By MPP Toby Barrett
“It’s the economy, stupid” ~ James Carville, 1992
In Ontario we all have hopes of getting a good job, quality schools for our children, accessible health care and a climate where businesses and entrepreneurs can pursue their dreams and bring new products to market. This vision creates a first-class Ontario, complete with needed infrastructure. Sadly, that’s not the Ontario we see today. Instead we see a tale of declining productivity, declining competitiveness, little investment in plant and equipment — all amid economic malaise. There are almost 600,000 men and women out of work. Manufacturing job losses amount to 300,000 – a number set to grow with Caterpillar closing its Toronto plant and moving to Michigan, and this after shifting London’s Electro-motive jobs to Indiana. Locally, we are once again in the midst of another US Steel – Steelworker 8782 lockout. When will we see jobs come back to Ontario? Why is our economic growth so weak? Why is Ontario a have-not province? The unfortunate result is that many are losing hope in our great province — hope for themselves and their kids. The serious jobs and spending crisis we face didn’t just happen overnight – it arose from a series of deliberate policy choices this government made over the past decade. Why is our debt growing so fast? When you’re heading toward a cliff, you have to hit the brakes, turn around and go in the opposite direction. Instead, the latest budget pushes down the accelerator by adding a larger deficit and more debt. Every child born today will have $20,000 of provincial debt on their back. We owe it to the next generation to do better than that. We owe it to the next generation to offer the kind of opportunities we counted on in the past that can’t count on today. The problem with spending beyond our means is it cuts off the capacity to pay for things we cherish – health, education, protection of children and natural resources. Instead of barrelling ahead, we need to put on the binders and fast. As long advocated, we need a two-year public sector wage freeze across the board for all. That could save $2 billion a year over two years. At the same time, we must create a salary arbitration system that recognizes and respects the ability of taxpayers to pay the bill. We must seek out the best deal on every project, based on merit, cost and quality—not political allegiance. We need to open up the skilled trades to create more good-paying jobs in a field we all know is facing a looming skills shortage by removing outdated rules around journeymen-to-apprenticeship ratios. Further while paying higher costs for a less reliable energy system, it’s past time for a sensible approach when it comes to electricity to attract new industry and give the ratepayer a break. While we need to reduce spending – the 2013 budget calls for a $3.6 billion increase – we must also create the climate for economic growth, for job creation, for investment, and for economic growth. But the 2013 budget leads us in the same failed debt-ridden direction this government has lead us over the last decade – a direction that has diminished our economy.