Stan Cho, Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Finance, brought his multi-city pre-budget public engagement to Guelph on Thursday afternoon at the Legion Hall on Watson Parkway South. According to Cho, this was his 12th stop to get feedback in advance of the 2020 Ontario Budget, and the MPP for Willowdale said there are some common themes, and even some surprises.
“When Minister Phillips and I sat down a couple of months ago, he made it very clear that he wants Budget 2020 to be the most consulted in Ontario’s history,” Cho said before the beginning of the meeting. “It takes a little bit of work, but we’re both out there and we’re crisscrossing the province to make it happen.”
Minister of Finance Rod Phillips is also collecting feedback around the province because Cho says it’s good to get out of the “Queen’s Park bubble” in Toronto and hear from communities directly. On that point, Cho explained that there are a few points that come up in every conversation.
“Affordability is a big one, but it’s not surprising that we’re hearing people are strapped and that they’re just trying to get ahead,” Cho said.
“What is a little more surprising for a guy that’s born and raised in Toronto is that housing seems to be an issue throughout the entire province,” he added. “Smith Falls, a town of 9,000, is having the same affordability challenges that I’m expecting to hear about in a larger urban centre.”
In Guelph, about 25 people took part in the feedback session including representatives from the K-W Chamber of Commerce and the University of Guelph, as well as local aid agencies and organizations representing area farmers. Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Mike Harris, and Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner.
“It was great to see so many citizens of Guelph participating in a democratic process,” said Schreiner in a statement after the session. “Some common themes we heard were the need to invest in all-day two-way GO; reforms to business risk management programs that support local farmers; and the need to invest in primary care and mental health and addiction services.”
Indeed, a couple of different delegations mentioned prominently the need for expanded GO Train service, and the expansion of Highway #7, which was included in the recently announced in the draft plan for Southwestern Ontario Transportation, but didn’t have a firm start date for construction.
“We have to do a good job in this province of looking outside of the larger urban centres, and that transportation connections can exist beyind the Greater Toronto Area,” Cho said. “We’ve heard from people in more remote rural communities saying that they need to be connected to the grid, otherwise they cannot develop as a community.”
Cho’s Guelph stop, and the stop he made earlier on Thursday in Stratford, came on the same day that the Government of Ontario released its third quarter financial report for the 2019-2020 fiscal year. The report says the projected deficit for this year is $9 billion, which is a difference of $1.3 from the last fiscal update. The government says that that they’ve saved $630 million in debt financing, and that the Province is projecting $3.1 billion in additional revenue due to Ontario’s strong economy.
“Ontario is making strategic investments in healthcare and education while ensuring tax dollars are spent responsibly and creating a more competitive environment for businesses and job creation,” said Phillips in a statement. “Ontario’s plan to grow the economy is working. This fiscal update shows the Province is becoming more adaptable and stable in a sometimes uncertain world.”
“There are some positive signs in there,” Cho added. “We’ve brought down the interest payments that we’re paying on the debt, and that’s great news. We’ve got great GDP statistics and growth, but there’s a lot more to be done in this province.”
There’s no firm date on the release of the Ontario Budget except that it has to come in before March 31. The details of the budget are just as nebulous according to Cho. “As far as the actual details of the budget are concerned, nothing’s been decided yet,” he said. “That’s why we’re out here, because every bit of input we hear from communities throughout Ontario will be considered in the budget.”
Public engagement on the budget will continue through February 11. You can share you own input on the budget with the Ontario government by visiting their website here.