Life will continue to get tougher with 2016 budget

By MPP Toby Barrett

In my view, any attempt to comment on this year’s rushed and somewhat vague budget is akin to nailing jelly to a wall.

The numbers are incomplete – partly because it arrived two months early. By way of example, those of us on the Finance Committee are still writing the pre-budget report.

This is the ninth budget in a row the Liberals have posted with a multi-billion-dollar debt. This year alone the interest on the debt will be almost $12 billion. That’s six times more than the government spends on the ministries of agriculture, environment and natural resources combined. That’s $12 billion that could have gone into health care.

The provincial debt is now pegged at rising to $308 billion – the highest debt of any province in Canada. It now totals more than $22,000 for every man, woman and child in Ontario. It’s the highest sub-national debt – that is of a province or state – on the planet.

Following four years of frozen hospital budgets, we’re told spending will increase one per cent, but all is not as it seems. A cut in gaming revenues normally used for hospitals means the actual increase is smaller. At the end of the day, hospitals will continue to struggle with rising costs.

Ontario continues to move full-steam ahead with its sale of Hydro One despite opposition across the province. And this is from a government that has already jacked up household electricity bills by $1,000 a year. As the Auditor General pointed out, we paid $37 billion more than we should have for electricity over the past eight years – again, making life tougher for ratepayers.

Seniors, and those on fixed incomes, are especially hard hit. Rising electricity rates means those less fortunate must choose between heating and eating. The cost of medications for middle-income seniors will rise 70 per cent. The Healthy Homes Renovation Tax Credit is gone as of next January.

Farm groups advocated an expansion of the rural gas network and a farm/industrial electricity rate. A $28 million cut to agriculture means little in the budget for farmers and rural Ontario.

A new cap and trade emissions trading scheme will add to the cost of gasoline and home heating. While we expect this government to tackle climate change, we expect a plan with some credibility that will keep life affordable. There are no details of how cap and trade will protect the environment – as opposed to being just another excuse for a money grab, again making life tougher for all of us.

The Official Opposition had three key requests for the budget prior to it being released: a credible plan for affordable electricity; proper management of our Ontario’s health care system; and a credible plan to balance the budget and start paying down the debt. Our asks were not met.

It isn’t entirely surprising this government doesn’t listen to the Opposition, but it stings when they don’t listen to the citizens of Ontario.

By not considering the pre-budget report from our Finance Committee hearings, this budget has failed to consult. Individuals and organizations – some from our riding – put a lot of effort and money into providing input that wasn’t considered.

Ontarians deserve better. Why is this government making life tougher for people in Ontario?