Poor Finance Minister Vic Fedeli. On the eve of his moment in the sun – the release of the provincial government’s fall economic statement this week —Patrick Brown released his memoir (“Takedown: The Attempted Political Assassination of Patrick Brown), in which he accuses Fedeli of having been the subject of a sexual misconduct allegation during the previous government. What a way to take the wind out of the sails of the current government.
Called “A Plan for the People: Ontario’s Economic Outlook and Fiscal Review,” Thursday’s announcements from the Finance Minister appear to be anything but “for the people.”
It does not take long to get a sense of the smoke and mirrors that lie ahead in this province as Ford’s Conservatives try to convince us that they are here to save money while also improving the quality of our lives. At page 3 of this 174-page document, we learn that “Every Dollar Counts:” the government is saving $11,000 by not making print copies of its economic statement readily available. Good to know, because that $11,000 saved is really going to make a difference for all of us.
Here are a few of the headlines and what they really mean for Ontarians.
Restoring trust, transparency and accountability
There is a lot that could be said about this government’s trustworthiness when it claims to be making transparency and accountability a priority, but let’s look at just one situation.
According to a news story earlier this week, the Premier’s Chief of Staff asked OPG Chair Bernard Lord to terminate a senior executive on his first day of work. That could cost taxpayers $500,000 in severance pay. Who was that executive? Alykhan Velshi, former chief of staff to past Conservative Party Leader Patrick Brown. And wait just one more minute: even though Velshi was terminated on his first day of work in September, he is actually still in position as vice president of corporate affairs and community relations, where he will remain – presumably being paid – until the as-yet-unknown date that his termination takes effect.
Had the previous government found itself in this situation, Ford and his cronies would have been all over them for wasting public monies and for a lack of transparency and accountability.
Making Ontario open for business
Vic Feneli announced a number of initiatives to create a “pro-business environment” in this province.
Cancelling the cap and trade program, substituting lower taxes for those with low incomes for an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour (an independent financial analyst has said that the increased minimum wage would have put more money in people’s pockets), supporting pipeline construction and reducing electrical rates, for instance, may make the province more attractive to business investment, but do little or nothing to improve the lives of “the people.”
Respecting consumers and families
Last but not least, the Plan for the People addresses consumers and families. What can we expect? A tax credit for those whose incomes are under $30,000. Cancellation of green energy contracts. No implementation of a planned modest tax increase for those in the highest income bracket — a tax increase that would have put an additional $275 million dollars into the province’s coffers. Elimination of rent controls for new construction. (According to the government’s number crunchers, developers will build more new units of housing if they can charge whatever rent they want. But what use are those new units if people can’t afford to pay the rent?)
Social assistance reform is coming, but information about what that will look like won’t follow next week, on November 22. I am not holding my breath for good news.
Ontario’s universities and colleges will be required to develop strategies to ensure “free speech” on their campuses; a term that is generally used to mean that anyone, no matter how deplorable, hateful or violent their ideas may be, will be given free and secure access to speaking space in institutions of higher learning.
The “secure communities and safer streets,” section of the Plan makes no mention of violence against women, so we still don’t know whether or not this government intends to implement any of the measures contained in the Gender-Based Violence Action Plan passed by the previous government, with dollars approved by Treasury Board and in the Spring 2018 budget. Once more, I am not holding my breath for good news.
But what about the beer?
The Conservatives ran on a beer platform, and they have not forgotten about it now that they have been elected. The scheduled increase in the beer basic tax, which would have brought up the price of a 24-pack of beer by 25 cents, will not be implemented, thus leaving “more money in the pockets of Ontario beer fans.” Yup, we are really going to benefit from that 25 cents we save every time we buy a 24-pack of beer.
Not only that, LCBO and Beer Store outlets will now remain open until 11 pm seven days a week to “improve choice, access and convenience and allow consumers to make responsible choices that work best for them.” There was a time not that long ago when we used the words choice and accessibility to refer to matters of substance, but no more. Now it’s all about the ease with which we can buy booze.
According to Vic Fedeli:
“Everyone across the province will be required to make sacrifices, without exception.”
I think there will be some Ontarians who make much greater sacrifices than others and, regardless of what the government says, that’s not a “Plan for the People.”