This month at Queen’s Park
by Jim McDonell, MPP
As the first signs of spring heat up, so does our government’s pursuit of fostering a more prosperous province that will be ‘For the People.’
Our government took a big stride to improve our education system this month when Education Minister Lisa Thompson released our government’s plan, Education that Works for You. Our valuable schools and programs need protecting so that we will serve students and their families now and into the future by modernizing our classrooms and curriculum. The plan was formulated through the largest consultation ever held in our province, with students, parents, and stakeholders. We listened, and we are taking the necessary steps to have stronger STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and financial literacy, and a modern health and physical education program that is age-appropriate. Over 97 percent of the respondents highlighted a need to restrict cell phone use, and we followed through with a classroom ban. There was speculation by critics that our government was planning to eliminate full-time kindergarten; however, this is not the case. We will maintain class sizes from kindergarten up to Grade 4, while Grades 5 to 8 will see class sizes increase by less than one student per class. Secondary class size will conform more closely to other Canadian jurisdictions.
Our government is moving to build a better and more modernized community structure that includes our roads, bridges, recreational buildings, water and wastewater treatment plants, and other necessary infrastructure. We are living up to our commitment to help municipalities by releasing our government’s $30 billion infrastructure funding program. I am happy to see that our smaller municipalities in our riding of Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry will benefit early through the Rural and Northern stream of this funding. The program is cost-shared with all three levels of government and will help address our serious infrastructure deficit while creating needed jobs. The City of Cornwall also received good news that it qualifies for $13.2 million in federal and provincial funding for qualifying transit projects over the next 10 years.
The February job report highlighted that Ontario was the only province to see a significant positive change, with the addition of 36,900 new jobs. Making Ontario open for business has been a priority for our government, and we trust that the almost 80,000 new jobs created so far this year is just a sign of better days ahead.
After our municipal consultations, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Steve Clark, announced one-time funding to help small rural municipalities improve how they deliver services and reduce their ongoing costs. SDSG received $3.8 million of new funding under this program.
We continue to work with families regarding the needs of their children with autism. Minister Lisa MacLeod reaffirms that she is committed to clear the waitlist for 23,000 children over the next 18 months. She also announced that children with OAP behaviour plans before April 1 will now be eligible for an additional six months of therapy. We have removed the income test component of the Childhood Budgets, and continue to consult with all stakeholders to best address the needs of children on the autism spectrum.
Our government continues to oppose the federal carbon tax. Agriculture Minister Ernie Hardeman has pledged to help our farmers deal with this uncompetitive tax, for the price of most agricultural goods are set in the U.S. where this tax does not exist. Our farmers already deal with higher fuel, electricity, and property taxes, as well as expensive regulations, and it is just not fair. April 1st also marks the end of Ontario’s Drive-Clean program. The Auditor-General had reported that the program had out-lived its usefulness and had become an expensive tax on Ontario drivers.
This week, Energy Minister Greg Rickford introduced our government’s Fixing the Hydro Mess Act, to lift the burden of escalating electricity rates off the backs of Ontarians. Our plan will find savings of up to $442 million, make the Ontario Energy Board more efficient and accountable, anchor electricity bills to the rate of inflation, save billions in borrowing costs from the failed Liberal Fair Hydro Plan, and replace it with a new transparent rebate on consumers’ bills.
Next month Finance Minister Vic Fedeli will be tabling our government’s first-ever budget. After consultations with many stakeholders throughout ridings across the province, Minister Fedeli will attempt to restore the trust, transparency, and responsibility that our residents demand from their government. The budget will be the blueprint for reducing Ontario’s deficit of $13.5 billion and wrestling control of the massive debt, tripled by the previous Liberal governments.