by MPP Jim McDonell
Last week farmers and agriculture industry members gathered for the annual International Plowing Match in Wellington County, and I was pleased to join my PC Caucus colleagues in welcoming all visitors and participants to this celebration of our Province’s outstanding agricultural heritage. The Plowing Match serves both as a reminder of the importance of agriculture to our economies and as a valuable opportunity to exchange information, expertise and know-how. Over the years, events such as the IPM have fostered innovation and progress in the agriculture industry.
The Plowing Match was also an opportunity for all MPPs, including the Premier and ministers, to come face to face with issues affecting rural Ontario. Skyrocketing hydro rates took centre stage on that front, and for good reason. Living, working and farming in rural Ontario is becoming less and less affordable due to this Government’s continued pursuit of failed energy policies whereby ratepayers are forced to overpay for electricity they don’t need, which we then off-load to our neighbours for pennies on the dollar. We can’t continue subsidizing industrial and residential ratepayers in Quebec, New York, Michigan, Ohio and other jurisdictions that benefit from our energy mistakes. The Ontario agriculture and agri-food industry is the largest employer in the Province, providing us with safe, nutritious, quality food on a daily basis. It is time the Premier listened to those who feed the cities that elect her.
In Queen’s Park, I was pleased to present a motion for Private Members’ Business calling on the Government to guarantee the reinstatement of a driver’s license suspended for medical reasons in five business days, against the current unreasonable 30 business day waiting period. Medical professionals can report to MTO that a person is likely to not be safe on the road. In these cases, MTO suspends the license on almost a moment’s notice – this is called public safety and is an essential step in keeping our roads safe. When the driver is re-evaluated by a qualified physician or other medical professionals (such as an optometrist, depending on the condition), they submit the documents proving their fitness to drive to MTO and wait for the Medical Review Section to approve the report. This, today, can take up to six weeks, or thirty business days. In areas such as Cornwall and SDSG, driving isn’t an option – it is a necessity. Six weeks without a license can cost a local worker their job. Caregivers and family members can’t drive elderly or sick patients to medical appointments and single-driver families can’t access basic life necessities such as groceries. The Ministry’s delay is not rooted in regulation, legislation or public safety policy – it is just a tangible testimony to their lack of sensitivity to the challenges faced by rural Ontarians caught in a medical suspension. My motion was clear: if it takes hours to suspend a license, a week is more than enough to re-instate it and the Government should guarantee this level of service. The Government decided to listen and allowed the motion to carry unanimously in the Legislature – there was no need for a recorded vote. Frustrated drivers aren’t out of the woods yet – we need to maintain the pressure on the Government to implement the will of the Legislature, but the first, essential step has been taken.
The video of the debate is posted on my website at www.jimmcdonellmpp.ca/videos
In the Legislature, the PC Caucus and I voted against the Throne Speech, which promised no relief for Ontarians struggling with unemployment, high electricity rates and a growing cost of living. The Government’s majority, however, ensured that Premier Wynne survived this first confidence vote of the new session.
The House also began debate on Bills 2 and 13, dealing with election finance reform and energy rates. I have already written at length about the election finance reform bill – a law written by the Liberals behind closed doors after they got caught handing out taxpayer-funded grants and renewable energy contracts to high-stakes donors. It has become a law designed to hobble the opposition’s fundraising efforts while maintaining the Government’s ability to fundraise abundantly due to the influence every Government staffer has in a Ministry.
Bill 13 is designed to implement the electricity rebate promised in the Throne Speech. Taking the 8% provincial HST portion off a hydro bill will not help Ontarians who have seen their rates quadruple since the current Government took office. Our bills are skyrocketing because of the Liberal Governments mismanagement of the energy file and it’s time for them to stop signing unaffordable and unnecessary renewable energy contracts for electricity we don’t need. Our Leader, Patrick Brown, has filed an Opposition Day Motion to be debated on Tuesday, calling upon the Government to stop connecting over-paid wind and solar generators to the grid when demand for electricity is falling. It is quite simple, the Government has driven the cost of our once bargain-priced electricity to a point where Ontarians are choosing between food and heat and businesses are closing down or moving out.
I expect Bills 2 and 13 to take up most of this sessional week as well. I will continue to fight to bring sanity to our Province’s energy policy. The future of our workers, innovators, employers and all Ontarians is at stake.