Backward Budget Not Good Enough
Last week’s provincial budget looks backwards, not forward, toward the type of Ontario we all know is possible.With a province begging for a fresh plan forward, our government should be looking to establish a way forward that turns our challenges into opportunities to build a better, more sustainable province for ourselves, our children and future generations.
Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal budget is out of touch in five critical areas.
Few examples from this budget underscore just how out of touch the McGuinty government is with the needs of Ontarians, than the short-term band-aid that was extended to Northern Ontarians. Everyone knows that the government cannot afford to subsidize electricity rates to any part of the province for the long term, leaving residents and business people to wonder what will happen to their rates when the subsidies run out.
We have long proposed a Green Building Program as a way to lower energy costs for all Ontarians by investing in retrofits that will lower the consumption and costs of residents, businesses and municipalities, while creating thousands of new jobs in Ontario and making housing more affordable for decades to come. This is the type of long-term vision Ontario, especially the North, needs now, not one-off temporary band-aids that put entire communities in permanent limbo.
A plan to slow funding to Greater Toronto’s transit system will only cause more gridlock, lost productivity and lost time for Ontario families. The Green Party of Ontario would aggressively invest in the kind of stimulus that addresses key transit needs for Ontario’s cities. I argue, this is sustainable stimulus to create lasting benefits for whole regions in our province.
At the same time we would support job creation in electric vehicles and support active transportation solutions that would improve the health and well being of all Ontarians by reducing smog province-wide, fostering healthy lifestyles and enabling all Ontarians to participate in reducing greenhouse gases.
Health and Well-being
Health care costs continue to rise in Ontario with Minister Duncan warning that these expenditures could reach seventy percent of the total provincial budget in the years ahead. And yet, the McGuinty government has not provided any indication as to how it is going to tackle these real and pressing needs. There is no mention of health promotion in the budget.
Greens know that health promotion and healthy lifestyles are the key to making health care affordable for Ontarians. The McGuinty government's decision to eliminate the special diet allowance without an alternative plan, for example, is a step backwards. It exposes social assistance recipients to greater risk of diseases and health conditions from which they may suffer. By failing to recognize the importance of proper nutrition, the government is seriously impacting the health of affected individuals while leaving the province's taxpayers to pick up the tab for ensuing health care costs.
Greens also support innovative approaches to clean water, air and land by supporting programs such as those that pay farmers and landowners for producing environmental goods and services that benefit all Ontarians.
Food and Farming
The Green Party of Ontario supports the need to better link our farmers – who produce some of the best fresh food in the world, with our citizens, particularly in our larger cities. A Green government would invest in a Producers' Donation Tax Credit for farmers who make healthy food available to our most vulnerable citizens through donations to our food banks.
Despite calls for change from the province's agriculture sector, the McGuinty government has continued its practice of ignoring the needs of Ontario's farmers. Many in the farm sector have been calling for clarity in land use designations so that farmers can invest in their businesses with the knowledge that they will not be placed at a competitive disadvantage due to changes in their property taxes. The Green Party has been calling for changes in the property tax system so that investments by farmers in value added processing facilities do not lead to negative tax implications. Farmers must have the support of the government in recognizing that these facilities are integral to a profitable and sustainable farm sector and a strong local food system.
Ontario's farmers also need a government that understands that rural infrastructure goes far beyond its counties’ roads and bridges. Our rural communities need investments in modern food processing facilities, especially independent abattoirs that can help farmers get their products into local stores and around the world. Rural infrastructure would support consumers to make the choice to purchase fresh, local foods in Ontario stores and markets.
Greens recognize the important role that small businesses play in building vibrant local economies and strong, sustainable communities. We believe this budget missed an opportunity to introduce tax and regulatory reforms to support small business.
For example, while increasing the minimum wage is a laudable goal, and one that the Green Party of Ontario supports, the McGuinty government has failed to assist small businesses in absorbing the impact of this policy. Failure to index the Employer Health Tax exemption to the increase in the minimum wage means that more small businesses today are paying this tax despite the fact that they were never the intended targets of it in the first place. The Green Party calls on the government to recognize the significant impact that raising the minimum wage has had on small business and to use its power to lessen the burden of payroll taxes on these enterprises.
Sadly, the budget was a missed opportunity. We need to invest today for tomorrow, not yesterday.