CORNWALL — January saw the launch of two flagship initiatives by the current government. On January 1st the OHIP+ program came into effect, providing coverage for numerous drugs for Ontarians under the age of 25. The impact of this policy remains to be seen, especially since many will find drugs previously covered under their private drug insurance are not covered with the new OHIP+, and require a tedious application process with the Ministry. Doctors and pharmacists have come forward to me highlighting that in some instances, OHIP+ will be a cost transfer from private insurers to the government and the taxpayer, as dependents under 25 will no longer need to be covered by the parents’ insurance. Other benefit programs that included drug coverage for this demographic, such as university health plans, are also likely to see a decrease in their overall claim cost. At issue, then, is whether these savings will be passed on to the original plan holders or retained by the industry. We are still in the early stages of implementation, however by the time the 2018 Ontario budget is debated the impact on drug insurance plans should become clearer.
Small and medium-sized businesses woke up on January 1st to the reality of a rapidly increasing minimum wage and numerous labour reforms. During the consultation and debate stages of the Bill, business owners and advocates came forward voicing their concerns with the rapid implementation pace envisioned by the government. All stakeholders agree that Ontarians’ wages should rise. This growth should be underpinned by a solid economic foundation and a business environment that builds growth and attracts new businesses, new jobs and investments. Sadly, this is increasingly harder to come by under today’s government. Hydro rates alone have quadrupled since 2003, depriving us of a key competitive advantage that we once held over our neighbours. Moreover, as the government’s policies have created a surplus of energy in our grid, we have been forced to sell off this excess power at a loss to our neighbours and competitors, effectively subsidizing their residents and business at the Ontario ratepayer’s expense.
The new government’s labour reforms had an immediate impact on childcare. For households with working parents, childcare costs can be prohibitive: up to $20,000 a year in Toronto. As labour costs rise, many childcare service providers had to raise prices for families who can already ill afford the cost. This is just another indication of how legislating us to prosperity is just wishful thinking. We need to build the economic environment that drives growth and skillful employment, the bedrock of high pay. The current government’s policies have missed that mark by a wide margin.
I had the privilege of hosting pre-budget consultations across the riding this January. In addition to drug coverage and labour reforms, residents highlighted the challenges they face when accessing key health services such as specialist follow-up and long-term care just to mention a few. Rural education and rural infrastructure, including reliable internet services, also featured prominently. Rural Ontario deserves as much attention as the large urban areas of Ottawa and the GTHA. Our growth and sustainability help build the agricultural and industrial economic engine that can propel Ontario forward. Governments of any stripe must heed our advice.