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.
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.