Area MPPs at odds over plans in 2008 provincial budget

MPP John Wilkinson was quite pleased with the provincial budget on Tuesday, but MPP Ted Arnott is unimpressed by the document.

Minister of Finance Dwight Duncan read the budget in the afternoon on Tuesday.

In an interview shortly afterward, Wilkinson said he is pleased with the new spending of $1.5-billion for skills train­ing for people who have lost jobs in Ontario’s manufac­tur­ing sector.

“The additional money will help us invest in people as they acquire new skills for new jobs,” he pre­dicted. “It’s im­portant for peo­ple to under­stand that the pro­vince wants them to have a bright future.”

Wilkinson said while manu­fac­turing jobs might be disap­pearing in the international economy, there are still plenty of high tech jobs and em­ployers are unable to find the skilled people they need. He said retraining can help prepare workers for those jobs.

He added that Ontario is running short of plumbers, electricians, masons, and carpenters, and said within the next few years one-third of the people in those jobs will be retiring, and there are few replacements. But, the plan for retraining can provide people with good jobs.

“Those are great paying jobs. I’ve never met a poor plum­ber,” he said.

Wilkinson said he would be meeting with community lead­ers in Stratford on Wednesday morning to announce the re­sults of municipal grants for infrastructure, and would be hold­ing a similar meeting at 8am in Harriston on Thursday morning for Wellington County announcements.

He predicted that the milli­ons being spent by the pro­vince, including $400-million in infrastructure outside of the Greater Toronto Area, would be a boon to the Ontario economy as the United States heads to­wards an economic downturn.

As well, Wilkinson said he is pleased with the increased funding for schools, and in­creased cash for the health care system.

“I’m glad we’re able to provide additional resources,” he said, noting the there will be more money for seniors to stay in their own homes, and more cash for institutions to look after those seniors.

“It’s very important to meet all those challenges and not run a deficit,” Wilkinson said.

He pointed out the province is eliminating the capital tax for some businesses retroactive to Jan. 1 2007, which will provide a rebate of $190-million, and he added all businesses will be eligible for that tax elimi­nation over the next four years.

Wilkinson, who is the Min­ister of Research and Inno­vation, was pleased with a new initiative that encourages business to work with new technology. If a new company uses research from a university, hospital, or research facility and sets up a company in Ontario, it will not pay provincial taxes for ten years.

“Those are jobs our kids and grandchildren will be going after,” he predicted.

He cited Research in Mo­tion, a successful Waterloo com­­pany, as the perfect ex­ample of “a great idea that came out of university.”

Arnott: government follies

Wellington-Halton Hills MPP Ted Arnott said wryly of Wilkinson’s enthusiasm, “We have differences of opinion.”

He said the budget present­ed by Duncan “demonstrates that Ontario is on the wrong track.” He admitted the govern­ment made a “modest” effort to reduce corporate taxes, but, “We still have the highest corporate taxes in North America.”

Arnott was dismayed about the approach to the loss of manufacturing jobs, an issue he has raised in the legislature for the past three years.

“They seem to have ex­pres­s­ed the view that the provincial government policies have very little impact on manufacturing,” he said. “I would argue they do.”

Arnott said the Progressive Conservatives were pushing for a substantial increase for nurs­ing homes, but the Liberals provided only one-fifth of the amount the opposition sought, and spread that over three years.

He also noted that last fall the government predicted a growth rate of 1.8%, and has now estimated it to be 1.1%. Further, he added, TD Canada Trust estimated last week it will be closer to 0.5%.

“The government plans a $600-million surplus; that’s relatively small for $95-billion in spending,” he said.

Further, Arnott said, the Liberal government is claiming that it can find $1.1-billion in year-end savings, but he noted that it usually the time it spends money, like providing cricket club grants.

“I think by the summer of 2009 they’ll find they have a deficit,” he predicted. “If they do have a deficit, they’ll blame it on [federal Finance Minister] Jim Flaherty.”

He concluded that Liberals like to spend, and the budget is a record on that. “I believe it is up $28-billion from the level it was when they took office – 41% over five years.”

Arnott was also angered at the way the government leaked budget News, and has written to the Speaker about it. A front page was published in The Toronto Star hours before the budget was announced. He said the tradition of bud­get secrecy is yet another that seems to have disap­peared. He noted Finance Ministers once resigned their office for budget leaks, and said the passing of another tradition is keeping step with people’s disrespect and disin­terest in government.

Spending plans

Among the spending initi­atives by the province are:

–   $1.5-billion over three-years on a skills training program to help more O­n­ta­­rians find well-paying jobs, and to move them into long-term training for new job oppor­tunities;

–  $355-million over three years for a second career strategy that will help 20,000 unemployed workers make the transition to new car­eers and good paying jobs in growing areas of the economy;

–  second career strategy would provide $25,000 to­wards tuition and living allow­ance for a manufacturing work­er who wants to move to a skilled-trades job and attends a four-semester, two-year Me­ch­anical Technician pro­gram at a college;

–  $75-million over the next three years to expand ap­pren­ticeship training; and

–  enhancing postsecondary student aid and investing in capital expansion and renewal.

There will be spending of $1-billion in 2007-08 in new municipal infrastructure, which includes:

– $400-million for roads and bridges in communities out­side of Toronto;

– $100-million to rehabi­li­tate social housing units, in­cluding energy-efficient im­provements; and

– $750-million over four years in proposed new business tax relief that includes elimi­nating capital tax for manu­facturing and resource firms.

The budget also proposes the new property tax grant for senior homeowners, which would provide $1-billion over five years to help low- and moderate-income seniors.

There are no tax increases in this budget. The provincial government is on track to achieve its third consecutive surplus and post six con­secutive balanced budgets between 2005-06 and 2010-11.