This Week In Queen’s Park
By Jim McDonell
This week, the government took bold action to stop federal intrusion onto provincial affairs and Ontarians’ pockets by launching a constitutional challenge against the federal carbon pricing law. With provincial support for carbon taxes crumbling, the federal government has begun admitting its initiative harms Canadians’ job prospects. It is time for the carbon tax era to end. To that end, Ontario will launch its own constitutional challenge at the Ontario Court of Appeal and intervene at the proceedings currently underway at the Court of Appeal in Saskatchewan. We expect the costs to be lower than the $30 million we promised to set aside for the purpose, and will minimize costs by using the same legal resources and knowledge in both appeals. As Canadians realized carbon pricing was never about the environment, but about increasing government revenues, we can anticipate more provinces joining forces to quash the federal initiative once and for all. All this after a report by the Auditor General that Ontario’s huge tax grab would have a negligible impact on carbon emissions.
The Legislative agenda was dominated by the government’s legislation cancelling cap-and-trade, as well as the introduction and debate of municipal reform legislation that reduces the size and cost of municipal government in the GTA. When passed, the Better Local Government Act (Bill 5) will reduce the size of Toronto City Council from 47 to 25 members, bringing municipal representation levels in line with other levels of government. The move will save $25 million for Toronto taxpayers and will enable the city to get key priority policy areas moving, such as addressing housing backlogs, improving transit and fixing crumbling infrastructure. I was proud to rise in the legislature to speak to the bill during our government’s lead-off address.
The government also got to work on fixing the patchwork of social assistance schemes left behind by the previous government. Ontarians are faced with a system where social workers spend most of their time filling out paperwork rather that serving clients, and almost half of Ontario Works clients who leave the system are back on it within a year. Previously, the Auditor-General highlighted how only a minuscule fraction of Ontarians who underwent training through Employment Ontario programs actually found full-time work, let alone in the field they trained for. Ontarians deserve better, and the basic income pilot project was not the answer they needed. Expanding the program would have meant raising the HST by six or seven percentage points, something we could never afford. We will wind down the pilot program compassionately and gradually. At the same time, we gave ourselves 100 days to find real solutions for our social assistance system that will ensure clients can find the support, work and dignity they deserve. Compassion and effectiveness are measured by how well the system lifts its clients out of poverty permanently. As Ontarians and experts are consulted to deliver a system that achieves that aim, we have introduced a 1.5% across-the-board increase in our social assistance rates to help address cost of living increases.
I joined our team in promising to govern for all Ontarians and to secure a better future for our Province. I will persevere in helping deliver that outcome.