We must hit the brakes before we become Detroit

By MPP Toby Barrett

I think all of us were quite shaken when we saw Detroit file for bankruptcy. We now see firsthand what’s in jeopardy if our province continues down the current path.

In Detroit, you have to wait 58 minutes for police to respond to a crime and people are driving down streets where four out of 10 streetlights are broken. And then there are the government retirees who are counting on that good pension. Now, they’ll only get 10 cents for every dollar they were promised – a $40,000 pension, only worth $4,000. I know we’re not there yet, but that’s where we’re headed.

We need to rein in government spending and get it refocused on the core tasks. We need to hit the brakes before we head further down this road to Detroit.

Right now over half the provincial budget is being spent on salaries, wages, benefits and pensions for
government workers. That’s why we must start out with a legislated pay freeze for all government employees – from firefighters to MPPs – and then make the fundamental reforms required Ontario’s systems of public sector compensation.

It’s time to fix the broken arbitration system that forces unaffordable settlements on municipal councils and taxpayers. When taxpayers in Scugog open the paper to see that local firefighters were awarded a 27 per cent wage increase, they’re left wondering – “how are we going to pay for this?”

Every day, these types of wage increases are forcing municipalities to choose between raising taxes or taking fire trucks and police cruisers off the roadIt means ending the underlying assumption that property taxpayers have infinitely deep pockets. You and I both know those pockets are now empty. Councils can’t keep raising taxes. It also means no more Toronto settlements becoming the benchmarks for towns on the other side of the province. Decisions must reflect municipal budgets and their local economy.

As Opposition, we thank the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) board and executive staff for helping us and endorsing our arbitration bill. It was an honour to receive an endorsement from this
organization arising from consultations on the Capacity to Pay Act.

We also thank AMO and the Mayors and Regional Chairs of Ontario (MARCO) for endorsing our open
tendering legislation put forward by MPP Michael Harris. This bill would allow municipalities to tender their construction work in a free and competitive environment, and not be locked into one union. If you need to fix your deck or buy some new furniture, you shop around and get the best deal. It should be the same way for our municipal construction projects. It is time to put an end to the closed tendering laws that do nothing but drive up the costs for taxpayers.

Another area that we need to take on is the ticking time bomb of government pensions. Estimates put the pension shortfall for government workers as high as $100 billion. Left unaddressed, taxpayers – most of whom are without a pension – will be on the hook to make up the difference between what has been promised and what little has been put aside to fund pensions for public servants.

The simple truth is we cannot keep spending the way we have in the past.