This week at Queen’s Park — September 30, 2016

by Jim McDonell, MPP

The week’s most impactful and shocking news came not from Toronto, but Brockville, where Upper Canada District School Board was to begin considering a staff report that, if implemented, would cause over 30 schools in the Board’s district, most of them rural, to close their doors and their students bused across much greater distances to continue their primary and secondary education. The community, officials and trustees themselves were flabbergasted by the scale of the cuts and the short time given to the community to come to terms with the reality that the local, quality schools our communities built and treasure are on the chopping block.

A final decision is not due until March 2017, and the Board intends to hold consultation meetings with the community. While community opposition is guaranteed to be strong and vocal, the current Government quietly amended the Pupil Accommodation Review Guidelines (PARGs) to remove mandatory considerations of a school’s value to the community and to the local economy from Board decisions. This is a fight we must take up on two fronts at once. We must preserve rural schools that allow communities to thrive and retain residents, and at the same time we must mount a strong lobbying effort to force the Government to re-introduce the values of benefiting the community and benefiting the local economy into the PARGs. I have launched a petition to that effect that you can sign online athttp://bit.ly/2ddXF1c

 In Queen’s Park the Government used their majority power to cut debate on Bill 13, the Energy Rebate Act. They have come to the realization that Ontarians aren’t buying their marketing, and that quadrupling hydro rates since they came to office will not be atoned for with a flimsy 8% HST rebate, especially when a rate hike on November 1st and Cap-and-Trade charged on January 1st will more than wipe these savings away. The Liberal Government is embarrassed by its record and the longer the issue is before the Legislature, the longer the emptiness of their promises is exposed.

 Furthermore, the Government announced the cancellation of the second stage of Large Renewable Procurement contracts, admitting these over-paid producers were driving up hydro rates. This announcement doesn’t help our area, though, since projects such as Nation Rise were approved under the previous batch of procurement and are still slated to proceed. North Stormont is an unwilling host community – a Government with integrity and common sense would have cancelled contracts in those communities first and foremost. I will continue fighting to cancel these uneconomic energy projects.

 Time-allocating the Bill and announcing wind cancellations did not help, though. Our Leader, Patrick Brown, my PC Caucus colleagues and I peppered the Government with examples of hydro horror stories from our ridings, bringing the message that Ontarians are truly suffering from skyrocketing hydro prices and are facing real hardship. You can find a video of my question here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L54E87H0oDY

 The PC Caucus brought an Opposition Day Motion to the table, calling on the Government to stop selling shares of Hydro One and commit to signing no more unaffordable wind and solar contracts. The Government voted against the motion, showing that they still don’t get it: selling off a valuable public asset and overpaying for electricity we don’t need brings misery, not green energy.

 The Legislature began debate on Bill 7, aimed at increasing affordable housing in Ontario. We are concerned this will be a repeat of 2010, when the Government launched another affordable housing strategy, whose success was to be measured and reported on an annual basis. Six years later, we have not seen a single report and 20,000 more families are waiting for affordable housing than did in 2010. Today, we see a new strategy and more nice words about housing, but no action. Meanwhile, the stock of rental housing has not matched the growth of the market and private landlords are discouraged from renting due to the difficulty of dealing with bad tenants. There is a way to make housing more affordable for all, without Government money: build more to raise supply. Regulation and taxation, however, make this option less and less appealing to investors.

 Instead of destroying private supply and “fixing” the problem with taxpayers’ money (as the Government is doing with childcare), the Government should focus on fostering an active, thriving, energetic economy. Regulatory and fiscal stifling amounts to micro-management from ministry bureaucrats in Toronto – it is a surefire way to drive businesses and jobs out of the Province, making us all suffer. If only the Government understood this basic principle, our Province would have taken a gigantic step towards prosperity.

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