This week at Queen’s Park
by MPP Jim McDonell
This past year started with a large increase to the minimum wage, which may have raised the income of some, but also eroded the buying power of all, especially those on minimum wage and fixed incomes. As forecast, many jobs were lost, as businesses were forced to cut back or close. Our government has since addressed some of the concerns by eliminating provincial income tax for those making less than $30,000 a year, and not moving forward with the 2019 planned increase to the minimum wage.
Once again, I took the opportunity in January to hear our residents during pre-budget consultations. Residents highlighted challenges such as drug coverage, labour reforms, wait times for health-care specialists and long-term care beds, and concerns over rural education and infrastructure.
In February, my party pressed the Liberal government to reexamine how they deal with the business sector. Job-creating advocates had severe concerns about the viability of small- and medium-sized businesses. The government was pressed to reduce energy and employment costs, as well as regulatory requirements that were causing excessive start-up delays. This was borne out with a record-breaking loss of 51,000 jobs in January.
March was an exciting time for the Progressive Conservatives as we welcomed Doug Ford as our new party and Official Opposition Leader. The opposition criticized the government on its lack of strategic planning, which in turn increased the deficit and doubled our debt.
Also in March, Auditor-General Bonnie Lysyk exposed the Liberal government’s dire financial picture, showing the government’s annual deficit would actually be $4-5 billion higher than forecast.
The legislature rose in early May to allow MPP’s and candidates to campaign for the provincial election in June. After a well-organized effort by my team, I was grateful and proud to be elected for a third term in a new PC majority government.
Our new government was sworn in later that month, and I was honoured to accept the post as Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Steve Clark.
The Throne Speech revealed the government’s priorities, such as ending the York University strike, removing cap and trade, and canceling approximately 800 wind and solar projects that would result in even high electricity prices. We quickly reformed Hydro One’s management and board to turn the page in order to provide relief for consumers.
As we quickly resumed the Legislature, our new government took swift action in creating a Commission of Inquiry. A team of auditors scoured the previous government’s spending practices and waste. The extraordinary summer session continued with the introduction of the Cap and Trade Cancellation Act. The government also continued its efforts to reel in violence, highlighted by the Toronto shootings in July, with a $25M commitment to the Toronto Police Service.
Come September our government “rolled up its sleeves” to live up to its promise of action by introducing numerous bills that show we are serious about making Ontario “Open For Business.” An important piece of this commitment was presented via The Better Local Government Act that improved and streamlined the capabilities of municipalities. Our government fulfilled its election commitments by holding consultations on education and the introduction of the Green Energy Repeal Act and Access to Natural Gas.
In a strong symbolic gesture in October, the Premier commissioned the signature blue and white Ontario signage at international highway border crossings to proclaim that we are “Open For Business.”
In November, more bad news was received with the announced closure of the Oshawa GM plant. This unfortunate situation exemplified the need for our government to reduce costs for businesses to ensure that people have access to good paying jobs. I personally committed to this philosophy by introducing the Organic Products Act to harmonize organic certification regulations in Ontario to match the federal requirements. It will give both producers and consumers greater confidence when they invest in and purchase Ontario’s organic foods.
The results of our line-by-line audit revealed some startling realities of Ontario’s financial situation. In our Fall Economic Statement, we brought in $3.2 billion of efficiencies, including the reorganization of the five independent officers of the Legislature under the Offices of the Ontario Ombudsman and Auditor General. This action included the movement of the French Languages Services Commissioner, and all its employees, into the Ombudsman Office, as referenced in the Bill, without loss of position or jobs. We were clear to emphasize that these officers will enjoy the increased powers of the Ombudsman’s office while controlling costs.
In December, the Auditor-General reported more bad news in her annual report as she revealed that the previous government was spending $40 million more per day than it was collecting. Clearly, this could not continue, or it would jeopardize our already strained health and social services and education programs. Our Christmas break was cut short to deal with a strike notice at Ontario Power Generation, which supplies approximately 50 percent of Ontario’s electricity through its nuclear, hydroelectric, thermal, and wind facilities. With the support of the Liberal and Green Party members, our government passed Bill 67, the Labour Relations Amendment Act (Protecting Ontario’s Power Supply) against the will of the NDP Official Opposition. Without the passing of Bill 67, safety protocols would have required the shutdown of Ontario’s nuclear reactors, our main source of power, to commence the following day. Once the shutdown procedure started, it would take more than a week to regain the lost power, forcing brownouts and power outages, affecting our residents and businesses during our coldest time of the year.
I’m looking forward to enjoying the Christmas season with family, friends, and neighbours. I want to take this opportunity to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and the very best in the New Year. Have a safe and happy time with family and friends.