almost ten times as much as the next highest-paid provincial utility CEO. The government may be declaring ignorance, but as the majority shareholders of Hydro One, there is no excuse. If they refuse to take action against this obscene misuse of ratepayer’s money, they are fully responsible for it.

 

Housing affordability took centre stage as the Official Opposition and the government outlined proposals to tackle rising rents and increasingly unaffordable home prices in the GTA. Official Opposition Leader Patrick Brown called on the Government to take action to boost supply, including cutting developers’ red tape, freeing up unused crown and government-owned land and buildings, as well as tackling speculation that is driving home prices to unaffordable heights. The government’s plan, instead, will do nothing to increase supply, the real cause of the problem.