This week I attended the annual Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) Conference in Ottawa where I joined municipal leaders and delegations from across Ontario including several from communities in Algoma-Manitoulin.
The purpose of the AMO, which is comprised of almost all of Ontario’s 444 municipal governments, is to strengthen and enhance the effectiveness of municipal government in Ontario. At the conference I met with municipal leaders from our region as well as provincial government officials and ministers to discuss a multitude of needs and concerns that were shared. While I am in frequent contact with municipal leaders in Algoma-Manitoulin, the conference provides an excellent forum to really focus on matters of importance and share ideas and approaches to improving the effectiveness of provincial/municipal operations here in the North.
One subject we discussed involved concerns with impact the crushing cuts that the Ford Government’s policies will have upon the local governments, related service providers and agencies and, of course, Ontario citizens themselves. In the last six weeks we have only had a small taste of what Ontarians can expect in terms of policies and plans to reform social assistance and poverty in this province. What is desperately needed is a means to help people break the cycle of poverty so they can re-enter the workforce if possible and get their lives and that of their family’s back on track.
We are just a few weeks in to the new Conservative Governments mandate and already we have seen the start of broken promises in the form of cancelling the basic income pilot project we had in place. The PCs have also reduced by half a planned increase to social assistance programs. Prior to and throughout the election, all parties agreed to maintain this program.
Think of it like this. Social assistance benefits were scheduled to see a 3% increase until Doug Ford came to town. He cut that increase in half to just 1.5%. Now the thing is, the benefits were already so low that a 1.5% increase is so minimal that is actually meaningless. 1.5% of nothing leaves you with…well… nothing. Such an increase will not keep up with inflation or provide for even the most modest living standards. It’s just going to make it more difficult for people to make ends meet.
So, who is going to be left to pick up the pieces? Each community itself. The PC policies are going to put more and more pressure on our food banks who are going to see their regular clientele numbers climb. This will unfortunately include not only young families who can’t find employment as well as seniors who worked hard to make this province what it is. They certainly deserve better after a lifetime of hard work. And when it turns cold they will see their energy costs skyrocket, forcing them to once again choose between paying rent, energy gills or buying food to eat.
Just recently NDP MPP Guy Bourgouin called on the Ford government to stop ignoring the needs of Northern families and invest in passenger transportation for Northern Ontario. Bourgouin said that disjointed bus services force some Northern families to travel for days to get to cities within only a few hours’ drive. Guy pointed out that one of his constituents told him that recent changes to bus routes means that it requires a 26-hour bus trip to get from Barrie to Kapuskasing. It now takes two days for those travelling from Sudbury – which only takes a six hour drive – because of a lack of coordination with transfers.
While Northern families are left struggling with fragmented bus services, the Ford government is making things even worse by refusing to restore the Northlander passenger rail services, shuttered by the previous Liberal government. We just got the Ontario Northland bus service up and running to add to the services provided by Greyhound when suddenly Greyhound service collapsed. So Northerners are no better off than they were before. Once again, the PCs continue to be oblivious to the needs of Northern Ontarians.
It is the same for the appeal for the Huron Central Rail line. So many companies and municipalities have lined up to show how vital the continued operation of this rail line is to the job security and the overall economy here in Northern Ontario. So far the PCs are turning their backs on Northerners in this region.
New Democrats are determined to prove to Doug Ford that there is a better way.
NDP MPP Gilles Bisson introduced the Fairness in Petroleum Products Pricing Act this month. This legislation would provide the Ontario Energy Board with teeth to regulate the retail price and wholesale mark-up of petroleum products in Ontario, thus protecting drivers from being gouged at the pump. The steep price fluctuations from day to day and between regions are frustrating and painful for drivers. The Ford government can put an immediate end to price gouging for millions of Ontario drivers and their families by supporting this bill. We must wait to see what happens on this.
As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues, or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at [email protected] or by phone at 705-461-9710 or Toll free 1-800-831-1899.
Michael Mantha MPP/député