Recommendations for the Provincial 2013 Budget

Honourable Charles SousaMinister of Finance
7 Queen’s Park Crescent, 7th Floor
Toronto, ON M7A 1Y7
 
Dear Hon. Minister Sousa,
 
In this year’s budget, I urge you to focus on plans that support 21st century jobs and infrastructure, reduce poverty and pollution, strengthen public services, and enrich our environment.
 
The status quo needs to change. We are facing major challenges. Gridlock is hurting our economy and health. Ontario’s manufacturing sector has shrunk by 300,000 jobs over the past decade. Poverty and inequality are on the rise. We can and must do better.
 
Ontario needs an honest conversation about how we can get our economy on the right track.
 
Honesty includes being straight about how we’re going to pay for projects, and transparent about the trade-offs we are making. Minister, this means not hiding damaging changes to environmental legislation in an omnibus budget bill, as the Liberal government did last year.
 
The good news is that we can make positive change, starting with the 2013 budget.  Budgets are about choices. They reflect who we are and who we want to be. We ask the government to make choices that protect our kids, jobs and neighbourhoods. 
 
The Green Party believes the budget can be balanced in a fair and productive way. This can be done by implementing innovative changes where appropriate, generating revenue where needed, and making long-term investments that secure our future. We are keen to cooperate with the government and work with all parties on solutions to the pressing challenges we face. 
 
First, seize opportunities to improve public services
It’s critical in this budget to find innovative cost-cutting solutions that will balance Ontario’s budget faster, while improving the essential services that support  our communities and benefit our citizens. By seizing opportunities, we can save money and generate revenue so that we don’t have to cancel programs, undermine democratic bargaining rights, or lay people off. Living within our means doesn’t require gutting public services if we make smart choices.
 
1. Merge the school boards
 
Let’s start by addressing the elephant in the (school) room. In Ontario, we have four school boards (English Public, English Catholic, French Public, French Catholic). We can eliminate costly duplication by merging the Catholic and public school systems into one French/English public system.
 
Last year, your government decided to cancel the democratic bargaining rights of teachers, saying that it was the only option to save money. That’s simply not true. By merging the Catholic and public school boards, we can realize ongoing savings of an estimated $1.3 billion per year that we can reinvest in the classroom and use to provide great education for our kids.
 
The GPO is calling on the Ministry of Finance to take immediate action to:
 

  • Call a citizen’s assembly or public commission to determine the best way to end segregation in our schools and move toward a modern single public French and English school system.
  • Work with the Federal Government to ensure Ontario receives an exemption from the constitutional clause regarding the funding of school boards. This is the same exemption Newfoundland and Quebec received before successfully transitioning to funding one school board.

2. Reduce poverty and pollution: cancel the wasteful energy subsidy for electricity consumption
The GPO is calling on the Ministry of Finance to finally cancel the deceptively named Clean Energy Benefit (CEB), which is effectively a subsidy for consuming electricity . This misguided program rewards wasteful electricity use, costs Ontario almost $1 billion each year, and benefits the wealthiest the most. The Drummond Report recommended canceling this subsidy last year.
 
It is poor economic, social, and environmental policy to spend money to subsidize wasteful energy consumption while not supporting programs to help people save money by saving energy now and in the future. The GPO also believes it is better to use this money to fund programs that support our most vulnerable citizens.  
 
We recommend using savings from the cancellation of the CEB to reduce poverty and pollution by investing:
 

  • $200 million for an energy rebate program targeted to lower-income families and seniors.
  • $340 million to fund the recommendations from the Commission to Review Social Assistance, to transform social assistance from a program that perpetuates poverty into a strategy that reduces it.
  • $300 million for a job creating energy efficiency building retrofit program to help homeowners, tenants and small businesses save money by saving energy.
  • $90 million to fund a full increase in the Ontario Child Benefit.
  • $70 million allocated to deficit reduction.

3. Have polluters pay their fair share
We live in a province with finite natural resources, and a rapidly growing population putting more demand on those resources. 
 
As an entrepreneur and small business owner, I understand the importance of having the right market incentives to drive positive, sustainable change.
 
The province must have a proper cost structure in place to reduce waste and make the most efficient use of our resources. The Drummond report called for the government to generate revenue with the simple principle of asking polluters to pay their fair share.
 
We need an honest conversation with the public and businesses, as well as political leadership, to move ahead with solutions like the right price for aggregate extraction, water taking permits, and landfill levies.
 
The right revenue tools will provide a financial incentive to reduce pollution, take the burden of dealing with pollution off the backs of taxpayers, spur innovation and create jobs.
 
The GPO recommends the 2013 budget include:
 

  • An increase to the levy for aggregates from 11.5 cents per tonne to a minimum of 50 cents per tonne, which is equivalent to the levy in Quebec. Over time, the levy must be set at a rate that provides the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Ministry of the Environment and municipalities with the revenue they need to cover all costs associated with aggregate extraction.
  • A landfill levy that reflects the cost of managing waste so that we have the right incentives in place for companies to reduce waste and to use less hazardous materials. It is time to shift the cost of waste from municipal property taxpayers to industry.
  • An increase in the water-taking levy for industrial purposes, excluding farming and local food processing, from $3.71 per million litres to $10 per million. 

Next, invest in the future
1. Support businesses in creating good jobs 
Wayne Gretzky was ‘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. The same can be said for fostering a strong economy in Ontario.
 
Ontario desperately needs a bold plan to create jobs for the 21st century. We need new ideas that will create good career opportunities in growing industries, especially for our youth. This is not going to happen if the government remains focused on building more casinos.
 
We need to invest in clean technology and the low carbon economy. Earlier this year at the World Economic Forum in Davos, world leaders called for a $14-trillion investment in greening the world’s economy.
 
Businesses in the emerging clean-tech sector can seize this opportunity to transform our economy: improve productivity, facilitate innovation, create jobs, address climate change, and have a positive influence on the well-being of our communities. This is a win-win for the economy and environment.
 
By closing corporate tax loopholes designed in and for yesterday’s economy, we can invest in the right incentives to spur job creation and business development in the new global economy.
 
The GPO recommends using the money saved from changing corporate tax structures to fund:
 

  • An investment tax credit for entrepreneurs in the emerging global clean-tech economy.
  • Tax credits for training programs and apprenticeship reform so young workers have the skills needed to create and obtain the jobs of the future.
  • Raising the Employer Health Tax exemption from $400,000 to $800,000 in payroll for businesses with a payroll under $5 million so that it is easier for entrepreneurs and small businesses to create good local jobs. 

2. Develop the right infrastructure
We need to invest in tomorrow’s infrastructure, not yesterday’s. Whether it’s energy or transportation, change is needed to facilitate a vibrant economy in Ontario.
 
Your government has admitted to costing us millions by making politically motivated decisions to cancel gas plants. Given this, it is even more ridiculous to consider wasting billions more on new nuclear.
 
No nuclear project has ever come in on time or on budget. The existing Darlington reactors were supposed to cost $4 billion, but came in at $14 billion. Ontarians are still paying off the debt from the last round of nuclear projects. 
 
We’re also wasting energy and dollars through gridlock that costs $6 billion per year in the GTHA alone. If the status quo doesn’t change, gridlock will cost us $15 billion per year.
 
The new Premier has said that she is open to a conversation about improving our transportation system with funds for public transit. Now it’s time for action. We need new, dedicated sources of revenue to fund public transit, as well as direct funding for active transportation.  
 
Better transportation networks are an economic bonus, supporting local businesses and increasing the efficient flow of people, goods and resources. They also help create liveable communities and foster thriving main street economies. 
 
The Green Party recommends that the 2013 budget include:
 

  • A moratorium on any new or refurbed nuclear projects without an independent analysis of the risks, costs and alternatives.
  • A commitment to creating dedicated revenue streams that will provide a minimum of $2 billion per year to fund public transit, expanded GO service, and Ontario Northland.
  • An allocation of 2% of the transportation budget for municipalities to make roads safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

3. Keep Ontario healthy
A sustainable, affordable health care system requires investments to prevent illness in the first place. 
 
It costs much less to keep people healthy than to treat illness. Yet Ontario spends only $7 per person on health promotion and illness prevention. In comparison, British Columbia spends $21 per person, and Québec spends $16 per person.
 
Healthy food and local farmers can be part of the solution to keep our health care costs under control since a well-balanced diet can dramatically improve our health. 
 
The foundation for our life-long eating patterns is set when we’re young. Giving our children tools to sustain healthy lifestyles will reduce childhood obesity and diabetes.
 
Poor nutrition can lead to increased risk of chronic and infectious diseases and have negative impacts on the growth and development of children. It costs more to treat and manage these diseases and conditions than it does to support programs that provide the nutritious food that might prevent them.
 
The Green Party recommends that the 2013 budget include:
 

  • Investment in a healthy school food program.
  • Establish local food purchasing targets for public institutions. 
  • Increasing investment in health promotion and illness prevention programs.

4. Support the best science
The federal government is poised to discard 45 years of freshwater science by closing the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA), a truly world-class facility.
 
Ontario borders on four Great Lakes. We have over 250,000 lakes, rivers and streams.  We have rich groundwater resources. All of this fresh water needs to be protected. 
 
Without sound science and the historical data the Experimental Lakes Area provides, our ability to guarantee the safety of Ontario’s fresh-water resources for our children and future generations is at risk.
 
The Federal Government has chosen to ignore the value of the Experimental Lakes Area. I implore you to save this world-class research facility. 
 
Revenues from increasing the industrial water-taking tax can be used to fund this facility and ensure we are good stewards of water for our children and future generations. 
 
The Green Party recommends that the 2013 budget include:
 

  • Allocation of $2 million per year for operations of the Experimental Lakes Area.
  • A commitment to take over permanent control of the ELA from the Federal Government.

And last, be honest: no omnibus budget bills
Ontarians are fed up with deceptive omnibus budget bills that weaken democracy and public participation, and undermine transparency and accountability.
 
We have a beautiful province, one that we should work hard to protect so that we can enjoy it today, and our kids and their kids can enjoy it hundreds of years from now. 
 
There is no question that the law must adapt over time as conditions change. It’s fair to bring any act back to the Legislature to be updated or improved. It’s not fair or right to duck the law and avoid required public consultation.
 
Last year, changes to 69 acts, including eight environmentally significant laws affecting the Ministry of Natural Resources, were buried in your government’s 327 page omnibus budget bill.
 
This was not honest, transparent or good governing. Minister, I ask that you please do the right thing, and avoid hiding changes to environmentally (or other non-finance) legislation in the 2013 budget bill.
Conclusion
 
The Green Party appreciates your consideration of our recommendations. You are welcome to contact our office with any questions or if you require further information.
 
Thank you.
 
Mike Schreiner
Leader
Green Party of Ontario