Not surprisingly, local MPP Michael Harris isn’t happy with the provincial budget offered up last week at Queen’s Park, and he intends to show it with his vote.
The Progressive Conservative representative for Kitchener-Conestoga plans to cast a ‘no’ vote, siding against the proposed financial plan, citing a variety of reasons.
First, there are no significant investments outlined to back the promises made to the region over the last few years.
“If you look in the budget, it talks specifically about municipal transportation. They talk about the new trips on the GO line. They talk about other investments, like on the Hurontario line with construction starting in 2018, and service starting in 2022. These are the details the government typically lists when it comes to actual spending initiatives,” he said. “We have heard the promise that Kathleen Wynne made to the residents of Kitchener-Waterloo ahead of an election two years ago, promises for a two-way, all-day GO service, and yet, there was nothing in the budget that actually spoke to those timelines. That didn’t cut it for me.”
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Some of the most publicized aspects of the budget, like the cap-and-trade plan and subsidized post-secondary tuition for lower-income families, aren’t as bright and shiny as Harris believes they are being portrayed. There is a major aspect to this that he believes isn’t getting discussed enough.
“For me, what always stands out is the growing debt that we have in Ontario. It is the elephant in the room. We have now surpassed $300 billion in debt, and I know billions of dollars is difficult for people to actually imagine,” he said. “It is that interest payment of $12 billion a year that is really frightening. That is the third largest spending commitment in Ontario right now. It goes health, education, servicing the debt. Everything we do, we are putting on the credit card. That concerns me. We have heard the government talk about free tuition for families that earn under $50k. There are a lot of things about that. It won’t start until 2017, only 30 per cent of people will be able to access it, that is average tuition. If we didn’t have a debt payment, we could put everyone through college or university for free, all the time.”
The cap-and-trade plan is suspect for Harris, as well. He is questioning the government’s motives for collecting that five extra cents per litre on gasoline.
“A tax on gasoline, especially for our community in Woolwich, people have to drive to get to work, to take their families to the arena. We are all going to have to pay an extra five cents in additional tax on gas as of January 1,” he said. “This is going to increase the cost of heating our homes and businesses. We all agree that we need to do something for our environment, but I just hope that this cap-and-trade tax isn’t using the environment to generate more [revenues] all willy-nilly.”
Although he doesn’t agree with most of the Liberal budget, Harris says there were a few positives that stood out for him when reading through the proposed financial plan.
“I love the fact that they actually got rid of the Drive Clean fee. I was one of the guys that was leading the charge for that. The Drive Clean program has outlived its usefulness. Unfortunately, the program is still here, but the fee is gone,” he said, adding that special needs and health spending were also a plus in the province’s 2016 budget. “There was funding for families with autism treatment. We have long advocated for supports for families with children with autism. We are happy to see additional funding for them. There is some additional funding for hospice. I don’t believe that our community is a recipient of that, but it is a step in the right direction.”
He also pointed out that the budget was tabled before an important report could be completed, outlining the results from the province-wide public consultation process. Harris questioned how effective the budget would be for citizens, and how effective the much-touted route of transparency was going to be.
“I am the opposition. They send me here to make sure that promises and commitments made by the government have made are followed through on and to tell you about the things that government may not always want to share. We aren’t getting our fair share here,” he said. “The government talks about doing this pre-budget consultation, which is a formal mechanism of parliamentarians that travel the province to listen to stakeholders and groups on what the government should. The committee didn’t even finish writing its report before the budget was tabled. It was a slap in the face for those people that actually came to have their say.”
Harris plans to vote against the 2016 proposed budget, but with a majority Liberal legislature at Queen’s Park, it is likely it will pass.
To view the full proposed provincial budget, visit www.fin.gov.on.ca.