A small group of residents gathered at Access Point on Danforth on Jan. 26 to discuss issues pertaining to the upcoming Ontario budget, expected to be revealed in March by Finance Minister Dwight Duncan.
The meeting was organized by Beaches/East York Member of Provincial Parliament Michael Prue, who is also the New Democrat’s finance critic, and is the first of ten such meetings across the province.
Prue has recently criticized the Liberal minority government for not organizing legislative committees including a Finance Committee that would normally travel the province to listen to residents’ concerns surrounding the province’s spending.
“For the first time, that I’ve been able to find, since the 1940s there no Finance Committee in Ontario,” said Prue.
Instead, the Liberals requested the input of Don Drummond, an economist, to help decide what services to cut or trim down.
After a report was submitted to Premier Dalton McGuinty and Finance Minister Dwight Duncan, criticism quickly erupted and Drummond’s findings have been questioned on the basis of his expertise, or lack of, in certain areas.
The example Prue gave to the 20 or so people at the meeting was the recent comments by the Health Minister, Deb Matthews, suggesting that the government could cut back on C-sections as a way to save money.
“I don’t know what Don Drummond knows about those things, but I would suggest that leaving that in the hands of medical professionals, and the women themselves is what we should be looking at,” said Prue.
Matthews has since backed off on the idea and is considering an increase in birthing centres.
The meeting quickly shifted to questions and commentaries from the residents.
One resident suggested that the Province of Ontario should establish its own public bank using North Dakota as an example. This would theoretically increase the province’s government revenue.
Another attendee would like to see more money spent on health promotion in order to decrease spending on healthcare.
Bruce Budd said he would like the government to have a multi-year transit plan in place. He said that not only would it create jobs, it would also create a more efficient and environmentally-conscious transit infrastructure. He suggested freezing corporate tax cuts, a one percent increase in the HST, or a dedicated tax to fund such a plan.
Rita Furgiuele, a Malvern Collegiate teacher, expressed her disagreement with McGuinty’s support of the standardized testing that has been implemented in Ontario schools, and how the government should look at alternatives.
“We know that the standardized tests do not produce the results they’re intended to produce. They don’t test what they’re intended to test, and administering these tests costs millions of dollars,” said Furgiuele.
Lorie Fairburn of Neighbourhood Links expressed concerns with the lack of support for seniors and senior housing.
The most common suggestion, it seemed, was the increase of taxes and that wealthier individuals should be paying higher rates. Moving the maximum tax bracket up and creating higher brackets was suggested by Brad Feraday.
Sue Craig said that spending is not the problem but revenue is. She would like to see a raise in taxes and perhaps a “Robin Hood” tax that would generate revenue off of certain investments.
“If ever there was a time for a tax and spend budget, this is it,” said Craig. “How you’re gonna frame it, that’s the problem.”
Other issues brought up during the meeting included the need to increase research funding to promote innovation, the need to invest in newcomer programs to help identify their strengths and skills, and taking a closer look at healthcare spending and look for efficiencies.
Prue concluded by saying that the government cannot afford to waste any money and that “there needs to be the will to raise revenues.”