From Queen's Park
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The year 2016 was marked by a game of musical chairs, with patients and families receiving fewer public services as the Wynne Liberals continued to ration their health care and education to make up for 13 years of mismanagement and waste.
While the provincial treasury continues to bring in record revenues, Ontario taxpayers continue to get less in return. From delayed or cancelled surgeries to school closures and cuts to special education funding, it is important noting that every week of this year was filled with calls from constituents distraught over the ongoing and increasing cuts to their services and programs.
With life getting less affordable and harder under the Liberals, especially as a result of skyrocketing hydro rates, it is no surprise that a more troubling trend has been taking shape this year – the public’s pivoting from fury to helplessness. People are asking if Kathleen Wynne truly understands today’s Ontario. As pressures mount on home budgets, people are rightly calling the governing Wynne Liberals as out-of-touch and insensible to the growing inequality between urban and rural communities.
This growing fury over the ruling Liberals’ game of musical chairs is realistic.
Consider that the return of the Legislature in mid-February was marked by unrest with yet more spending scandals – this one involving the provincial government wasting nearly $800,000 on advertising for the cancelled Ontario Retirement Pension Plan (ORPP). This wasteful move was frustrating as the government’s own internal documents estimated that Ontario would lose 54,000 jobs per year if the ORPP was implemented. It was dismissed as a job-killing payroll tax that would only erode business competitiveness and reduce the take-home pay of workers, yet the warnings weren’t enough to stop the government from wasting $70 million setting up a program that never was more than a publicity stunt.
Meanwhile, the Liberals were cutting $815-million from physician services, $50-million from seniors’ physiotherapy services, $20-million from the assistive devices program, and 50 medical residency positions.
We also saw them playing musical chairs when they tried to cut more than 2,000 children with autism from the Intensive Behavioural Intervention (IBI) therapy waitlist, the only treatment that is statistically effective at improving the development of autistic children (sadly, delisting is a shameful legacy of this tired government. Beginning in 2004 with eye exams, physiotherapy, chiropractic care, and most recently, the Liberals quietly cut funding for test strips that diabetics use to monitor their blood sugar levels). After months of hard work by the Ontario Autism Coalition, families and the opposition parties, we were pleased to see that Minister Coteau listened to what we had been saying all along: that autism doesn’t end at five years of age.
Between last spring and now, I have challenged the province’s Minister of Education to put a moratorium on rural school closures, including the potential closure of demonstration/provincial schools, and review and fix the accommodation review guidelines and outdated school funding formula.
I was also working hard to draw attention to the inexcusable backlog and wait times for assessment and repair services at the Ontario Assistive Devices Program, which serves some of our most vulnerable and severely disabled people.
Over the fall months, I was also taking the Liberal government to task over wait times, cancelled surgeries and lack of mental health resources, which were putting constituents’ health in peril. I have also continued to challenge the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care to release the government’s plan for building new nursing home beds and matching the 24,000 seniors on the wait list with a bed. The lack of a plan for seniors is not acceptable, and it is my intent to keep pushing to make this file a priority in the years ahead.
The fall session was also marked by growing public unrest over cuts. I have joined my constituents and hundreds of Ontarians on the front lawn of the provincial Legislature to protest the Liberals’ failed energy and education policies.
The one common concern I hear from farmers, families, seniors on fixed incomes, businesses and our own public institutions – that is schools, hospitals and nursing homes – is that they can’t keep up with the sky-rocketing hydro rates. This is especially troubling for public institutions that are being forced to make cuts to staffing levels and reduce services to make ends meet.
Sadly, the government’s plan to cut 8 per cent from Hydro bills is a zero-sum game, as it will coincide with the arrival of the new massive carbon tax, a projected $1.9 billion tax increase that will raise the cost of virtually every product in Ontario.
As we ring in 2017, I am pleased to share some important achievements this year, including the grand-opening of the new Marine Emergency Duties (MED) training facility and related courses offered at Georgian College, delivering a $325,700 cheque to the Canadian Mental Health Association Grey Bruce from the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF), $210,000 for new beds at the at the Residential Hospice of Grey Bruce, entering a new stage of development of the new Markdale Hospital, convincing the NEC to back off expansion changes, reversing the Liberals’ plan to double the cost of seniors’ medications and restoring IBI therapy for children over five years of age, securing a $180-million investment to expand high-speed Internet access to rural Ontario, and convincing the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) to scrap a plan that would have reduced its presence in rural Ontario communities. Each one of these successes will have a positive impact to us locally and across the province!
I was also pleased to see the Liberal government finally agree to cap third-party advertising in Ontario elections, a file I had championed in the previous year when I introduced my private member’s bill in an effort to remove the ability of special-interest groups to buy influence in elections and put Ontario’s election laws in line with the rest of Canada and ensure democracy remained with you, the voter.
Likewise, I was pleased to have also debated and received unanimous consent for my Motion to declare September as Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in Ontario. The intent of my motion was to empower children and youth living with cancer by letting them know that they are not alone, and that we will do better for them by standing united to conquer childhood cancer by injecting new hope into fundraising for family support, research and ultimately saving children. I was also pleased to add my support to a call for a compassionate and catastrophic plan for Ontarians battling rare diseases, as championed by my colleague and MPP for Kitchener-Conestoga Michael Harris.
I am happy to report that my office staff have helped a significant number of constituents with their specific issues and needs. From hydro arrears to assistive devices and health care access, to assisting with WSIB and ODSP disputes, my door is always open and Team Walker is here to help all people.
According to Ontario Monitor, a website dedicated to tracking activities in the provincial Parliament, I continue to be in the top five for most prolific speakers, having debated 677 times over the past year – that’s 18 times more than in 2015!
I take my responsibility to voice the concerns of my constituents very seriously, and as such I am always keen to participate in debates and provide feedback on policies through the rural lens of my riding.
Local families want the Liberal government to deliver a plan to make energy rates affordable, to invest in frontline health services and put the province on a path to lower debt levels, which are currently eating up $11 billion in interest payments every year and represent the third biggest expense in Ontario’s treasury. If the government wasn’t overspending and sending $1 billion dollars out every month to cover interest on the debt, in addition to the billions it has wasted, then it could have been making seniors’ prescriptions drugs more affordable and building new long-term care beds to accommodate the 24,000 seniors on the waitlist. This interest cost is more than what it would cost to provide one year of long-term care for 17,000 seniors, or one year of home care for 55,000 Ontarians. It is money that should be going to health and education, and the less fortunate in our society, so that people can get the services and care they need and deserve, when they need them.
My plan for the New Year is to continue to stand up for my constituents and hold the Liberal government to account for how its policies are impacting us at home. I will oppose policies that I do not believe serve the best interests of Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound (my constituents are my first priority) and the province, and will support and give credit where credit is due. I will always strive to carry out my responsibilities with balance and continue to do my best to earn the trust and respect of the people of our great riding.
Thank you to everyone who offers me their trust and support, and to my dedicated staff and volunteers for all of your efforts. Wishing each of you, all the best of health, happiness and prosperity in 2017.
MPP Bill Walker,
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Friday, December 30, 2016