Jim McDonell: Back to work at Queen’s Park

TORONTO – The Legislature is back at work for its final session before the June 7th election, following a winter recess during which I enjoyed meeting many of our residents, hearing their concerns and attending community events.

My colleagues and I continue pressing the government on job creation and creating a good business environment. During province-wide pre-budget consultations, several job-creator advocacy groups, such as the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business came forward with severe concerns regarding the viability of small and medium-sized businesses in Ontario. The reasons have been clear for some time. High energy costs are becoming a strong incentive for large power consumers to relocate or close their doors. Rising employment costs are squeezing the budgets of smaller businesses struggling to stay afloat.

The regulatory compliance and reporting requirements imposed on businesses grow, despite the government’s recent initiatives marketed as red tape reduction efforts. Moreover, it takes months to clear a government approvals process. At the Ministry of the Environment, six months seems to be an appropriate timeframe to assign a file number, let alone examine an application. A large auto parts manufacturer in the GTA was forced to abandon Ontario expansion plans after years of bureaucratic dithering and instead expanded their plant in Mexico,  or they would have lost a major contract.

The government must realize that businesses deserve an environment where they are seen as partners in building prosperity, rather than money bags to be dipped into. We need to create an economic environment where entrepreneurs and success are encouraged, not viewed with suspicion and punished through taxes, fees, paperwork and frustrating delays. It is a simple concept, yet one the current government seems unable to grasp. Unfortunately  our worst fears were realized with the January job numbers; Ontario lost a record breaking 51,000 jobs.

In the house, the government introduced legislation to limit certain American companies’ ability to bid on Ontario procurement contracts, if their state imposed a “Buy American” policy. Competitive procurement is one of the foundations of good and accountable governance.

My colleagues and I understand the frustration of Ontario employers who see their rightful access to US contracts barred, without a corresponding bar to American competitors in our home market. This understanding must be tempered with the realization that protectionism never works in the long run, and consumers and taxpayers lose out as a result.

Moreover, our country is still engaged in delicate negotiations with our US and Mexican NAFTA counterparts, and this initiative is unlikely to make such negotiations any easier. International trade, and disputes arising from it, should be an area where we defer to the federal government for leadership, particularly when we risk a major spat.

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