Budget doesn’t offer any relief

Ontario is at a tipping point. It’s getting more and more difficult to build a good life and get ahead here.
Costs are up, wages are flat, and the services we count on, like health care and education, are being squeezed or cut.
This is especially the case in the north, where people routinely tell me they feel like they are in a no-win situation as a result of poor government decisions. People were looking to this government to bring down costs, improve access to the services they rely on, and raise wages so they can get ahead.
But this budget doesn’t undo the damage that has been created by the Liberals over the past 14 years.
Some of the biggest concerns I hear from people across Kenora-Rainy River are those related to the affordability of everyday life. Over the past four years, in particular, I am hearing more and more concern about rising costs, stagnant wages, and pensions that aren’t keeping up.
Two-income households are worried about the cost of groceries. Seniors literally are being driven from their homes–homes they’ve worked their entire lives for–over sky-high hydro bills.
And so it’s no surprise that a key priority for the people in this province is making permanent, meaningful changes to hydro costs that address the underlying costs that are driving up hydro bills.
But in this budget, the Liberals have offered nothing more than a temporary fix. Offering what essentially is a 30-year hydro mortgage with a four-year fixed rate does nothing to address the cause of today’s high rates, and therefore can offer nothing more than a temporary reprieve–a short-term reprieve that will be financed on the backs of our children.
The minimal investments that will be made in health care do not make up for the cuts made by the Liberals over the past number of years.
An increase in hospital budgets is much-needed and long overdue, but tying it to the rate of annual inflation (about two percent) doesn’t come close to reversing the damage done to hospitals by this government after nine years of cuts and four years of frozen budgets.
Similarly, the amendment to the much relied upon Northern Health Travel Grant program, which now allows for a claim of more than one night’s accommodation, is absolutely necessary to help cover the true costs of travel for specialty services.
But the $100 per night cap is unrealistic and leaves many uncovered expenses.
While providing drug coverage for children is necessary, the OHIP+ program leaves millions of people without coverage. One-third of all working Ontarians have no prescription drug coverage.
Many adults and seniors are employed full-time in jobs without drug benefits and earn too little to pay for expensive drugs, yet too much to qualify for low-income drug assistance.
My offices have been approached by many who are in this situation–who are forced to go without important medications so that they can eat, keep the heat on, and have a roof over their heads.
This is wrong. We need a universal pharmacare program that would extend drug coverage to all Ontarians.
The cuts to education also will have a significant impact in the north. The $4.6-million cut to special education will mean a cut of $91,000 to the Rainy River District School Board alone.
The geographic circumstances grant–which helps to keep northern and rural schools open–is being cut again. The Liberals also have not committed to stopping the closure of 300 schools that are on the chopping block.
This is a Liberal “I’m sorry” budget. But it is too little, too late and it doesn’t offer the relief that Ontarians are desperate for.