Last year left issues to be resolved for next year

By MPP Toby Barrett

As I continue my report on the past year, the summer of 2016 saw work and meetings resulting in government agreeing to more time and public hearings on the proposed free market system for processing vegetables – a key concern for our local cucumber industry.

Many issues remain unresolved as we look back on 2016.

Last summer, Ontario’s Financial Accountability Office predicted the provincial debt will continue to rise, hitting $350 billion in 2020-21.

Based on my 2016 Haldimand and Norfolk business tour, I continued to stress in the Legislature and during Question Period that high energy prices are not only creating energy poverty for citizens struggling to pay bills, but also for businesses that have to compete against counterparts in jurisdictions with lower electricity prices.

During 2016, I continued to question the Minister of Agriculture on what is being done to reduce the burden of red tape. The regulatory policies facing agribusiness are not evidence based. They’re not transparent. They’re not unbiased. There’s a lack of harmonization provincially and federally.

In my position, as Opposition Critic for Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, I will continue to reach out over the winter to farm and food organizations and individuals to garner ideas and information.

Last summer, I and my staff were again involved in work relating to the Invasive Species Act. It mandates landowners to control invasives, but doesn’t provide the tools to do the job.

The so-called Patients First Act – Bill 41 – is the latest experiment in rejigging our health care system. Like government attempts to tinker with ORNGE, E-health, and the original creation of LHINs, the latest stab at health care will continue to transfer money from patients to bureaucrats. Over the past year, I have stressed at Queen’s Park that local patients are upset. Doctors are upset. Partly the focus is the waste of money and the waste in administration, for example, 39 per cent of home care dollars go to bureaucracy.

Closing rural schools can have a dramatic impact on rural areas where the school is often the heart of the community. The economic impact of closing a school in a rural area should always be considered, and yet the Ministry of Education has quietly removed the last two criteria to the process that looks at value to the community and value to the economy.

On Nov. 24, Woodhouse Township-born NHL legend Leonard ‘Red’ Kelly was honoured by the Ontario Legislature. Kelly is widely known for eight Stanley Cup championships.

In December, I rose in the House to pay tribute to Fisherville native Capt. Thomas McQueen who was killed in a Royal Canadian Air Force crash at Cold Lake Air Force Base.

I also reported to Queen’s Park that the reforged Stelco is in the process of re-establishing itself as an independent Canadian steel company at both Nanticoke and Hamilton.

The coming year will be an interesting one in Ontario politics as prices for gasoline, and natural gas go up because of cap-and-trade. My prediction is there will be more unrest among people as already-tight budgets become even tighter.

During this holiday season, we wish you and your family and friends all the best for the New Year – a year that will mark the 150th anniversary of Canada and the 225th anniversary of Ontario.

Health and happiness in 2017.