The Government took the opportunity this week to close debate on several items of legislation. The Assembly voted on Bills 100, 135, 151 and 186 dealing with trails, energy, waste diversion and pensions respectively.
The Ontario Trails Act will establish a province-wide trails strategy and provide for a consistent framework to manage access rights and easements, helping trail clubs and land owners negotiate and maintain their agreements according to clear rules that set out rights and obligations. Many land owners had been provided with wrong information regarding easements, alleging that Bill 100 would erode their right to decide which clubs may use the property for a trail. Belatedly, the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport offered to contact every single concerned land owner personally to explain that any easements would be voluntary. The Bill, however, was symptomatic of how little this Government consults with key stakeholders and the Ontario public on all matters of public policy.
Bill 135 will concentrate most energy planning powers in the hands of the Minister of Energy, depriving current regulators, such as the Ontario Energy Board, of many of their rights to oversee the energy market. I voted very clearly against this, since it was the Ministry of Energy that got us into this mess that is today’s Ontario electricity market.
I delivered remarks on Bill 151, highlighting the positive changes the PC Caucus brought to the table when this Bill went to Committee. We insisted that the new authority must work to scrap eco-taxes and the cartels that levied them, such as Ontario Tire Stewardship. Our amendments ensure the Authority must report on its progress in achieving this aim on a regular basis. Furthermore, our amendments ensured a competitive market in the recycling industry and a sustainable future for the Blue Box program, which this Government had put at risk by pitting industry against municipalities on funding.
We still have concerns about the Minister’s new-found powers to dictate waste policy directives to industry. Ontario forms part of a global marketplace and the more this Government interferes in global businesses and supply chains, the less competitive we become. The Bill also creates a new waste enforcement force, despite the Ministry of the Environment already having a well-trained and experienced Enforcement Branch. This sort of duplication and micro-management are cornerstones of the current Government’s approach to policymaking and they have to stop.
Another week brought another damning report from the Financial Accountability Officer. The Government created the FAO’s office in 2012 and they are probably regretting that decision, since the FAO has been doing a great job of calling the Government out on their bad financial management. This week, the FAO highlighted that the Government is obstructing the work of experts and independent officers by refusing to disclose key information that would show the true state of the Province’s finances. We are now only able to find out about the Government’s failure to keep proper wind contract records and of the Government’s planned climate change initiatives through leaks and criminal investigations. This shouldn’t be the way Ontarians get to the truth.
During Question Period we challenged the Government on their estimates of revenue from climate change allowance auctions. The Government has already budgeted their spending based on the money they expect to raise from carbon auctions once Cap-and-Trade is implemented. Recent news from Quebec and California, however, paint a different picture. Their carbon allowance auctions flopped, yielding only a fraction of the planned revenue. For Ontario, such a fiasco would mean an even larger deficit in the coming years, something our province can’t afford.
Next week, General Government Committee will begin marathon hearings on Bill 201 which deals with political fundraising and the Legislature will conclude its spring session. I expect the Government to force Third Reading votes on more items of legislation in order to enact them before the summer. Our Caucus will continue advocating for the interests of Ontarians who have this Province’s prosperity truly at heart, and who only need a Government that stops wasting their tax dollars and focuses on making us competitive in a globalized marketplace.