Last Week at Queen’s Park (March 27)
by MPP Jim McDonell
I was very disappointed to see the decision to close R-O Secondary, North Stormont Public and SJ McLeod schools. Like the hundreds of other closures across the province, their demise was not a result of poor performance, but to cuts in education funding and changes in regulations put in place by this government that gave school boards few options. I want to commend the parents, community leaders and the public who stepped up and put in the countless hours required by this flawed process. This is the second round of school closures in under ten years, and more will come if we don’t review how all government services are delivered, including education, outside of the major centres. We debated such a motion just a few weeks ago, and while the government talked of supporting rural schools, at the end of the debate, they voted against them.
The agri-food industry, supported by rural Ontario, is arguably the number one employer in Ontario and has been challenged by this Premier to lead the province in job creation. Over the past number of years, we have seen a hollowing out of provincial services outside of major urban areas. Our residents, particularly seniors, are forced to drive to Ottawa for driving assessments. We have lost many provincial services, including access to health services and those provided by Service Ontario, our agricultural college and other educational institutions and services. When you add this to the closure of almost all of our rural community stores and many of our industries, it makes growth very difficult, if not impossible. As an example, a few years ago when we were looking at hosting the student athletic games in Cornwall and area, we were told that we lacked the appropriate facilities. This government is quick to force its wind and solar farms on us, but will not support the infrastructure and reforms needed to allow us to grow and succeed.
The government’s media machine roared into action over the past couple of weeks, releasing a barrage of internet and radio ads promoting the new hydro plan, which amounts to temporary relief paid for by mortgaging our grandchildren’s’ future. Taxpayers should be furious as the government changed the rules two years ago to strip the Auditor-General of the power to block such blatant self-promotion on the taxpayer’s dime. Then, as a final blow to Ontario’s taxpayers, their staff people were out last week handing out Liberal party flyers at subway stops, heralding the merits of the 17% cut plan that is still waiting to be tabled. Anyone crunching the numbers will find that the 17% rate cut will add $25 billion in interest payable after the next election. The cost of the waste and mismanagement of this government will hurt generations of Ontarians to come. These latest ads are being paid for through the cuts in health care, education and local services. It’s time to say, enough is enough.
In the House, we began debating Bill 96, the Anti Human Trafficking Act, which will implement new measures to combat this dreadful crime that blights our communities and deprives its victims of safety, health, dignity and life. Bill 92, the School Boards Collective Bargaining Act, returned to the House for Third Reading. Our concerns remain the same: mandatory centralized bargaining in the education sector risks ignoring local realities that make the needs of each Board different. We also began debating Bill 65, the Safer School Zones Act, which appears to be a back door way of re-introducing photo radar. Municipalities are already lining up to declare expressways and highways as “community safety zones” in order to install photo radars – clearly showing this Bill is not about children’s safety at all. The government must define much more clearly what is and what isn’t a “community safety zone” and only then will Bill 65 stop being a “photo radar anywhere” bill and be about children’s safety.
On Thursday we debated three private members’ bills. My colleague’s MPP Todd Smith’s proposal to allow individual realtors to incorporate, reducing their tax disadvantage compared to larger brokerages, was agreed to. So was a proposal by MPP Lou Rinaldi to proclaim Craft Beer Week in Ontario. MPP John Yakabuski demanded fairness for rural municipalities whose residents pay gas taxes but don’t see a cent of them back from the provincial government. For years we have seen the Ontario Municipal Partnership Funding for rural and small urban municipalities cut by this government and it is time for us to get fair funding outside of the large urban cities. I joined my colleagues in supporting him – the government and NDP voted us down.