By MPP Toby Barrett
As I reflect on our year now past, I recall the transition from the warmth and cheer of the holiday season to the cold reality of pre-budget hearings conducted by our Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs.
Case in point, last January, Canada’s leading retailer of packaged meats testified on the impact of Ontario’s high electricity prices. Across all of its Ontario plants, Maple Leaf Foods’ electricity bill had increased by 18 per cent to a staggering $19.7 million – and that’s before the advent of the cap and trade tax.
Further to cap-and-trade, last February our office was inundated with complaints about the HST being slapped on top of the cap-and-trade levy, and the high cost of electricity in general. One astute constituent pointed out that cap-and-trade “cannot be classed as either a good or a service,” and therefore should not be taxed.
As is my nature, I continued to raise tobacco issues in the Ontario Legislature last year, asking for a stop to the unfair prosecution of tobacco farmers: “. . . growers feel like criminals, because this is the government’s strategy on illegal tobacco, and they do ask the Minister of Finance and the Premier to stop picking the low-hanging fruit. The majority of tobacco farmers are hard-working, law-abiding citizens. They want to be left alone to farm.”
In March, I continued our Opposition call for a moratorium on rural school closings, until Ontario fixes the funding formula and until the Pupil Accommodation Review Guideline is rewritten fairly.
In April, we saw a budget that did not address Ontario’s $312 billion debt but rather continued the government’s record of jacking up taxes and debt. The 2017-18 budget didn’t offer much for farmers, agri-food processors or rural Ontario – all under the gun from additional costs from cap and trade piled upon the increased costs for electricity. In particular, greenhouse operators were hit hard with skyrocketing costs for their natural gas bills. Processing vegetable growers continued to face a threat to orderly marketing.
In May, I continued to ask the Minister of Health during Question Period for an update on what is happening in the battle against Lyme disease. “It has now been two years. We have the legislation. Can the Minister of Health tell people affected or potentially affected what action the government is taking on this law.”
Last spring, I used the Legislature to pay tribute to Canadians who fought and died during the Second World War’s Battle of the Atlantic. I drew on stories of the Second World War from my father Harry B. Barrett, a sub-lieutenant with the Royal Canadian Navy. More than 2,000 members of the Royal Canadian Navy and 700 members of the Royal Canadian Air Force gave up their lives during the Battle of the Atlantic. The Canadian Merchant Navy also played an extremely valuable role in the war.
Ontario introduced Bill 84 last year, the Medical Assistance in Dying Statute Law Amendment Act. As opposition, we introduced amendments to ensure we are protecting the public and protecting the conscience rights of health care providers – amendments defeated by the government.
Year 2017, as we all know, marked the 150th year of Confederation, and also the 225th anniversary of Ontario’s Parliament.
. . . year end report to be continued.