Jim McDonell: This week at Queen’s Park

QUEEN’S PARK – The government announced its plans to present the 2018 Ontario Budget on March 28th. In a speech to the Economic Club of Canada, the Minister of Finance stated that he expected the Province to run a deficit this year, contrary to his declarations just months ago that Ontario would see balanced budgets through at least 2020. This reversal is being marketed to Ontarians as a consequence of extra spending commitments in areas such as health care and the economy.

My colleagues and I are anxious to hear the Auditor-General’s and Financial Accountability Officer’s opinion on this. The current government is extremely unpopular according to numerous opinion polls and opening the spending taps less than 3 months from a general election must be viewed with a degree of skepticism. First and foremost, time and finances are not on the government’s side. It is highly unlikely that the necessary spending programs and disbursements will be in place before the election and more deficits are bound to raise concerns among debt rating agencies. If the government were to win another mandate, would they be bound by their earlier promises or continue on a trend we have seen of announcing funding through one stream while reducing it in the other?

On Tuesday in Question Period my colleagues and I brought forward our communities’ concerns with prompt access to quality mental health services. We heard stories of patients being sent home without a proper diagnosis, long wait times that proved fatal and a lack of resources in rural areas. I highlighted that the new Mental Health Facility at the Cornwall Community Hospital was a great improvement on the past, but great work still lies ahead. We demanded the Province match the federal funding commitment to mental health services dollar-for-dollar. One in five Canadians will experience mental health challenges. Helping them receive the services they need saves lives, preserves physical health and maintains people’s ability to participate fully in their workplaces and communities. Direct mental health service delivery investment pays off in spades as long as patients, rather than administration and bureaucracies, are prioritized. The government voted against making such a commitment, to our disappointment.

The government passed several Bills this week. Rowan’s Law, which will help amateur and youth athletes prevent the consequences of concussions received Third Reading and was assented to on Wednesday. The Supply Act, a general spending enabling bill, was forced through on Second and Third Reading this week. Bill 194, the Fairness in Procurement Act that engages us in a trade war with New York State and other jurisdictions was voted on in Second Reading and immediately ordered for Third Reading without Committee input.

Next week MPPs return to their ridings for the March break. I look forward to meeting many of you during that time and hear your concerns as we head into Budget season.