The Wynne government released its latest budget on Thursday, and it is disappointing to say the least.
The first thing that struck me was the Liberal Government’s continued refusal to stop the sale of Hydro One. Their reasoning is disturbingly clear: the Liberals are using the one-time proceeds from the sale of Hydro One to balance the government’s books. Even worse, the Government has lost over a billion dollars of revenue; these funds are now going to private investors who have bought 30% of Hydro One shares. Going forward, this revenue will continue to be lost every year to private interests, instead of funding the programs and services that Ontario taxpayers rely on. While the Government has proposed to lower the hydro rates by decreasing delivery charges, this plan is funded by the taxpayer through Government borrowing. Ultimately, you and I will continue pay the full hydro bill and resulting interest on this Government’s debts. Instead of addressing the overwhelming number of administrative policy problems that led to the current energy crisis, the Government has implemented a “quick fix” to solve their political problems.
Many families in Ontario are finding it harder and harder to make ends meet, due to chronic underfunding of necessary Government services. Premier Wynne missed her chance to turn things around in this budget; instead, Ontario’s hospitals have been cut to the bone. There have been many nursing jobs cut and surgeries delayed due to diminished healthcare access and funding shortfalls. Patients are being kept in hallways, as there are not enough actual beds and rooms for them to stay in – nor is there enough healthcare staff to provide the needed support. This budget increases the operational funding for Ontario Hospitals by 3%. Due to the effects of a 2% increase in annual inflation, this results in a minor funding increase of only 1% to Ontario hospitals. Taking into account Northern Ontario’s aging population, it is impossible to calculate how such a small increase in hospital funding will accommodate the healthcare needs of the ill and elderly.
The budget announces a pharmacare program for Ontarians ages 24 and under. There has been some speculation that the Liberal Government was forced into hastily rolling out a pharmacare plan in reaction to the recent NDP announcement. The NDP has promised to implement a universal pharmacare program for everyone under age 65 upon forming Government. Despite announcing their new, age- limited pharmacare plan in the budget speech, there was no budget allotment of costs in the Government’s accompanying financial documents. As fewer and fewer people have healthcare benefits, and many cannot afford to pay for prescriptions, it is increasingly urgent that people get solid pharmacare coverage. The problem with the Government’s plan is that most families will still be left without protection. With many people beginning their families later in life, primary wage earners over the age of 24 will not be covered by the Government’s new pharmacare strategy. Again, this appears to a frantic political fix, instead of a well-planned program for the benefit of all.
The budget was especially disappointing for Northern and rural Ontario. The Ministry of Northern Development and Mines is a huge proponent of Northern Ontario economic development, through support for new investors in the mining sector, and handling of critical services for unorganized townships (eg. services boards); it will suffer a cut of $70.3 million dollars. The $37.4 million dollar cuts to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry are particularly disturbing, as the forest industry is under threat from increased American trade tariffs on softwood lumber. The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, which already operates with limited resources in Northern Ontario, is being cut by a further $47.1 million. The Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund has been frozen. As a result, municipalities won’t have any increase to the funding they desperately need to keep up with the ever-mounting costs of services previously downloaded by the Province, including road maintenance, policing, social services, and vital emergency services.
It feels like the North was forgotten when the Government wrote this budget. For the first time since I have represented Timiskaming-Cochrane as MPP, the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission was not even mentioned, nor was the Ring of Fire development; the Ring of Fire has the potential to be a huge economic driver of our region, and the ONTC has been a significant employer of our labour force. One of the few mentions of the North in the budget referred to an increase in the Northern Ontario Health Travel Grant to cover more overnight stays for people going outside of their communities for medical services. Judging from this budget, the Wynne Government completely fails to understand the fundamental importance of the North’s valuable, resource-based economy to the success of this Province.
Overall, the economy of the province is improving but only the major urban centers are benefitting, and the outlying areas are being left behind. Instead of uniting the Ontario, the Wynne Government seems intent on tearing it apart.