As we look back at 2016, we see a world, a country and a province where things are constantly changing. While our new federal Liberal government is completing its first full year in power, our neighbours to the south are now just on the eve of a new regime taking over. It will be interesting to look back in a year from now to reflect on the anticipated changes the critics are highlighting as the Obama presidency comes to an end.
On the provincial scene, no issue shocked our community more than the release of the Pupil Accommodation Reviews in late September, recommending the closure of up to 20 local schools. This immediately rallied groups from all areas of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry in support of these important community hubs. Letters, petitions, and protests have garnered words of support for our rural schools from the Premier and the Minister of Education, but over the next couple of months, we will see if they are willing to back those words up with appropriate funding and the resolve to look at the funding models needed to support education in rural and Northern Ontario. While nobody suggests that none of the 600 schools slated for closure across the province are untouchable, it clearly shows that there needs to be a public discussion on education in Ontario.
We did see some positive moves in the province. First, we saw the government back off the closures of our local Service Ontario Centres, which are so critical as tough economic times require direct and timely access to provincial programs for more and more people. The cuts to autism services and the closure of provincial demonstration schools rallied parents from all corners of the province, as they saw these life-changing programs being cancelled. After weeks of denying the cuts to parents who literally had cancellation letters in their hands, the government finally reversed course and announced the continuance of these desperately needed programs. And finally, we are seeing positive action on my motion to shorten the 30-business day delay in returning drivers’ licenses after medical clearance, a clear indication that the government could not justify the delay.
As 2016 draws to an end, we continue to hear of the silent cuts to health care, education and other provincial services. Despite the doubling of the fees, taxes and debt, the years of waste, scandal and mismanagement have made life unaffordable and resulted in many companies leaving Ontario, taking their good-paying jobs with them.
The New Year will also bring in the largest change to our tax system since the Second World War with the introduction of the new Cap and Trade tax. As pointed out by the Premier of Saskatchewan, there has been no evaluation of the economic impact of this plan on our economy and its effect on our ability to continue to support the social programs that we so desperately need and deserve. The new tax was slammed by both the Environmental Commissioner and the Financial Accountability Officer in recently released reports, highlighting that this scheme is more focused on raising revenues rather than cutting emissions. Only 20% of the government’s planned emission cuts will occur in Ontario, with California receiving billions of dollars for paper carbon credits generated by their emission reductions. This finding blows a hole in the government’s clean air rhetoric. Ontario will only experience theoretical emission cuts, while our businesses fork out $8 billion within the next 3 years to California and about $2 billion per year thereafter for these credits. The costs will be passed on to the consumer in the form of higher prices, reduced supply and, potentially, fewer jobs. She estimates that it will increase the cost per household for electricity by an additional 23% by 2020. The increase will be devastating for residents and businesses. That $8 billion equates to 163,000 average Ontario annual salaries, removed from our economy by 2020 and sent to California. Does the government truly believe this won’t shock our agriculture, manufacturing, and services sectors? Should we not instead be working with our huge American neighbour and largest trading partner to introduce a revenue-neutral, broader continental plan, if we really are looking for realistic positive results?
As we welcome in the New Year, I want to take this opportunity to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a safe, healthy and Happy New Year in 2017. The winter break will allow me to meet with many of you to listen to your issues and concerns so that I can be your voice at Queen’s Park.
Member of Provincial Parliament