Promoting cleantech, addressing gridlock and modernizing education

Speech delivered to the Rural Ontario Municipalities Association and Ontario Good Roads Association ConferenceRoyal York Hotel, Toronto: February 26, 2013
 
Check against delivery.
 
Thank you Terry McKay for the kind introduction.

 
I want to thank all the board members and staff of the Rural Ontario Municipal Association and the Ontario Good Roads Association for the invitation to be with you today.
 
Most of all I want to thank all of you for taking the time be here and for the important work you do as leaders in your community. 
 
I believe deeply in local democracy and the work that you do. Although we may or may not agree on all the issues, I believe we can agree on the essential role mayors and municipal councillors and staff play in governing our municipalities and strengthening local democracy in communities across this great province. Thank you.
 
One of my heroes is Wayne Gretzky. Gretzky became The Great One because he skated to where the puck was going to be, not where it had been. He understood that winning required anticipating the future. 
 
This is the approach my family took in building a successful farm and I took in building one of Ontario’s first local food delivery companies.
 
I believe this is the approach Ontario needs to take if we are going to be successful in the 21st century. 
 
I got involved in the Green Party, not for the lucrative salary I receive, but because the status quo is not working. The poisonous politics at Queen’s Park is not taking us where we need to go.
 
Ontario needs change. The recycled ideas of the old parties at Queen’s Park will take us where the puck was. 
 
We need change to take us to where the puck is going.
 
The Green Party is fighting for the real change this province desperately needs. 
 
Today, I want to talk with you about the Green Party’s plan to transform our economy and foster good, local jobs; empower citizens to protect the health and well-being of our communities, and secure a bright future for our kids.
 
Economy and jobs
 
Ontario desperately needs a bold plan to create jobs for the 21st century to replace the 300,000 manufacturing jobs lost in the last decade. Tweaking the status quo by building more casinos or lowering taxes on blue chip corporate profits won’t get the job done.
 
I believe our economic transformation must start in our communities by supporting our small businesses and entrepreneurs to create innovative new industries and new jobs that diversify and strengthen our local economies. 
 
The Green Party will continue to push for lowering taxes on jobs by raising the exemption level for the Employer Health Tax to make it easier for small businesses and new entrepreneurs to create jobs. 
 
At the same time, Ontario must invest in where the global economic puck is going: 
the resource efficient, cleantech and low carbon economy. 
 
Last month at the World Economic Forum in Davos, global leaders called for a $14-trillion investment in greening the world’s economy to reduce the costs of climate change. The highly respected McKinsey Global Institute has called for a global resource revolution. They estimate an annual investment of over $1 trillion in energy efficiency, cleantech innovation and the wise use of natural resources.
 
Ontario needs a policy framework where our businesses, workers and entrepreneurs–urban and rural, northern and southern–can score a hat trick by making Ontario a global leader in this new economy. 
 
In order to make our businesses more competitive and help homeowners save money, Ontario must move from one of the least efficient users of energy to one of the most energy efficient jurisdictions. This won’t happen if the government continues to prioritize expensive new generation over energy efficiency programs.
 
We must move away from the bigger is better, centralized grid of the 20th century to community-based energy projects where local businesses generate jobs to power the decentralized smart grid of the 21st century.
 
We can’t afford to borrow billions on more nuclear plants that have never delivered on time or on budget. The bottom line is that our family farm or my small business would never have survived if we had piled on that kind of debt.
 
Ontario must reward innovation and new business investment with a cleantech tax credit. 
 
We need training programs and apprenticeship reform so our youth can access these new jobs.
 
Ontario can save municipalities money, reduce waste and create jobs by shifting the tax burden of waste management from municipal property taxpayers to the companies that produce waste in the first place.
 
We can sell sustainable solutions to the world by developing the Ring of Fire, not as a wild west show that recreates the tar sands, but as a model of sustainability with efficient and responsible mining practices, energy efficient provincial processing facilities, good land use planning, environmental stewardship, and a full partnership with First Nations.
 
Ontario has a diverse, highly educated population to attract and develop knowledge based and creative industries. But we need to ensure these jobs are created in urban and rural communities by having affordable broadband access available across the province.
 
All of our communities need the benefits that come from innovative new industries: a broader tax base, greater demand from more equal and stable incomes, and more quality full-time jobs to fund the services and social programs that provide a high quality of life.
 
Finally we need less talk and more action in supporting our local food and farmers. The food and farming sector is the largest employer in this province. Local farmers can deliver economic, health and environmental solutions.
 
The province has a responsibility to lead by requiring our public institutions to establish local food purchasing programs. We need to remove the barriers to success for local farmers and eliminate the one-size-fits all regulations that are hurting our local abattoirs and artisan processors.
 
I believe it is time to recognize that farmers do more than put healthy food on our tables. They are also stewards of our land and waterways, protectors of species and habitat. It is unfair and unsustainable to ask farmers to shoulder this burden alone. All of us, rural and urban, must share in this responsibility by paying farmers for the environmental good and services that we all enjoy.
 
Community
 
Strong local economies are essential to building healthy local communities.
 
Ontario is blessed with beautiful landscapes, fresh water, natural resources and good farmland. But we can’t take this for granted.
 
As the Aboriginal proverb goes: “We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”
 
I believe we have a sacred responsibility–this is something my parents instilled in me growing up on a farm–to take care of our land and water and make sure it is productive for the next generation.
 
We are coming close to screwing this one up folks.
 
Anyone who has participated in the anti-mega quarry movement knows that the people of Ontario care deeply about our land and water. 
 
When only 5% of our land is suitable for farming, it is simply irresponsible to lose 120,000 acres per year to development. 
 
Ontario must close the loopholes in legislation that threatens clean water and prime farmland.
 
We must go from being the least efficient users of gravel to the most efficient. Let’s set a goal to become the global leader in recycling aggregates. 
 
I believe most citizens understand the need to protect our farmland and farmers from urban sprawl and unsustainable development. I see it in communities across the province as people sacrifice their time and money to stand up for their communities.
 
And time and time again, the unelected, political insiders on the Ontario Municipal Board overturn the decisions of local councils and the efforts of citizens groups. 
 
I believe this undemocratic assault on local planning and local decision making must come to an end. 
 
It’s time to overhaul the outdated OMB and restore a little democracy to land use planning in this province.
 
Good transportation infrastructure is essential to our economy and the quality of life. 
 
Gridlock is negatively affecting our economy and health. Paying for road repairs, public transit, expanded GO service, Ontario Northland and safer streets will require new, dedicated sources of revenue. 
 
Even if we could get back the money wasted on ORNGE, EHealth and the gas plant fiascos, it wouldn’t be enough to close the infrastructure funding gap.
 
Canada’s gas tax was a good first step in closing this gap. But we can’t pretend that the infrastructure money we need will magically appear, nor can our children afford to have it added to their provincial credit card. 
 
The silence at Queen’s Park on road pricing must end.
 
The Green Party is challenging all parties at Queen’s Park to have an honest conversation about transportation infrastructure: we can’t afford to let gridlock continue and we can’t afford to invest in solutions without dedicated revenue. 
 
Kids
 
Our kids deserve a quality education. It is an essential tool for their success.
 
Yet, we’ve now had an education crisis under successive NDP, Conservative and Liberal governments. 
 
In addition to the negative disruptions in our classrooms, I’m also deeply concerned by the number of rural schools being closed. 
 
Instead of attacking teachers, laying off education staff and closing schools, I believe Ontario needs a frank conversation about whether we can afford to fund separate school systems. We have to ask ourselves whether it is fair in today’s world to fund one religious school system at the exclusion of all others.
 
I know this isn’t an easy topic, especially for politicians, but I think we owe it to our parents, teachers and students to create a fair, financially responsible school system that prioritizes resources in the classroom.
 
We must also get our children off to a good start in life by tackling child poverty. The Green Party’s has a plan to reduce poverty and pollution while balancing our budget in a fair and socially just way. By ending the 10% subsidy for electricity consumption that mostly benefits the wealthy, Ontario can fund the social assistance review recommendations to change our social assistance programs from perpetuating poverty to ones that remove the barriers to work so that we can end poverty while still putting money towards balancing the budget.
 
Seniors
 
While we need to secure our children’s future, we also need to take care of our parents and grandparents. Ontario needs more action and less talk when it comes to funding home care, community care and long term care for our seniors. We need to invest in our seniors by ensuring they have a full continuum of care when and where they need.
 
Conclusion
 
Together we have to ask ourselves whether Ontario is on the right track. Are we skating to where the puck is going, or where it is, or worse yet where it used to be?
 
Is the status quo working? And can it work without new ideas and a refreshingly honest conversation that puts solutions before partisan politics?
 
I believe we need new voices at the table. I believe we need a new party with new ideas. 
 
Our great province is at a crossroads. The world is transitioning into a new era. Now more than ever we have to think big and expect better from our politicians.
 
I’m inviting you to help the Green Party challenge the status quo so that Ontario can skate to where the puck is going. Our Great Province needs a Great Strategy to succeed.
 
Thank you.