Provincial budget delivers for Huron-Bruce says Thompson - April 18, 2019
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Despite some criticism of Premier Doug Ford’s first budget, which was tabled at Queen’s Park last week, Huron-Bruce MPP and Minister of Education Lisa Thompson says there is plenty to be excited about in the document.
Finance Minister Vic Fedeli tabled the budget on Thursday that will see a total of $163.4 billion spent, $4.9 billion more than the previous Liberal government’s final spending figures.
The government does, however, aim to eliminate the province’s deficit in five years, projecting a surplus by 2023/2024. The government projects a deficit of $10.3 billion in 2019/2020, $6.8 billion in 2020/2021, $5.6 billion in 2021/2022 and $3.5 billion in 2022/2023 before the projected surplus the following year.
This came after Ford’s government adjusted the deficit. The Liberals stated that the deficit was $6.7 billion, but the Progressive Conservatives insist it is actually $11.7 billion. The adjustment came as the result of an accounting decision, no longer choosing to count approximately $11 billion in government co-sponsored pension plans as assets on the province’s books.
In an interview with The Citizen on Friday, Thompson said the budget delivers good news for all of Ontario, including those areas under her purview, like her riding of Huron-Bruce and the province’s education system.
“The PC government of Ontario is protecting what matters most; that’s our frontline jobs, that’s our health care, our education, our social services,” Thompson said.
She added that the government inherited a “huge burden” with not just the provincial deficit, but its debt as well, so she and her colleagues have identified what’s important to Ontarians through extensive consultation.
“We have worked for many months in terms of identifying priorities and what matters most to people and we’ve landed on a very responsible path forward in which we’re protecting what matters most,” Thompson said.
In Thompson’s riding of Huron-Bruce, she says there is plenty to help residents along, but many of those announcements were made before last Thursday’s tabling of the budget. She points to funding for natural gas expansion and infrastructure aid for municipalities, in addition to the expansion of broadband internet throughout the province as examples. Thompson also said that protection for the Great Lakes will be of interest to Huron and Bruce County residents.
She also said the government is working to improve property assessment through the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC). Thompson says that many have lost confidence in property assessment, so the government will be looking at enhancing the accuracy and stability of property assessment through MPAC.
Furthermore, in Huron-Bruce, Thompson says she and the government will stand with farmers and manufacturers and help to promote careers in the skilled trades, beginning in the educational system and working up through universities and colleges.
As for social services, Thompson insists that freeing up child care workers to best decide how to do their jobs is a step in the right direction and in terms of government assistance, helping Ontarians to obtain employment is the best assistance of all.
“We’ve modernized child care,” Thompson said. “The previous administration, it was almost like a nanny state. They were prescribing [how and where] child care could happen and we are looking to ensure, going forward, there’s flexibility, access and affordable child care across the province.”
In regards to government assistance, Thompson says that the previous system wasn’t helping Ontarians get back on their feet and the current government is hoping to change that.
“The reality is the system we inherited was absolutely broken,” Thompson said, adding that a large number of residents on programs like Ontario Works would simply return to the program within a year.
“The best social program is indeed a job, so we’re going to be fixing the ineffective, disjointed patchwork of supports and again, at the end of the day, the people who absolutely need Ontario standing with them will have the supports they need, all the while we’re going to be enabling people who can work to get a job,” Thompson said.
With the increase in spending in the budget, despite the current government’s criticism of the previous Liberal government’s excessive spending, Thompson says the time is right to spend that money.
“To be responsible, we need to ensure that Ontarians are supported in our priority areas – health care, education – bringing relief as well,” Thompson said. “Spending has gone up marginally because we realize that people need relief after 15 years of mismanagement and having hands in their pockets every time taxpayers were turning around, we know people need relief.”
Among the highlights in the spending, Thompson said that billions of dollars of relief will be coming to individuals, families and businesses, including a new tax credit to help parents pay for child care or other youth activities like summer camps, music lessons or sports enrolment fees.
As far as Thompson’s education portfolio is concerned, she says that while there was a lot of smoke in the days leading up to the budget announcement, she feels the budget proves there is no fire.
“I’m very pleased to say that [the education budget] reflects the fact that, again, I have committed to listening to people and making sure we have an education system that works for parents, teachers, students – everyone,” Thompson said. “I would dare say that people will find it hard-pressed to find fault with it.
“There was a lot of fear mongering leading up into the budget... I’m pleased to say it, a lot of the fear mongering was proven to be absolutely false with the tabling of our budget [on April 11].”
Thompson said that while the focus has been on the fear of funding cuts, the government is actually increasing its spending in education by $700 billion for the fiscal year and investing in schools both new and existing. She said the government is dedicating $1.4 billion in both 2019 and 2020 to help fix schools.
In the days since the budget has been announced, many of the province’s school boards have come out with concerns about the budget. Some of the boards have blamed the government and its budget for layoffs the boards have been forced to make as this school year winds down.
While some boards have already laid off teachers – over 50 teachers in Guelph received layoff notices – other boards fear further job losses. The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board estimates it will lose over 175 positions, while the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board estimates a further 55 job losses. The Bluewater District School Board, in Thompson’s riding, fears it could lose as many as 50 teachers.
And while those are just a few of the boards concerned with funding cuts, Thompson says those job losses have nothing to do with the provincial government or its funding.
“Every school board and every teacher knows that on an annual basis, school boards review their rosters,” Thompson said. “They take into consideration long-term leave, who’s coming back from long-term leave, who’s retiring, who’s going to be redeployed and they see how many people they need in their various schools in their district and, again, surplus notifications are not new – they happen on an annual basis and we can’t confuse one with the other.”
However, the boards that fear losing teachers have directly connected those potential losses with reductions in provincial funding and changing program delivery for areas like special education and autism funding.
Thompson said she feels that student achievement will connect everything as far as the budget, school boards, students and teachers are concerned.
“Our number one priority, and I think it’s the thread that ties it all together, is student achievement,” Thompson said. “We’ll be working with our boards and they’ll see that we’re walking our talk when we announce our [Grants for Student Needs] because we’re increasing our spending in education.”
To view the budget in its entirety, visit budget.ontario.ca.