BradfordToday heard a wide range of concerns and questions, raised by residents and stakeholders regarding the province's plans as outlined in the 2019 budget. We contacted the MPP for York-Simcoe, Attorney General Caroline Mulroney, for comment.
After multiple requests for an interview since the budget was released April 11, Mulroney's office prepared the following responses to our questions:
Ontario has an aging population that has been called a grey tsunami. Will the increase of 2.05 per cent in hospital spending be enough to keep pace with inflation, let alone meet the needs of that demographic? There is also mention of having to "optimize workforce efficiency" - what does that mean? There is a promise of 15,000 new long-term-care beds over the next few years - but none of those beds are slated for Southlake Regional Health Centre's catchment. How will that need be met?
Answer: Our budget was built to ensure we are protecting what matters most for the people of Ontario. That means ensuring that people continue to have a strong public health care system. The government is aware it needs a senior's strategy. Our commitment to build 15,000 new long-term-care beds is supported by an increased investment of $1.75 billion over the next five years. In York-Simcoe, were were pleased to see some beds be awarded to Cedarvale (in Keswick) last fall.
The budget describes an increase in spending for education infrastructure (new schools, new childcare spaces), but a $1 billion cut on the operations side, with bigger classrooms, fewer teachers and more online learning. How will this work in high growth areas - especially with the increase in special needs and ESL (English as Second Language) students? Will the government be flexible, and make funding based on the data?
Answer: Our government is committed to protecting our world-class education system, and ensuring every dollar spent benefits students. That is why we continue to make multi-billion dollar investments into our education system, including $1.4 billion for school renewal in the 2019-2020 school year, and additional funding for a revised First Nations/Metis/Inuit Studies curriculum for Grades 9-12. We are also investing nearly $13 billion in capital grants over the next 10 years to help build new schools and improve existing ones.
Measles outbreaks, opioid crisis, increase in vector-borne diseases like lyme and West Nile virus - yet there are deep cuts planned to public health, and closures of some labs. How will services be maintained?
Answer: The current structure of Ontario's public health units does not ensure consistent service delivery, and could be better co-ordinated with the broader health-care system. That is why we are modernizing how public health units are organized and funded - to allow for greater focus on patients, broader municipal engagement and more efficient service delivery.
Ministry of Environment and Climate Change is now Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks - and is facing nearly a 36 per cent budget cut. Does this mean that climate change is totally out of the picture?
Answer: The $351.5 million net decrease from the ministry's $982.7 million 2018-19 interim budget is primarily due to: $283.8 million for the wind down of the cap-and-trade funded programs, announced last fall; $37.6 million for the elimination of the ineffective Drive Clean program for passenger vehicles (announced in September, in effect as of April 1); $30.1 million for additional savings for 2019-20 because of government-wide discretionary spending restrictions (no front-line cuts.)
The province is cutting about $1 billion from Children, Community and Social Services over the next three years - how is this achievable? What exactly is being cut? How can this be achieved without cutting services?
Answer: Despite what's being reported, the ministry is spending $300 million dollars more this year than the previous government did during their last full year in office. In fact, the ministry will continue to outspend the previous government until 2021. Many people in this province have severe disabilities that make it very difficult to support themselves through work alone, and they will be met with compassion and dignity in our new system.
The budget noted "growth in transfer payments has been unsustainable," and the province will require "greater efficiencies and value for money" from its municipal partners. What exactly does this mean for municipalities? How will they demonstrate "greater efficiencies and value for money"?
Answer: Our government was elected to protect front-line services and respect taxpayers. As an example of our commitment to working with municipal partners toward this objective, earlier this year we announced $200 million to support the modernization efforts of 405 small and rural municipalities, so that these communities can achieve efficiencies for people in our communities. As part of this investment, East Gwillimbury received $725,000, Georgina received $283,088, Simcoe County received $725,000, and Bradford West Gwillimbury received $535,004. These investments will help fund information technology solutions, service delivery reviews and the development of shared services agreements, all of which would help reduce future municipal costs and achieve value for money.
Transit: How is Premier Doug Ford going to build transit "faster and cheaper?" And how is a line from the Ontario Science Centre to Ontario Place a "relief line?" That's not the route that most downtown commuters follow.
Answer: Our government is focused on keeping people and goods moving by improving our transportation network. Whether for roads or transit, this government will partner with municipalities to build the type of transportation infrastructure that best meets the needs of each community. It was a campaign commitment of our government to upload responsibility for subway infrastructure to build subways faster to get Ontarians moving. The "Ontario Line" (relief line) is designed to take pressure off the Yonge line. The province will invest $11.2 billion to support four rapid transit projects. This funding over-delivers on the government's commitment to put $5 billion into subway extensions. The province has the ability to expedite the approval of new lines as well as "greater fiscal flexibility" to pay for them.
Selling off government buildings and properties "no longer needed." Are our parks and crown lands safe?
Answer: Our parks and crown lands are indeed safe.
Finally, we asked: Plans call for the amalgamation of 20 health organizations (including the Local Health Integration Networks) into Ontario Health, amalgamations of Boards of Health (from 35, to 10 regional boards) and amalgamation of ambulance service in a very short period of time. Is there money set aside for amalgamation? How will these plans be achieved? Do you have a cost estimate? Where will the money be found?
BradfordToday was advised to contact Minister of Health Christine Elliott for the details.