Over 1,500 sign petition to save schools; community and economic considerations a must

Last week at Queen’s Park (Oct. 7) and Constituency Week (Oct. 12, 2016)

by Jim McDonell, MPP

The government took an unprecedented step this week by releasing the province’s interim financial statements without the Auditor-General’s opinion attached to them. The Auditor-General, an independent and trusted Officer of the Legislature, maintains that Ontario should not list holdings of certain public sector pension plans as assets on its books, since it has no right to access the money. This would make Ontario’s net debt over $11 billion higher, as well as punching an extra $1.5 billion hole into last year’s Budget deficit. Without the Auditor-General’s signature, the government can’t table the Public Accounts, the ultimate statement of the Government’s financial health.

The Auditor-General is right. Public pension plans are not government assets to be bought, sold and disposed of, and therefore should not be used to portray our debt situation to be rosier than it actually is. I have said repeatedly that this government’s nonchalant attitude to serious warnings about our escalating debt and the cost of servicing it cannot continue: something eventually, has to give. The government may survive this spat with its own financial auditor; however their fiscal credibility has taken a severe hit in the eyes of investors, creditors and ordinary Ontarians.

At home, over 1,500 residents of Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry came together to sign an online petition to save our local rural schools from closure. In an underhanded move, last year the government removed community benefit and local economic benefit factors from the Pupil Accommodation Review Guidelines, the document in which School Boards must comply with to make decisions on building and closing schools. Any resident of rural Ontario will tell you how the local school is a keystone of the community, providing local opportunities for families to raise children and give them an outstanding education. This drives economic activity and community development across Ontario. The Ministry of Education must come to its senses and return these two key values to the PARG.

On Monday the Toronto Star revealed that staff and executives at TARION, the monopoly provider of new home warranties in Ontario, enjoyed very generous compensation and bonus packages. This information only came to light because, as a large holder of securities in the USA, TARION had to reveal this information to the US authorities. In Ontario, TARION is exempt from such transparency measures and the Government has resisted calls for change. I introduced a Bill in the last session to blow the lid off all Delegated Authorities (including TARION, the TSSA and others) and bring all their workings into the light. It died when we were prorogued in September, however I will reintroduce it in the near future. Ontarians deserve Ontario laws that enshrine transparency, without relying on the USA doing this work for us.

On Wednesday the Legislature debated a motion calling on the government to stop the sell-off of Toronto Hydro and Hydro One. While we have stood up in opposition to the Wynne Liberals’ Hydro One fire sale since day one, we could not support the NDP’s opposition day motion. If passed, the motion would remove municipal control over its utilities and eliminate the possibility of more affordable rates through lower delivery charges. The fact that the NDP introduced a motion that doesn’t address Ontario’s energy crisis should be expected. Their party voted time and time again in support of the Green Energy Act, the bill largely responsible for Ontario’s skyrocketing rates.

The current fire sale of the utility is a ploy by the Government to raise quick cash to plug the hole in our provincial finances. The Financial Accountability Officer stated clearly that the negative financial effects of selling off this valuable public asset will only be felt from 2018 onwards. Conveniently for the Government, that is also the date of an election they might lose anyway. The next Government will be saddled with massive debt servicing costs, while Hydro One ratepayers will be charged extra in order to service Hydro One’s own $27 billion debt. We have been clear: any revenue from a Hydro One privatization must go first and foremost to extinguishing the utility’s debt and relieving ratepayers from that burden. Without this, no privatization should occur, end of argument.

On Thursday we debated my colleague MPP Laurie Scott’s bill on tackling human trafficking in Ontario. Trafficking blights our communities and can affect any family, any community, anywhere in Ontario. Giving agencies and communities the tools and knowledge to stamp it out is an unquestionably worthwhile investment in our collective future. Many municipalities, including in Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry had written to the government supporting passage of the Saving the Girl Next Door Act. Prorogation killed the last version of the Bill, but I fully expect all levels of government to work together to ensure its passage this session.

As the federal government works to introduce a national carbon price, the Premier needs to explain how their cap-and-trade cash grab can exist given the ambitious targets set by Ottawa. This will amount to nothing more than a multi-billion dollar cash grab with Premier Wynne taking more money out of Ontarians pockets, only to send it to California.  We have been very clear, the plan must be timed to coincide with our neighbours south of the border and every cent collected must be returned to taxpayers in the form of tax relief. The Ontario PC Caucus will continue to urge the Wynne Liberals to take a revenue neutral and competitive approach that will help to reduce emissions, grow our economy, and put money back in the pockets of Ontarians.

We also learned that the government cancelled their plan to privatize OLG after spending $308 million of taxpayer dollars.  This is just another example of millions of dollars wasted with no accountability and taxpayers are paying for this waste, mismanagement, and scandals with cuts to healthcare and social programs. All this after the Wynne Liberals spend $70 million on the failed ORPP scheme. I believe taxpayers deserve more.

I am in the riding this week and have been very busy meeting with people and attending local community meetings regarding the proposed school closures in our region. Our communities are shocked and very upset, with good reason.  The residents of Stormont, Dundas and South Glengarry, like all Ontarians, take education very seriously. We pay some of the highest taxes on the continent and expect quality, local education. I have talked to many residents in our community and they understand that some changes need to occur, but they need to be consulted and listened to. I am concerned about a plan that proposes the closure of all the public high schools between Prescott and Vankleek Hill, including the two in Cornwall, to bus everyone to a new 2,000 plus student mega-school. Many of the schools slotted for the chopping block have been recently renovated and are achieving much higher than average test scores. With so much of our public infrastructure in disrepair, there are better ways to spend $100 million. We need our residents to speak up and let the Upper Canada District School Board and this Liberal government know that this plan is not acceptable. You can help us send this message by contacting board trustees, the Minister of Education and the Premier.  You can also sign my petition that is available one line at http://jimmcdonellmpp.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/rural-schools.pdf.

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving!