Remarks to the Rural Ontario Municipal Association and the Ontario Good Roads Association

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Thank you Eleanor Renaud for the kind introduction.
 
I had the privilege of first meeting Eleanor in 2010 during the by-election campaign in Leeds Grenville. Eleanor and I connected over our shared history of growing up on a farm that raised cattle and produced cash crops.
 
Based on subsequent meetings with Eleanor, I hope I’ve dispelled some myths surrounding the Green Party. Although I love trees, I don’t spend my days hugging them. And while I’m sure Birkenstocks are comfortable foot ware, I don’t own a pair.
 
Today, I hope to shatter some your myths about the Green Party because I believe Ontario desperately needs the sensible solutions and new approaches to politics that the Green Party offers.
 
But first, 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. Although we may or may not agree on all the details on all 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.
 
Many of the values that guide my Green politics come from growing up on a farm. My parents taught me that hard work and perseverance pay off, and that you need a long term plan that protects and sustains your natural assets to secure present and future prosperity. 
 
Today, I want to talk with you about the Green Party’s primary goal: protecting the people and places you love by delivering on our top three priorities: 
 
1. Creating tomorrow’s jobs today, 
2. Securing your kids’ and grandkids’ future, and 
3. Protecting our food and water.
 
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. We need a bold vision for the future that tackles Ontario’s unacceptably high youth unemployment rate today. 
 
Tweaking the status quo by handing out cash to companies with the right connections to the right Minister, as the Liberals do, is not a plan—at least not one that will work. 
 
Nor is it good enough to say that you will magically create a million jobs, especially when study after study and real life experience has shown that lowering taxes on blue chip corporate profits, as the PCs propose, does not and has not led to more jobs—unless you are talking about the jobs that multinational corporations are shipping overseas.
 
I’m not sure if it is worse to have a flawed plan or no jobs plan, but you will have to ask the NDP that question.
 
The Green Party, on the other hand, has a bold jobs plan that believes our economic transformation must start by supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs to create innovative new industries and good local jobs that diversify and strengthen our local economies. 
 
I will continue to push for lowering taxes on jobs by doubling the exemption level for the Employer Health Tax to make it easier for small businesses and new entrepreneurs to create jobs. 
 
Ontario has a choice: The province can continue the failed policies of handing out cheques and tax breaks to big corporations as the status quo parties want to do, or we can help our local businesses and entrepreneurs double the number of jobs they create by exempting those jobs from being taxed, as the Green Party proposes.
 
At the same time we are lowering taxes on jobs, the Green Party’s jobs plan believes Ontario must invest in the jobs of the future today. 
 
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. 
 
Ontario’s economic success will require us to skate to where the global economic puck is going:  the resource efficient, clean tech and low carbon economy. 
 
The U.S., Germany and Japan are all revitalizing and expanding their manufacturing sectors by investing in clean tech innovation and advanced manufacturing.
 
Last year at the World Economic Forum in Davos, global leaders called for a $14-trillion investment in greening the world’s economy to reduce the spiralling costs of climate change. 
 
The highly respected McKinsey Global Institute has identified energy efficiency, clean tech innovation and the wise use of natural resources as the biggest economic opportunities for business investment and job growth.
 
Ontario needs a jobs plan where our businesses, workers and entrepreneurs–urban and rural, northern and southern–can score a hat trick by making Ontario a world leader in this new global economy. 
 
The Green Party will start by rewarding innovation and new business investment with a clean tech investment tax credit to foster job creation in fastest growing sector of the global economy.
 
I will push for job training programs and apprenticeship reform so our youth can access these new jobs.
 
I believe Ontario 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 by requiring efficient and responsible mining practices, energy efficient provincial processing facilities, comprehensive land use plans, and an equal partnership with First Nations.
 
The Green Party will not play political games with false promises about rising energy prices. Instead, we will make Ontario’s homes and businesses the most energy efficient in North America—helping people save money by saving energy.
 
I will continue to push the government to put community interests before corporate interests so that renewable energy projects enrich your local economy.
 
I will also push for changes in investment regulations to make it easier for you to invest in local businesses and social enterprises that make our economies more resilient. 
 
I believe Ontario needs less talk and more action when it comes to supporting local food and farmers. I will continue to push the Premier to use her new powers under the Local Food Act to require public institutions to buy homegrown Ontario food. 
 
And while I am pleased the news that Thomas Canning will expand in the wake of the Heinz plant closure in Leamington, I will continue to push for a province wide local food processing fund to provide homegrown entrepreneurs with access to affordable capital to invest in food processing plants. 
 
If this government can bail out auto companies, why can’t it support Ontario farmers and food producers?
 
Finally, the Green Party’s job plan believes it is essential to get our economy moving again by ending the gridlock that is grinding it to a halt.
 
Ontario desperately needs an honest conversation about funding public transit, not just the Toronto centric plan of the Liberals, but transit plans that also includes infrastructure for communities across Ontario, that expand GO service to places like Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo and Niagara, as well as support for Ontario Northland. 
 
Let me be clear the Green Party supports taxes and tolls to fund transit. The two opposition parties are doing you a disservice by suggesting that magic money and fairy dust will fund transit. 
 
We all benefit from ending gridlock: the farmer shipping product to Toronto, the tech entrepreneur commuting to Guelph-KW, the student traveling home to North Bay and the manufacturer transporting product through the GTHA for export.
 
The GPO supports revenue tools and taxes to fund transit that meet three principles:
 
1. The revenue is placed in a dedicated transit fund so that politicians can’t waste it on things like moving gas plants.
2. A range of revenue tools are used that are fair, balanced and progressive.
3. The revenue tools should include demand management tools so that we begin to reduce gridlock now, not waiting until transit is built.
 
Kids
 
All of our communities need the benefits that come from public infrastructure investments and 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 today and tomorrow so we secure a bright future for our kids. 
 
First and foremost, I believe our kids deserve a high quality education.
 
Yet, we’ve now had an education crisis under successive NDP, Conservative and Liberal governments. 
 
In addition to the disruptions we experienced in our schools last year, I’m deeply concerned by the number of rural schools being closed, the laying off of educational support staff, the lack of services for children with special needs and the limited availability of special programs. 
 
Instead of cuts in our classrooms, I believe Ontario needs a frank conversation about whether we can afford to fund separate school boards, especially when the cost of doing it exceeds $1 billion per year.
 
I believe it is time to end segregation in our schools by merging the best of Catholic and public school boards into a single public school system with French and English boards. 
 
We owe it to parents, teachers and especially our children to create a fair, financially responsible school system that prioritizes resources in our kids’ classrooms.
 
We also owe our kids a good start in life by making a firm commitment to end childhood poverty. Yet, far too many kids go to school hungry every day. We must change this by changing our priorities so your kids and grandkids come first. 
 
The Green Party 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, we can afford to fund reforms to social assistance that remove barriers to work and provide financial support for those who need it most.
 
In addition to securing our children’s future, I believe 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.
 
Food and Water
 
It is essential for us to not only protect the people we love, but also the places we love.
 
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–it is something my parents instilled in me growing up on a farm–to take care of our land and water. To make sure it is productive for the next generation.
 
As the only political leader in Ontario to sign the food and water first pledge, I understand how essential protecting farmland and water is. We all need to eat and drink.
 
But after reading the review of the Aggregate Resources Act and the release of the new Provincial Policy Statement, I’m afraid the three status quo parties at Queen’s Park don’t get it. They’ve declared war on protecting farmland and water.
 
It as if they did not hear or simply ignored the farmers, citizen and community groups calling for stronger protections for farmland and water. 
 
This is unacceptable at a time when Ontario is losing 365 acres of farmland a day; an annual area the equivalent of the size of Toronto.
 
It makes no sense for Ontario to destroy the natural asset base for the food and farming sector when it is the largest employer in the province.
 
I will continue to fight for permanent protection of prime farmland.
 
I am also calling for stronger source water protection. it is unacceptable and dangerous that another mega quarry could threaten our water, farmland and the health of our communities without being required to conduct an Environmental Assessment. 
 
I will push for changes that move Ontario from being the least efficient users of aggregates to one of the most efficient. We simply cannot afford to dig our farmland up at an unsustainable rate. Nor can we afford to fill those pits back up with toxic construction waste from Toronto.
 
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. 
 
I will fight to overhaul or abolish the outdated OMB and restore democracy to land use planning in this province.
 
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 used to be?
 
Ask yourself if the status quo is working for you and your community? 
 
And can it work with the same old parties offering the same old ideas?
 
I believe we need new voices at the table. I believe we need a new party with new ideas. 
 
And I selected the Green Party for this reason. It is admittedly not the easy road to election, but it is the right road. 
 
I’m on a mission to restore honesty, integrity and good public policy at Queen’s Park. 
 
And I need your help to succeed.
 
Together, we can create jobs, secure a bright future for our kids and protect our food and water. 
 
Together, we can challenge the status quo. We can change politics as usual.
 
It’s time to think big and expect better from our government.
 
It’s time for Green voices at Queen’s Park.
 
Thank you.
 

Mike Schreiner
Leader of the Green Party of Ontario