May was a tough month for the Liberal government as they responded to the questions on election fundraising, accountability, environmental legislation and cuts in services, special education and health care.
Pushback on the closure of nine Service Ontario sites may have forced this government to rethink its plan. The ministry is now reviewing the plan and the closures are temporarily on hold. During question period, I highlighted to the minister the need for Ontarians to have reasonable access to front line government services. As an example, closing the Morrisburg office would force residents of Dundas County to drive to Prescott to access their land registry records. As Critic of Government and Consumer Services, I worked with concerned citizens to point out that this plan was especially unfair for rural areas where residents already drive long distances for service and, in many cases, don’t have adequate internet access. These weren’t the only cuts they were trying to explain, as parents were demonstrating at Queen’s Park against the cuts to special education, autistic IBI therapy and the closure of demonstration schools for children requiring intensive training.
What started out to be a government revelation on required fundraising changes turned into a nightmare for them. Media pointed out that the Liberal 2014 election debt had just been paid back. Investigations highlighted cabinet ministers being issued minimum fundraising quotas, as well as connections between government grants, regulation changes and large corporate donations. The government was in damage control as the Auditor-General released details of an over $80 million payment to four teachers unions in light of the more than $10 million these same unions re-invested into third-party advertising aimed at re-electing a Liberal government. The auditor also pointed out that no other public service union had received such payments. Media enquiries into the exorbitant ticket prices for the final Tragically Hip concert revealed that corporations that would benefit from regulations allowing ticket scalping donated $52,000 to the Liberal Party. Our leader, Patrick Brown is calling on the Premier to clear the air and call a public inquiry into the fundraising scandal, but the she refuses. Under the extreme media attention, the Premier is pushing legislation to change political fundraising and third party advertising. After ignoring three reports by the Chief Electoral Officer of Ontario and voting down three Private Members’ Bills on third-party advertising limits, the government wants us to believe that this latest activity has nothing to do about getting caught. The leaders of the NDP and the Green Party joined our leader in asking for an all-party committee to set the new political fundraising regulations. The Premier has ignored our requests and, under Bill 201, will draft the final legislation behind closed doors. This government is currently under five OPP investigations – hardly the record of a Party the public can trust with electoral and political financing reform.
The government also broke an election promise when it pushed through Bill 172, its Cap and Trade legislation. The new tax will add approximately $1000 to a family’s annual budget, making it more expensive for people to live and for businesses to compete in Ontario. The plan will send nearly $300 million a year to California in 2018, increasing to $3 billion by 2030, to buy environmental offsets. A cabinet document leaked to the Globe and Mail revealed their plan to amend the building code to eliminate natural gas as an option for new residential homes by 2030 and a plan to force the eventual conversion of existing homes to electric heat. This alone would add about $3,000 to a homeowner’s annual budget, plus conversion costs, putting more and more Ontarians below the poverty line. The Financial Accountability Officer warned the committee reviewing Bill 172 that billions of dollars in offsets and government spending lacked transparency and were beyond the review of his office. In response to his concerns, the government introduced a final amendment they claimed addressed his issues and resulted from a meeting with him. The FAO shocked the Legislature with a letter stating that he neither agreed with the amendment nor had the opportunity to meet the Government to discuss it. This was a new low for this Government! All this in a month when a fifth OPP investigation was initiated over missing records concerning a $500 million lawsuit over the cancellation of an offshore wind farm in the GTA and a new $475 million lawsuit for another seat-saving wind project cancellation in the Kingston area. It isn’t a good time to be a Liberal MPP.