As each year draws to a close, we often take the time to reflect on the past year’s important milestones. As your Provincial representative at Queen’s Park, it has been a tumultuous and frustrating legislative session.
The soaring cost of electricity has been the main focus of discussion and debate both in the Legislative Assembly and in our riding. Many Northerners have reached the tipping point due to high electricity costs and are being forced to choose between paying for hydro or other necessary expenses, such as prescription medications and groceries. The Wynne Government finally reacted by removing the Provincial HST from hydro bills, a policy that the NDP had advanced for years, but at this point it is too little too late. The Wynne Government’s decision to sell Hydro One will result in higher prices and less service for rural areas. The NDP will continue to push the Government for real action on lowering electricity rates and to stop the sale of Hydro One.
Health care is always an important issue in the riding and at Queen’s Park. The Wynne Government has passed Bill 41 – The Patients First Act, that will change how the health care system is administered, especially in the delivery of home care where the Community Care Access Centers (CCAC) will be eliminated and the Local Health Integration Networks (LHIN) will assume responsibility. The legislation has many shortcomings and the deciding factor which caused the NDP to vote against Bill 41 was the focus on increased administration and lack of overall content addressing direct front-line health care. A prime example of the Government’s lack of attention to patient focused health care happened early in 2016 when they attempted to raise the deductible on prescriptions for seniors. The NDP worked in partnership with seniors groups and organizations to force the Wynne Government to reverse that decision.
Winter road maintenance continues to be a high priority in our riding and my staff receives many calls weekly that identify concerns. In the follow-up document to her original report entitled, Winter Highway Maintenance, Bonnie Lysyk, the Auditor General of Ontario, identified several on-going issues that validated concerns put forward in a brief that we provided to her office in April. The design of the Government contracts forced companies to underbid to be awarded the work. This caused compliancy issues for the contractors so some companies have chosen to cancel their involvement in the highway maintenance process. We will continue to work with MTO, the OPP, and current highway road maintenance contractors in our riding to ensure roads are safe and well maintained.
Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) wildlife management continued to be an issue this year. Regarding the moose situation, the main issues are the decline in the overall population of moose in the region, the number of tags allotted, and the number of moose harvested. The spring bear hunt pilot project announcement was well received but hidden restrictions have rendered the program less effective in maintaining the bear population and have added a level of concern for outfitters and tourist camps as the out-of-province harvest is being severely limited and will affect the hunting tourism trade.
There are many other issues that affect different parts of the riding from Municipal tax problems to road access and everything in between. I have tried to mention the most relevant issues that affect everyone. On behalf of myself, my family and my staff, it has been an honour to serve the constituents of Timiskaming-Cochrane and we look forward to working with you in 2017.
John Vanthof, MPP Timiskaming-Cochrane