MPP Mantha says budget falls short

Tom Sasvari

The Recorder

TORONTO—The New Democrat Party (NDP) is going to Ontario residents to see whether they feel another provincial election should take place in the near future, says Michael Mantha, MPP for Algoma-Manitoulin, after the release of the 2012 provincial budget on Tuesday.

“Ontarians have a decision to make,” Mr. Mantha said in an interview with the Recorder. “It is quite evident everything in this budget falls short, with a lack of clear vision on things like job creation, health care reforms and growth, and making it easier in the cost of living for families and residents of this province.”

“The budget also falls short in providing a mandate that rewards those that create jobs, and instead we are going to lose thousands of jobs with layoffs in the province,” said Mr. Mantha.

For example, there will be further cuts in Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) and MOE (Ministry of the Environment) field officer personnel, he said.

“In the area of homecare there is a lack of planning investment to take pressure off hospitals that communities and seniors have been waiting for,” he continued. “Instead they will have to continue to wait.” He said the budget falls short in providing cost savings such as electricity cost decreases to make life more affordable for individuals and families.

“At this point there is still a lot of information to review, but I want to talk to the constituents of Algoma-Manitoulin,” said Mr. Mantha.

He explained that the NDP party will be launching a website to get feedback from residents in his constituency and from all over the province, “on their concerns, what they are upset with, happy with in this budget, and ask if they are ready to vote in another election. I will be making myself available to hear concerns, ideas and comments from as many people as possible.”

“We need have serious discussion on how this budget falls far short province wide,” said Mr. Mantha. The website launched earlier this week.

The 2012 Ontario budget includes a deficit elimination plan that reduces program spending growth and contains costs by $17.7 billion over the next three years, while increasing revenues by $4.4-billion without raising taxes, a Ministry of Finance release stated. “This is serious action for a serious time and puts Ontario on track to eliminate the deficit by 2017-18,” it states.

The province will freeze the general corporate tax income tax rate and business education tax rate reductions until the budget is balanced; cap the Ontario Clean Energy Benefit at 3,000 KWh per month; change the Ontario Drug Benefit program so that about five percent of seniors, those with the highest incomes, pay a larger share of their prescription drug costs. As well, the province is ensuring Ontario user fees recover more of the cost of providing programs and services, extend the pay freeze for MPPs for another two years (for a total of five years), and extend the pay freeze for executives at hospitals, universities, colleges, school boards and agencies for another two years.

“We are making the right choices to ensure that Ontario families are receiving the best possible services and the best value for tax dollars. All of us have a role to play in balancing the budget,” explained Dwight Duncan, minister of Finance. In the release he also said, “building a stronger Ontario requires strong action. We will make the right choices to protect the vital gains we have made together. When we make these choices, we will choose protecting education and health care-every single time.”

More than 50 cents of every dollar spent by the Ontario government pays for the compensation of teachers, doctors and others in the broader public sector. Given the serious fiscal challenges the province is facing, compensation costs must be managed if the government is to meet its fiscal targets and protect the gains made over the past eight years in education and health care, said Mr. Duncan.

The collective bargaining process will be respected in the budget, the ministry release indicates. Where agreements cannot be negotiated that are consistent with the plan to balance the budget and protect priority services, the government is prepared to propose the necessary administrative and legislative measures.

The government intends to introduce a number of measures to make public sector pensions more affordable for taxpayers and sustainable for pension plan members, following consultations with affected stakeholders. For example, in cases where pensions are in a deficit, many public sector workers would be asked to reduce future benefits before seeking additional pension contributions from employers or the government. Current retirees would not be affected.

The government does plan to change a few things to help build jobs in Ontario as well and this plan includes consolidating many business support programs into a Jobs and Prosperity Fund that will focus on productivity growth and job creation, while generating overall savings of $250 million in 2014-2015. They also plan to establish a multi-stakeholder Jobs and Prosperity Council to advise the government on a plan to boost Ontario’s productivity, and lead a research agenda on Ontario’s productivity and innovation. Finally they also plan to diversify Ontario’s exports to emerging economies by streamlining and coordinating the trade promotion activities of relevant ministries.

They also plan to help improve education by remaining committed to the 30 percent Off Ontario Tuition grant for eligible full-time undergraduate university and college students, as well as further integrating more training programs to make students more responsive to today’s job market.

The government plans to build on Ontario’s Action Plan for Health Care by transforming health care to reduce the rate of growth of spending to an average of 2.1 per cent annually over the next three years, and they also plan to enhance community-based care to treat patients in alternative settings such as non-profit clinics and at home instead of hospitals. As well, they plan to move to patient-centred funding models to improve the value and quality of care.