By MPP Toby Barrett
Mainstreeting this past week presented questions to me whether this month’s budget will help or hinder people and their businesses and farms across Haldimand and Norfolk.
The Wynne government brought their budget down two months earlier than normal – for who knows what reason – thus a lot of numbers are missing and a lot of answers and program details are just not there. At minimum, they should have tabled the budget after – not before – they received the recommendations and feedback from those who participated in pre-budget hearings.
As well, my office has received many calls from people interested in some of the programs announced in the budget, wanting to know when they start. Our inquiries with the appropriate ministry invariably come back with an answer that there are no details or timelines yet.
For farmers and rural businesses, the $28 million cut to the budget of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs does not bode well. It will no doubt result in further program cuts. For example, we have been told the Rural Economic Development (RED) program is on the chopping block.
What other programs will also get the knife?
The budget of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs is dropping to $916 million from $943 million, including the elimination of the Local Food Fund.
On the environmental front, OMAFRA won’t see any of the Green Investment Fund initiatives.
Farm operations that are incorporated will have to pay both the employer and employee portion of the proposed Ontario Pension, a payroll tax of nearly four per cent.
As well, farmers will be hit by climate change cap-and-trade fuel taxes with no compensation in return.
The impact on small business is also of concern. The combination of increasing electricity prices, and the payroll taxes to support the new Ontario pension, could be the last nail in the coffin, forcing the closure of doors and more job losses.
Helping people save for retirement is a noble goal, but just like everything this government does, they can’t get it right. The Ontario Chamber of Commerce and 150 businesses remain concerned that the Ontario pension payroll tax will erode business competitiveness, reduce the take-home pay of workers, and eliminate 54,000 jobs a year.
As electricity rates continue to escalate, not only does it make life expensive for citizens, but also it makes it tougher for small business, industry and farms. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture had asked for a farm/industrial electricity rate, but it did not appear in the budget. Making electricity rates more affordable was one of the key asks of the Official Opposition prior to the budget being delivered.
Industry looking to remain or locate in Ontario could take a second look as made-in-Ontario costs of doing business continue to climb.
During my visits last week, people told me life is getting tougher. Our local farms and small businesses face ever-increasing input costs and red tape. Rather than helping, the consensus seems to be Ontario’s latest budget continues to hinder.
As Opposition, we continue to fight for affordable energy, proper management of our health care system, and a credible plan to balance the books and start retiring the debt – all things we did not see in this year’s budget.