COLUMN: Queen’s Park session ends amid controversy

SDSG MPP Jim McDonell. (MPP Office/File)

Earlier this month, we elected Federal Member of Parliament Patrick Brown as our new Ontario PC leader and he immediately made an impact in the Legislature. In his inaugural speech, he drew loud heckling from the government as he complimented the Quebec Premier on their low energy rates and their commitment to a balanced budget. It was obvious that the Liberal government was embarrassed over their record on these key issues and the loss of jobs and services that have resulted.

Last week the government pushed through their 2015 Budget, which included a number of controversial items. The sale of Hydro One generated significant criticism as the government seems to be intent on distancing itself from its disastrous energy file. A last minute budget amendment will allow the government to keep all details of the sale secret, so that the public will not know who is bidding and what the offers and terms of the sale are. The budget also removes all oversight from the independent officers of the legislature. The Ombudsman and Auditor-General, who have issued scathing reports of Hydro One and government mismanagement, have filed their concerns on the removal of their ability to investigate this critical component of our public infrastructure. Reports such as that of the Ombudsman issued in early May will no longer be possible. This report highlighted their complete disregard for Hydro One’s ratepayers as they received complaints from more than 10,000 customers who experienced billing errors. Our last opportunity to question the utility on this and any other issues was derailed by the Liberal dominated Government Agencies Committee as their filibustering and delay tactics ran the clock out on a motion to call them before the committee. The Auditor-General also identified how this budget has changed the advertising rules to reduce her role and potentially have taxpayers pay for partisan political advertising, even during election periods. This Liberal government talks of transparency, but does everything it can to avoid it.

The budget document also revealed provincial funding cuts to health care, the first in decades, if not in history. The Auditor-General warned us in her 2014 report that the out of control debt will lead to the “crowding out” of essential government services by the escalating interest payments required to service it. As per her warning, provincial funding for healthcare is down $54 million, while interest payments on the debt received this budget’s greatest increase.

This last month also saw extended teacher strikes, with over 113,000 high school students experiencing job actions and in some regions, missing up to five weeks of classes. The Premier failed to act until a report revealed that many students would fail to graduate if strikes continued. The issues have not been resolved and we expect to see province wide strike action in the fall. The Auditor-General also issued a report highlighting the increased road closures and serious injuries and deaths that resulted from government changes to winter maintenance standards.

Last Thursday, the Legislature recessed for the summer break. This gives me the opportunity to meet with you, various businesses and community groups to discuss concerns and issues. I invite you all to our annual MPP picnic which will be held on July 19 at Cornwall’s Guindon Park, from 12:30 to 3:00 pm. I hope to meet you there or at one of our riding’s many great festivals, fairs or community events. I want to take this opportunity to wish everyone an enjoyable and safe summer.

Jim McDonell
MPP, Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry

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