Mid-2014 ushered in Liberal majority government

By MPP Toby Barrett

The latter half of 2014 commenced with the swearing-in, on July 2, of duly-elected members of Ontario’s 41st Parliament – a majority government of 58 Liberals, 28 Progressive Conservatives and 21 New Democrats.

The commencement of the 41st Parliament wrapped up the duties of Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley’s seven-year term – a term marked by his successful initiatives on behalf of those who have disabilities. With the advent of the new session, Ms. Elizabeth Dowdeswell will now represent the Queen.

Since July, I continue to look forward to hearing how the majority Liberal government will put Ontario back on track, including balancing the books. I point to a statement made by Kathleen Wynne in 2012 – “When I say we need to stay on government’s fiscal plan of balancing the budget by 2017-2018, I mean it.” However, her handpicked economist Don Drummond has not projected a zero deficit in three years but rather a $30.2-billion deficit in three years.

On July 3, Moody’s Investor Service downgraded Ontario’s credit rating outlook to negative.

Debate about Ontario’s economy, and specifically the fiscal health of its government, dominated the July sitting at Queen’s Park. As I did last spring, I voted against last summer’s budget – a budget I continue to find both unrealistic and unaffordable. Every party said they were committed to balancing the budget. However, people are cynical, and part of that cynicism is driven by the fact many politicians aren’t prepared to stand by their commitments.

One reason I voted against last year’s budget was the massive hike in the aviation fuel tax, which will be largely passed on to passenger ticket prices. Our airports and airlines are already struggling with people crossing the border to fly out of jurisdictions like Buffalo.

Since last July, I have been trying to push through legislation to provide a ‘Provincial Framework and Action Plan Concerning Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases’.

Released in November, the Fall Economic Statement shows revenues are down by over $500 million this year alone. This is set against a background of growth stagnating and then remaining at 2.4 per cent for the upcoming three years. There is also a proposal before your Ontario Parliament for a payroll tax to subtract another 1.9 per cent from your paycheque and 1.9 per cent from your employer. Sold as a way to fund a provincial pension, we are told the money will initially go to transit.

Government wrapped up 2014 talking about contraband tobacco, although past efforts have been an admitted failure. My worry is an attack on tobacco farmers, as we have seen with corner stores.

An expansion of production insurance, announced in November, to cover more agricultural commodities is long overdue – however questions remain.

December 2014 was dominated by the Wynne government announcement to reduce neonicotinoid insecticides by 80 per cent, without conclusive evidence this will decrease bee mortality rates. I have used question period to press government to provide mortality insurance to assist beekeepers.

My overall prediction for 2015 is our democratic system will be unequal to the challenges and will miss opportunities to deal with them. Our best course lies in the wherewithal and the leadership to build something better – it will be difficult and not without controversy, but it is necessary.