Electricity and education among top issues

Last week at Queen’s Park (Oct. 22)

by Jim McDonell, MPP

Electricity issues took centre stage at Queen’s Park this week, as the government tried to fight off questions and revelations on no less than three fronts. First, it was revealed that only a fraction of eligible spots in the Ontario Electricity Support Program have been filled to date, despite many families facing economic hardship due to rising hydro bills.  The government trumpets the little help OESP recipients are entitled to as one of their relief measures from hydro rates that have quadrupled since they took office; however, they can’t even make the effort to fill the program. I continue to encourage all residents of Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry to either visit www.ontarioelectricitysupport.ca or contact our local United Way in order to apply for this program.

Meanwhile, the media reported that the Government directed almost three quarters of the $12 million spent on the OESP so far to consultants rather than struggling Ontarians. This is far from the first time this Government chose consultants’ fees over helping Ontarians, as the situation in the Ontera sale, where consultants’ fees exceeded the total sale price of the agency by $500,000. The consultants’ fees could have delivered the basic OESP monthly bill rebate to over 21,000 Ontario families for a whole year.  The PC Caucus and I have questioned the government as to how and why this was allowed to happen. So far, we haven’t had an answer.

Lastly, the Government lost a tribunal case against Windstream, a wind development company whose large project was cancelled by the government when it turned out they were in danger of losing a riding in the next election.  The company was awarded a $28 million penalty, which will be paid, inevitably, by ratepayers through the Global Adjustment. As on previous occasions with this government, the public picks up the tab for their politically-motivated decisions.

The Legislature will soon return to a full slate of MPPs with the calling of by-elections in Niagara West-Glanbrook and Ottawa-Vanier, whose announcement coincided with the promise of a freeze on hydro rates on November 1st. This is unlikely to be a coincidence: the government lost a safe seat over hydro rates in Scarborough-Rouge River and can’t afford to lose another one in Vanier over the same issue. Ontarians, however, should be cautious: hydro has not been an issue for an out-of-touch Premier Wynne until voters hit her in the only place it can truly hurt her – her majority. Signed contracts must be paid, so freezing hydro rates can only be temporary and will do nothing for those Ontarians who have already seen their bills skyrocket and who face energy poverty today. Hydro rates have moved beyond politics and into the realm of pure human decency:  we need strong, decisive, and consistent action to bring them down. The government chooses band-aid solutions instead, such as a meagre 8% HST rebate, $35 off from bills totalling into the hundreds or thousands of dollars, and a freeze on already quadrupled rates. When your house is cracking, you don’t reach for the duct tape.

Back in May I helped bring to light a pattern of questionable appointments by the then-Minister of Government and Consumer Services, David Orazietti, who ignored public service recommendations for consumer advocate appointments to certain professional boards under his mandate.  Instead, he wished to appoint an ineligible individual from his riding.  The Integrity Commissioner released his report into the matter today at noon. The report details a pattern of ambiguous communication between the Minister’s political office and the public service, as well a breakdown of the appropriate application process for such positions. Moreover, the key staff member in the Minister’s office who appears to have played the major role in this misunderstanding was no longer working for the Minister at the time of his questioning and claimed to have no access to his e-mail records anymore. The Commissioner and I may be willing to take all interviewees at their word; however, the lack of records is just the “same old” issue given the current Government’s habit of deleting, misplacing, and hiding documents – documents that should be available to the public.  Where is the transparency and accountability?

In the House, we debated bills concerning healthcare administration and professional discipline for teachers and educators.

Bill 37, titled the Protecting Students Act, alters the way the Ontario College of Teachers disciplines members found guilty of sexual abuse or use of child pornography by making it mandatory to revoke a teacher’s certificate in those circumstances rather than leaving it to the discretion of the Discipline Committee. Over the years, discipline proceedings at the College have given the public cause for concern and created an impression of leniency and secrecy within the professional regulator. Bill 37 specifies which accusations can be resolved internally through dispute resolution and which have to be heard publicly, especially those cases involving criminal and misconduct allegations.  The PC Caucus and I look forward to the committee stage of this bill, which will happen much sooner than expected due to the Government forcing a time-allocation motion through and cutting debate on the Bill short.

Bill 41, on the other hand, bears the title “Patients First”, yet when read and understood, puts patients dead last. The government created the LHIN administrative behemoths which have imposed barriers to patients receiving the healthcare they need, including surgeries and follow-up care. For instance, a Cornwall patient will have difficulty accessing a surgery in Kingston and follow-up care close to home because of an artificial barrier between LHINs. With Bill 41, the government prioritizes bureaucracy and top-down management in the health system by creating even more administrative bodies and giving bureaucrats who are completely removed from local realities the power to decide how, where, and how many services are delivered. I have always contended that good healthcare means placing our trust in local physicians and hospitals, who know the community’s needs and can therefore better plan to meet them. If Bill 41 passes, the current pattern of government waste, slow but painful cuts to essential services, stagnating hospital budgets forcing layoffs and bed closures, and increasing public frustration will only gain traction. This is why the PC Caucus and I oppose this bill.  It will not put patients first.

Next week, I expect the planned closure of dozens of public schools in our riding to continue stirring the community and bringing residents out to public meetings and rallies in support of high-quality, local rural education. Residents of Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry have created a unified front opposing the closures, which would force rural students into lengthy bus commutes to schools filled above capacity, affecting their time with their families, their access to extra-curricular activities, and their overall achievement. This is clearly a bad deal for parents, students and the community at large. The public consultation meetings held by Upper Canada District School Board should be heavily attended by all those concerned. Only through full engagement can we deliver an obvious message to the Board: our local schools are pillars of our communities and contribute to maintaining a thriving and vibrant rural environment. Preserving them is in everyone’s interest.



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