This Week in Queen’s Park
By Jim McDonell
The legislative session wrapped up this week with more controversy over the government’s 2018 budget. Over the course of the parliamentary year, the government repeatedly promised Ontarians a balanced budget, however it backtracked on this commitment right before the June election.
During Question Period, MPP Vic Fedeli relayed the concerns of Ontario’s credit agencies in the House, and challenged the Premier on the government’s fiscal plan. He stated that when Ontario’s credit rating agencies saw the 2018 budget, they gave a stark warning. The planned return to deficits is “credit negative” as it will raise borrowing requirements, adding to Ontario’s already elevated debt burden. The government is gambling away our future on an election win.
This budget is more a strategic campaign platform than an accurate representation of revenues and expenditures for the next fiscal year. Numerous spending promises have been made however, the reality is that new initiatives like the universal dental plan will only provide a fraction of the funding that is needed to extend access to those who need it most. For instance, parents and caregivers would be entitled to just $50 per year to cover basic dental work for their child.
In 2012 the Association of Ontario Health Centres found that there were almost 58,000 visits to emergency rooms for dental reasons, meaning these Ontarians had no access to preventive dental care. The government knew of the issue at least since then, and overall had 15 years to find a solution, yet choose to act only two months before an election. What drives the government’s announcements – an epiphany to Ontarians’ needs or a sudden need for popularity?
The electricity file was also front and centre with the sentencing of former Premier’s chief of staff, David Livingston. He was convicted of ordering the erasure of key information concerning the gas plant scandal on at least 20 computers in government offices. Justice Timothy Lipson noted, “His conduct was an affront to and an attack upon democratic institutions and values. An attempt to tamper with the democratic process requires a strong denunciatory response.” Mr. Livingston received a four month jail sentence. The real loser in this fiasco is the Ontario taxpayer who is out over $1 billion and this government did all it could to hide much of the details.
The government was also forced to address the lack of transparency in the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA). I challenged the Minister of Government and Consumer Services regarding the Authority’s inadequate record keeping on safety inspections. A recent CBC report revealed that consumers are often unable to get basic inspection information from the TSSA. It is clear that the TSSA regards itself to be above elementary accountability norms. As we have stated repeatedly, the government allowed an arms-length agency to operate without any formal oversight. Everyone is aware that safety should always be a priority. Yet we can’t have confidence in our safety if the agency responsible for it has no accountability and transparency. It is time for change.
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