Plenty of issues to raise

Having been recessed since mid-June, there is no shortage of issues to be raised when the fall session at Queen’s Park begins this Monday (Sept. 9).
While nobody can predict exactly what will happen over the next few months, we do have some pretty strong indications. For that reason, I’d like to take a few minutes and look at some of the issues I expect to be raised.
The first is the future of the Ministry of Natural Resources. Over the summer, the government made major changes to MNR offices across the northwest.
Despite moving forward with part of their plan, the transformation of the MNR remains shrouded in secrecy. And while it is easy for the minister to say the end result will be a net increase in employment, we all are aware that employment figures can be manipulated.
Full-time equivalent positions aren’t the same as full-time positions, reduced hours could mean reduced benefits, and these changes could encourage some employees to look elsewhere for employment.
Plus, we can’t overlook the obvious—that added jobs in one community cannot, and do not, make up for a loss of jobs in another.
Of particular concern with these changes is the loss of local data collection and knowledge that typically has informed MNR policy. As such, I expect Minister Orazietti to face some tough questions this fall.
Another issue that undoubtedly will be in discussed is the government’s plan to fund transit in southern Ontario. Just before we recessed in June, Metrolinx came forward with a number of controversial proposals to pay for planned transit expansion in that region.
We need to remain vigilant to ensure the “revenue tools” the premier endorses do not negatively affect northerners, who will not directly benefit from transit expansion in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area and who often do not have access to public transit themselves.
I will continue to be very vocal about this issue to ensure we in the north are not left footing the bill for infrastructure that does not address our own very important challenges.
Finally, with five by-elections having been held over the summer, the make-up of Queen’s Park has changed slightly. Some have suggested that Premier Wynne’s popularity may be beginning to fade.
At the same time, PC leader Tim Hudak has faced increased questions and more opposition relating to his performance from party members and his own MPPs, as a result of the same by-elections.
As the fall sessions begins, it will be interesting to see how these two leaders handle these circumstances. Will Wynne finally come forward with her own vision for the province, that includes Northwestern Ontario, or will she continue on without a real mandate?
Will Hudak stop opposing everything, start bringing his own ideas forward, and become an active part of the solution to the challenges facing Ontario?
Only time will tell. But either way, it should make for a very interesting fall session.