The release of the Auditor-General’s Annual Report offered Ontarians another opportunity to evaluate whether their money was being spent responsibly by the current government.
The report detailed how the Ministry of Transportation and Metrolinx mishandled road building, repair and maintenance contracts, throwing good money after bad. For instance, a contractor managed to build a bridge support beam upside down, after which Metrolinx awarded them yet another contract. The Auditor found that the Ministry of Transportation paid for repairing brand new roads that were under warranty, and should have been repaired for free. Meanwhile Ontarians visiting hospitals only have a 50-50 chance of being seen within 4 hours, and some have been made to wait 23 before being triaged and assigned to a ward. Surgeries have had to be cancelled, moved or rescheduled because hospitals aren’t funded enough to keep their operating rooms properly staffed and running during evenings and weekends. Children and youth who need mental health support often can’t access the right services because the Ministry doesn’t fund community programs based on the actual documented need for them, but by simply rolling over historical funding allocations. Mental health support should be available to those who need it, regardless of their place of residence.
Cap-and-Trade and climate change received failing grades from the Auditor as well. Only 20% of the government’s planned emission cuts will occur in Ontario, with California receiving billions of dollars for paper carbon credits generated by their emission reductions. This finding blows a hole in the government’s clean air rhetoric. Emissions will only be cut on paper, while Ontario businesses will have to fork out $8 billion within the next 3 years to California and about $2 billion per year thereafter for these credits. The costs will be passed on to the consumer in the form of higher prices, reduced supply and, potentially, fewer jobs. That $8 billion equates to 163,000 average Ontario annual salaries, removed from our economy by 2020 and sent to California. Does the government truly believe this won’t shock our agriculture, manufacturing and services sectors?
The House and Committees has a very busy week as the end of the session approaches. We passed Bills 2 (Election finance reform), 27 (the Burden Reduction Act), 28 (amendments to vital statistics registrations) at Third Reading and made them into law, while Bills 59 (consumer protection and home inspector regulation) and 70 (omnibus bill to implement Government economic policies) were given Second Reading and referred to Committee. In Committees, the government brought forward Bill 47 regarding reward points and Bill 34 on grandparents’ access rights to debate.
Bill 2 will ban corporate and union donations to political parties, as well as banning any elected officials, candidates or senior staff from attending any fundraising event. The original intent was to address the scandalous revelations that Ministers in Premier Wynne’s Cabinet had fundraising quotas to meet, and had refused to meet with stakeholders unless they attended expensive Liberal fundraisers. To muddy the waters, the Government inserted a last-minute amendment to extend the ban to all MPPs, including opposition members who don’t exercise the same level of influence as a Minister of the Crown. We remarked that this was unnecessary and quite rich, coming from a government that – since Kathleen Wynne was sworn in as Premier in February 2013 – held 223 exclusive fundraisers, of which 159 were private affairs for 50 or fewer guests, raising $19.6 million for the party. This pay-for-access scheme generated enough money to fund almost three general elections, and now they are capping it off with legislation to handcuff the two opposition parties’ efforts to retire their debts from the last election.
Bill 47 deals with the many loyalty programs that are common throughout Canada and the United States, with reward points being accumulated for making everyday purchases. This bill will create a completely different environment for Ontario consumers and could result in them losing access to loyalty programs, if the provider companies decide to focus on other jurisdictions where their business practices are not dictated by legislative whim. The government failed to do any consultation with the industry and seems to be desperately trying to change the page on their dismal failures in the energy and economy files. These programs are enjoyed by many residents and I don’t want to see an asterisk at the bottom of the agreement, “Not available in Ontario”.
Bill 34, on the other hand, arouses no controversy. The Bill will ensure that child custody and access laws make specific references to grandparents in sections that regulate who can apply for custody and access orders, and mandate courts to consider the relationship between a child and his or her grandparents in deciding on a custody and access issue. This has been an incredibly long fight for grandparents across the Province, with bills to this effect having been introduced several times and passed at Second Reading, only to die in Committee as the government did not wish to call them forward. This has been a major breakthrough – grandparents who advocated tirelessly for better and more secure access to their grandchildren can be proud of their achievement!
Earlier on Friday many residents of North Stormont visited my office to deliver thousands of hand-signed letters to the Premier and the Minister of Energy demanding the cancellation of the Nation Rise wind turbine project. Nation Rise evidences everything that is wrong with the government’s green energy policies. The power supply contracted for Nation Rise is not needed to fill either current or future demand – Ontarians can’t afford their bills and are using less power, while businesses move away. Nation Rise will be over-paid for electric power that, at the market rate, would cost a fraction of a cent per kWh. Nation Rise was approved by the IESO despite meeting absolutely none of the rated criteria ostensibly put in place to ensure the projects were supported. The municipality declared itself an unwilling host, the community opposed the project and even abutting land owners said they wanted none of it. The project should not proceed and the government still has time to suspend it, as it did with unnecessary and expensive LRP2 projects only a few months ago. I will hand-deliver every letter to the Premier in the Legislature next week.
Next week I expect the Government to wrap up its legislative agenda by rushing through Bills 45 and 70, which implement many changes to the way we vote, the way we regulate skilled trades, the way distillers market their products and countless other aspects of our daily work and lives. If the government cuts consideration of these bills short, especially by denying interested stakeholders the right to present and answer questions at Committee, Ontarians would be worse off for it. I will continue to advocate for every voice to be heard when important legislation is enacted, and for Ontarians to be made very well aware of what changes are being proposed.