By Sarah Campbell
With Queen’s Park in the midst of its winter break, normally this time of year is quiet on the provincial front.
That’s not the case this year, however, as the media is abuzz with the highly-anticipated report on the province’s finances by economist Don Drummond.
The report is expected to paint a bleak picture of our province’s financial situation and suggest across-the-board cuts to balance the books.
While the report has not been released officially yet, one thing is clear: cuts are coming and few, if any, departments and programs will be spared. Many of the cuts we will have to accept, but others we will have to be prepared to fight as they could significantly alter our way of life here in the north.
We’re all aware that the McGuinty Liberals are Toronto-centric and base their decisions on the perceived impact in the 416 and 905 area codes, without considering the impact on the rest of the province.
I worry this will have a severe impact on the north.
One of my biggest concerns is that the province will move ahead with further regionalization of our health-care system, expecting communities like Fort Frances, Dryden, Kenora, Red Lake, and Sioux Lookout to provide primary emergency services to a large geographic area and many smaller communities while smaller emergency rooms and health centres will face significant cuts and potential closures.
The regional health centres will be expected to serve a larger area and population while facing funding cuts of their own.
I anticipate people in our region will be asked to travel to Thunder Bay for an increasing number of services. Currently, many residents are expected to travel hundreds of kilometres to access services like vehicle branding inspections, driving assessments and, in some cases, Ontario Works and ODSP intake interviews.
I expect the number of services requiring these trips to increase as the government moves to trim staffing levels.
As well, standards for many provincial services, such as highway plowing, likely will continue to drop as the government pays more attention to the bottom line at the expense of our safety.
Finally, I expect our municipalities will be in for hard times as provincial and federal funding for essential infrastructure will be limited—if not non-existent—leaving our communities to fend for themselves for essential upgrades to expensive necessities such as water, sewer, and roads.
Municipal governments already are cash-strapped due to the Liberal and Conservative governments’ legacy of “farming out” expensive vital services. Most people aren’t aware of how many essential services—such as land ambulance—are hanging by a thread.
Make no mistake, cuts are necessary to balance our province’s budget. Programs like the Liberals’ costly and ineffective “green” energy program need to go, but my concern is Premier McGuinty will try to keep his expensive pet projects at the expense of essential services.
I hope I’m wrong, but we need to be prepared to fight.
By Sarah Campbell