Rebuilding will be difficult, but necessary

By MPP Toby Barrett

As we contemplate the new year, it has been suggested to me the economic, fiscal and political models in Ontario cannot forever continue in their present form. Let’s hope, for the sake of coming generations, we can rebuild an Ontario we can once again be proud of.

Our best course is to find the wherewithal and the leadership to build something better – it will be difficult and not without controversy, but it is necessary.

Without some form of revolutionary change Ontario may limp along for a while yet, however the fundamental problems will continue to grow. By continuing irresponsible government taxing, borrowing and spending, survival could be short lived.

Ontario’s manufacturing and employment foundations have been undermined by technological change and poor economic decision-making by government. Productivity is up 30 to 40 per cent over the past decade but with flat-lined production the result has been a 30 to 40 per cent reduction in the need for labour. Hiring an additional 300,000 government workers at a time when we lost 300,000 factory workers is not a panacea for economic recovery.

We need real jobs, high tech jobs, capitalizing on the inherent capabilities traditionally found in Ontario’s workforce. I have had an opportunity to see, and work alongside, many local young people who have such expertise – however many are now working out west or planning to. They are going where the work is. For example, Saskatchewan’s jobless rate is 4.1 per cent.

Believe it or not government has a role to play and it lies in the realm of common sense tax policy, labour policy, energy policy and addressing the myriad of bureaucratic rules and regulation suffocating progress. Regrettably, our government in Ontario has become increasingly dysfunctional, self-serving and crushingly expensive. Moreover, it is failing to fulfill its most basic obligations.

Ontario is in trouble, both fiscally and economically.

Over the past 10 years, our debt doubled and we were blindsided with the largest income tax and consumption tax increases in the history of the province. And now we’re looking at a proposed 68 per cent tax hike on gasoline to pay for Toronto subways! Don’t forget to factor in a 42 per cent increase in your electricity bill over the next five years. Then there are the 47 new user fees the Liberals are studying – for example a $20 hike on license plates.

To say Ontario’s economy has stalled would be an understatement. Heinz, Bick’s and Kellogg’s aren’t coming back. The past 10 years have not been kind to our part of Southwestern Ontario – our provincial government managed to destroy our coal-based economy, most of our legal tobacco trade, and homebuilding in Caledonia.

Ontario’s economy is supposedly in recovery since the economic shock of 2008, but it is the slowest and most agonizing rebound since the Depression – with nearly seven years unemployment rate above the national average. Welfare and disability rates have skyrocketed!

Such bad news does give cause for worry, but the future can be bright. We can get Ontario working again. We can weather a painful transition to a new, more prosperous economic and technological era, as we have in the past.

But we need a government that’s on side and with a plan to tackle these major issues.