Perth-Wellington MP John Nater attended the “Focus on Finance” meeting at the St. Marys Golf and Country Club Wednesday morning hosted by MPP Randy Pettapiece and featuring speaker Vic Fedeli, Nipissing MPP and opposition finance critic.
By Dan Rankin
About two dozen people from around Perth-Wellington came out to the St. Marys Golf and Country Club banquet hall Wednesday morning for a discussion of Ontario politics and finance hosted by MPP Randy Pettapiece and featuring speaker Vic Fedeli, MPP for Nipissing and Finance Critic for the Progressive Conservative Party.
Like Pettapiece, Fedeli, the former mayor of North Bay, was first elected in 2011. Fedeli has been travelling around Ontario meeting constituents to talk about finance issues that are important to them, as their party gathers ideas from across Ontario in preparation of the next provincial election in June 2018. Fedeli said he was pleased to come visit Pettapiece’s riding once more.
“Randy is my favourite guy at Queen’s Park,” said Fedeli, who releases a monthly “Focus on Finance” newsletter that he called a “compendium of what’s happening across Ontario.
He and Pettapiece “share rural values, and we just don’t put up with a lot of nonsense,” Fedeli said.
Fedeli’s speech touched on Ontario’s growing debt, and regularly came back to the three things he’s repeatedly seen at the provincial legislature for the past 13 years under the Liberal government: “waste, mismanagement and scandal.”
“In July, Ontario will hit $300 billion in debt,” he said. “We will surpass that mark, and we are already the world’s most indebted sub-national [body].”
The province’s debt has grown so much that the government has begun using one-time asset sales, such as with Hydro One, to artificially present lower deficits, even as the debt increases every year, Fedeli said. “Having them tell you that the sale of Hydro One is to offset the transit and infrastructure is a complete fabrication,” he said, stating that while money from Hydro One’s partial sale “starts off” in infrastructure, “they then pull that money out and use it to lower the deficit.”
“It’s a bit of a shell game,” he said.
“Waste, mismanagement and scandal,” he said. “Those are the three pillars of which this government is anchored on right now, and why we have unemployment the way it is, why we have the highest payroll taxes in Canada, why we have the highest energy rates in North America.”
Increasing debt has also resulted in healthcare cuts, which he witnessed firsthand in his hometown of North Bay, Fedeli said.
“We’re closing hospital beds and firing nurses,” he said. “Why? Because the envelope has been frozen for four years, yet the cost of everything has gone up. The cost of hydro in our hospital has gone up, salaries, insurance and medical supplies have gone up.”
While the Progressive Conservative Party agrees climate change needs to be addressed in the province, cross the country and around the world, they believe it must be done in a fiscally responsible manner, Fedeli said. The government’s cap-and-trade plan does not meet those standards, he said.
“Right off the bat, the price of gasoline is going up 4.3 cents a litre,” he said, adding how that would ripple through other industries increasing the price of everything from produce to clothing.
“The government is in disarray over cap and trade,” he said, pointing out that while the Energy Minister announced in January Ontario would be spending billions upgrading some of its nuclear facilities over the next decade, the Environment Minister has since said they would eventually move away from nuclear power. “Which one of them do you believe?” asked Fedeli. “It’s hard to believe either when those are absolutely opposing sentences.”
Fedeli said he has noticed a similar tactic with the province’s plan for natural gas. “Rest assured, that this government’s unspoken now, or hidden agenda, is to have you off natural gas over our lifetime,” he said.
Closing out the discussion on energy, Fedeli stated plainly that the Liberals “have badly bungled the hydro file.”
“When this government took office, hydro rates were 4.3 cents a kilowatt hour,” he said. “Today, 13 years later, it is 18.3 cents. That’s more than quadrupled.”
In Ontario, which Fedeli said has the most expensive energy in North America, hydro rates have gone up over 20 percent in just eight months. “It should have taken 20 years for hydro to go up 10-to-20 percent, but it went up over 20 percent in eight months,” he said.
Addressing a question on the newly-scrapped Ontario Retirement Pension Plan (ORPP), Fedeli said his party has asked the auditor general to find out how much the program cost during its development. “Right now, the preliminary number is $14-$20 million, but it’ll be more than that,” he said. “There’s no question.”
Worse though, he said, is the impact its announcement has had on businesses, such as the auto parts maker Magna, who said the ORPP would have cost them $36 million if applied to all of its Ontario employees. “Think of all the other companies that said, huh, maybe Ontario isn’t the place for us because this ORPP is so burdensome,” Fedeli said.
The PC party is currently seeking input from Ontarians on issues important to them. Ideas and comments can be submitted online at ForOntario.ca. “This is probably going to be the largest grassroots survey ever done,” Pettapiece said. “I can tell you the ideas we get out of this feedback are certainly going to mould our policy for the next election. I’ll hold our leader to account that it better be done that way. I think Patrick Brown has shown that he’s going to listen to our caucus.”