By MPP Toby Barrett
Christmas and New Year’s, with hopefully a little bit of downtime in between, allows us to reflect on the past year and anticipate what’s to come in 2017.
As we think of family and friends and those who are no longer with us, the first Christmas after losing a loved one is particularly hard. But it also makes us aware of the compassionate society in which we live and the fact we have so much to be thankful for.
I found 2016 to be a busy and rewarding year through my work in the Legislature and in the riding. And of course, our hard-working staff put in a productive year in all three offices working on behalf of people across Haldimand and Norfolk.
Early last year, because of the black market in Haldimand and Norfolk and across the province, I introduced a Private Members’ Bill titled Commission of Inquiry into Illegal Trade and Trafficking of People, Drugs, Money, Tobacco and Weapons Act. The need for something to be done was driven home when I had four separate media groups from Latin American come to Simcoe to interview me about local illegal tobacco flooding their countries. Right after my bill was voted down by the Liberals, a large bust in Quebec, Six Nations, Europe and South America illustrated the need for collaboration, information sharing and more government awareness of the actions of organized crime.
During 2016 Finance Committee pre-budget consultations – I heard from nurses, doctors, patients and long-term care workers who described a health-care system that can be summed up as a big mess and in crisis. The still-ongoing impasse with doctors started early in the year with cuts to funding. It presented me with an opportunity to present petitions to the Legislature, asking government to make patient-focused care a priority.
The 2016 budget didn’t have much in it for farmers, with a $28 million cut to the ag budget. As well, farmers will feel the planned 4.3 cent-litre cap-and-trade tax on the wholesale price of natural gas and other fuels.
Major news last spring was a government proposal to phase out natural gas despite the Ontario Federation of Agriculture pushing for an expansion of the network. I try to heat with electricity. Trust me- you don’t want to go there.
Spring 2016 marked a year since the passage of my bill on vector-borne diseases. I continued to pressure the government in the Legislature for programs to not only better prepare for and manage ailments like Lyme disease and West Nile virus, but also any potential threats like Marburg virus or Zika virus.
Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk 2016 report found we’ve paid $37 billion more than we should have for hydro over the past eight years. And predictability it will get worse, as over the next 18 years we will be essentially overcharged $133 billion.
Ontario’s government-issued bond debt – now over $300 billion – is actually higher than California’s and is only 10 per cent less than the debt of the entire country of Greece. Paying an annual debt interest of $11 billion is now the third largest expenditures in the government budget, after health and education.
Obviously 2016 left more work to be done as we enter the New Year.
. . . to be continued