Our Policy - from voter input

An ongoing series of informational entries

Flat Rate Electricity is what Ontarians want! - we said it first

13 February 2017

Time to look at some issues: Assuming you as a reader of this page understand how Consensus Ontario builds its policies...from your priorities, as they change annually...then it's time to discuss some admittedly early input from random Ontario voters.

Top issue in most corners of the province is the cost of electricity. Major increases in those rates since the Liberals came to power are now putting lower-income Ontarians in the position of paying their hydro bill or paying for food at the grocery store. This isn't a good situation to place people in. Further, Ontario businesses are starting to feel the pinch of high and tiered electrical rates. This directly impinges Ontario's competitiveness with businesses in other provinces and neighbouring US states.This isn't a good situation to place business in.

Government needs to be responsive to voters and taxpayers: When government policies are going the wrong direction (wrong in the sense that the majority do not agree with them) then it's time to listen, and to change course - pigheadedness has no place in government and politics.

There is no reason Ontario cannot have a single hydro rate, one that is sufficient to cover the cost of producing and distributing it. The utilities were created to do those things collectively that we as individual consumers and businesses cannot do as economically for ourselves. They weren't mean to generate profit and revenue to be used for other Liberal/PC/NDP party pet projects. Let's get the hydro rate to a simple, understandable and affordable rate that covers the actual cost with a small margin to cover future repairs and maintenance of the system - and not more.

Consensus Ontario has more to say on the Electricity Issue and how to fix it, so stay tuned!

Ontario Municipal Board needs to be terminated 

15 May 2017

 Imagine you are elected to one of Ontario’s hundreds of municipal councils. You have the responsibility to make decisions over a variety of things within your municipal boundaries.

These include things like roads, sidewalks, street lights, garbage and recycling, fresh water, sanitary waste, storm water management, drainage, parks and recreation, animal control, building inspections, fire fighting, policing, transit, and planning.

These are all things that as a member of a council you must be held accountable for as to how you vote on these important matters.

But wait: In Ontario, the planning duty - which you and your council are responsible for and which is vital to the proper growth and the future of your municipality - that planning duty can be undercut by a board controlled by the provincial government. Yes, the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).

It is an independent administrative board, operated as an adjudicative tribunal. It hears applications and appeals on municipal and planning disputes, as well as other matters specified in provincial legislation. The tribunal has reported to the Ministry of the Attorney General since 2012.

The OMB was established in 1906 as the Ontario Railway and Municipal Board “to oversee municipalities’ accounts and to supervise the then rapidly growing rail transportation system between and within municipalities.” In so doing, it took over responsibility of these functions from the former Railway Committee of the Executive Council and Office of the Provincial Municipal Auditor. It was amalgamated with the Bureau of Municipal Affairs and given its current name in 1932. In 2010, under the Adjudicative Tribunals Accountability, Governance and Appointments Act, 2009, the OMB was designated as part of a cluster known as “Environment and Land Tribunals Ontario,” which also includes the Assessment Review Board, boards of negotiation under the Expropriations Act, the Conservation Review Board and the Environmental Review Tribunal.

The OMB is constituted under the Ontario Municipal Board Act, which confers “exclusive jurisdiction in all cases and in respect of all matters in which jurisdiction is conferred on it by this Act or by any other general or special Act.” Until 2009, its decisions could be appealed by petition to the Lieutenant-Governor, but such petitions have been abolished by the Good Government Act, 2009. Its decisions are now final, subject only to appeals to the Divisional Court on a question of law.

This reality begs the question of why one of our three levels of government is given a responsibility - such as planning, which is exercised pursuant to the province’s Planning Act and Municipal Act - which can be overturned by any body, such as the OMB?

OMB hearings have become commonplace for developers unhappy with the decision of a municipal council. They are time consuming and expensive proceedings and undermine democracy and responsible government at the local level.

The more sensible way to function would be for planning decisions - whether they be project-specific, or in a more general sense related to zoning and broader municipal planning - to be made by a local municipal council and once made, those decisions are final until they can be revisited by a future council.

Perhaps in the future changes to personalities around the council table or changes in the priorities of local ratepayers may be different and produce a different outcome. Or not. But that should be for them to decide for themselves.

In my experience, council’s do consider things carefully. Projects may introduce changes to a preferred streetscape, or to height rules, land use, heritage preservation, or to zoning on specific sites. It is up to council to consult with ratepayers and neighbours and ascertain whether there is support for the proposed development.

If there are concerns, they are explained to the developer and a modified proposal is resubmitted to council for further consideration. Eventually a decision is made. It should be final. The is no need for the OMB to be involved.

Ontario Vision is needed ~ Not more knee-jerk governing!

23 May 2017

So much of what our Ontario Government does is either "regular housekeeping" or "knee-jerk reaction" to something they weren't expecting. I do wonder why these are the only two ways to operate?

Many of us actually have a bit of a plan for ourselves and our families: Get established, add things we need, later add things that we don't need but that would be nice to have. Put something away for a rainy day, save for our retirement, and steadily reduce and then pay off our mortgage and our debt. We also do this as we expand the population of our families.

Beyond that, working along that Japanese mentality of constant, continual, incremental improvement is a very appropriate strategy. This should be how the provincial government operates. Instead, they seem to be putting out fires, or overturning what the previous party did while in office, and trying to score points for the next election.

This speaks to why something like Consensus Ontario, pursuing the priorities of Ontarians and not of itself, is a tremendous idea!

What needs to be developed is a long-term vision (founded upon the priorities of the voters in Ontario's many ridings) for this province, something that all MPPs can agree on...it would need to be massaged and tweaked until agreement is reached. After that, whomever is in power should fulfill the vision.

The annual budget should include operating funds as well as funds to invest in trying to achieve our Consensus Vision. That would give voters a score card of sorts, a way to ascertain whether any progress is being made.

The Consensus Vision should include things like a review of all spending programmes and ministries, agencies and crown corporations...decide what we need and what we don't need. Develop a budget to operate what we need, and then use the left over money from what we don't need to balance the budget, with a bit set aside deliberately to start paying off the huge $311-billion provincial debt. That last step will reduce the money we currently spend on interest payments on the debt, and that freed up money can go into investments to fulfill the Consensus Vision.

CONSENSUS ONTARIO ANNUAL VOTER SURVEY IS UNDERWAY NOW

15 June 2017

For a couple of weeks now the Ontario PC's have been running lots of television ads featuring their semi-unknown leader Patrick Brown. The commercials focus on him and his speech problem as a child, and on how open and receptive the PC party is regardless of who might want to join that party.

The more things change, the more they stay the same!

We are a year away from the next Ontario general election. It would be refreshing if unlike past elections, this one concerned the priorities of Ontarians. Instead, though, it seems to be a personality contest between Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne and PC leader Brown (the NDP's Horvath will no doubt jump in this personality contest). Both Brown and Wynne have spent time kicking the other, and these commercials are the beginning of the latest phase of a war of celebrity.

Consensus Ontario does not believe Ontarians care too much who becomes premier - However, they do care what that person and their party will do!

So let's have a real debate of what the issues are and what the various political parties say they will do about the issues. And let's not wait until June 2018 to have this conversation. Brown's PC's have complained endlessly about the Liberal hydro agenda (and that agenda is a mess) yet Brown is doing the old trick of not revealing his own plans until the last minute - so next year. And hydro is but one of numerous concerns Ontarians have.

Consensus Ontario - in doing things differently, as we are, bottom up not top down - has now begun its annual survey of voter priorities in ridings across Ontario. We expect priorities this year will likely be slightly different than last year...but we are asking many random voters their views before we draw any conclusions. Now, that is democracy in action, and populism in operation. In August we'll release the results of this annual priorities survey and show everyone interested what Ontarians really are concerned about. From there we begin our policy development work to devise the best and most economical ways to implement those policies.

FEDS WANT PROVINCES TO KEEP THEIR SALES TAXES LOW ON LEGALIZED POT - TO LET THE FEDS GET A LARGER HAUL

19 June 2017

LOW TAXES ON LEGAL POT? Well, if there's one thing that underlines all of the Big Brother Knows Best mentality of our existing major political parties federally and provincially it has to be the pot legalization news today. Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau is begging the provinces to keep their provincial tax low on marijuana sold once the product becomes legal. But Quebec and Alberta lead the criticism of this approach, claiming that if they keep provincial taxes low, that the extra revenue from marijuana sales won’t cover costs associated with legalization, including enforcement, education, addiction treatment and distribution problems. Some want Ottawa to share its tax take.

Ottawa says the reason to legalize pot is to drive the black market out of business and also to keep pot from the hands of teens. Realistically neither goal will be achieved by legalizing pot. The 15% who are regular pot smokers will carry on, and likely continue to use their cheaper illegal drug dealers if the taxes on the drug are too high. Even if the prices are the same, illegal dealers will lower prices to retain market share.

Kids will still by from the same dealers, too. And so with police then trying harder than now to crack down on those illegal dealers, the enforcement costs will rise. Who will pay for that?

The feds should, since this entire mess was their creation. And they are hoping to get a big tax windfall, all the while begging the provinces like Ontario to keep their own taxes on pot low.

There really are mixed views on the topic of legislation of marijuana. This decision and debate has been handled poorly. The proper way to deal with a major change in the rules of our society is to do so by referendum. Offer voters options, and trust that the masses have enough common sense to choose the option that the majority find the least repulsive. One option should be Status Quo, with no changes, too.

As Consensus Ontario said earlier in the spring, this entire matter of legalized pot has been handled poorly from the get-go.

PROVINCIAL PARTY FINANCING NEEDS REAL RESOLUTION

9 August 2017

According to reports out this month, the provincial Liberal Party is nearly broke. That’s not a good situation to be in less than a year away from an election. The reports notes that the only thing keeping the Ontario Liberal Party from being broke is the new Dollars For Votes Received subsidy that the Liberal government’s new legislation this past winter brought in. That subsidy gives the party about $5-million, each year, until the next election when the level will be reset.

Not all parties get this taxpayer-funded aid. Of the 20 parties in Ontario, only four will get anything: The Liberals, NDP, PCs, and Greens. The following minor parties do not get a penny from taxpayers, hindering their operations : Canadian Constituents’ Party, Canadians’ Choice Party, Communist Party of Canada (Ontario), Equal Parenting Party, Freedom Party of Ontario, None of the Above Party, Ontario Libertarian Party, Ontario Moderate Party, Ontario Provincial Confederation of Regions Party, Party for People with Special Needs, Pauper Party of Ontario, Stop the New Sex-Ed Agenda, The Peoples Political Party, Trillium Party, and the Vegan Environmental Party. Another 14 new parties-in-being are trying to get through the process to become registered parties, and they don’t get any money either for their efforts to help democracy in Ontario.

The party financing rules changed this year so that the amount of donations were slashed, and the traditional donations parties received from unions and corporations (limited companies including small businesses) were outlawed.

Premier Wynne and the Big 3 parties held urgent fund-raisers under the old rules right up until the change took effect. Ironically the Dollars For Votes Received in the last election was something tried at the federal level and then done away with. And yet the provincial Liberals have brought it in here. And they need it, because once corporate and union donations are removed from the system, that means only personal donations and the Dollars For Votes Received funding will be allowed. Except: The Big Parties will also still get reimbursed for what they spend at election time, at both the party level and the candidate level. That is because those parties agreed to set the bar for election expense rebates at 15% of the votes received. That level is impossible for any new party or its candidates, or any Independent candidates, to achieve, especially in a first or second attempt with voters. This 15% bar effectively knee-caps minor parties and Independent candidates and ensures they do not gain any momentum that would allow them to challenge the Big Parties.

The dollars per voter scheme was brought in to save the finances of the Big Parties (by replacing monies that had previously come from companies, associations and unions). To make it look as thought they were interested in helping democracy, the Big Three allowed the Green Party to be included by adjusting the bar at which they can get the dollars per voter subsidy...each year between elections, guaranteeing them a minimum and reliable income over a four-year period between elections. Meanwhile, the minor parties and Independent candidates struggle with little or no money. The 14 new parties-in-being working towards registration as official parties are not allowed to spend any money or receive any donations from voters...until they are registered!! This effectively ensures they cannot easily get registered and gain any traction with voters or in any riding.

What would be the best solution, the fairest solution, a solution that encourages and supports democracy in Ontario?

Allow donations from all sources but keep the total allowed to a low and reasonable level, such as $1,000 maximum; allow all parties and Independent candidates to receive the voter subsidy, $2.26 per vote they received, regardless of the overall percentage of the vote they managed to achieve at election time; allow all parties and Independent candidates to receive the election expenses rebate, regardless of the overall percentage of the vote they managed to achieve. Further, allow parties-in-being to take donations so they can spend on their website and brochures, meeting halls, etc. - and grow.

ONTARIO SCHOOLS NEED A 'BACK TO BASICS' PUSH, SAY ONTARIANS

8 September 2017

It’s a funny thing that in 2017 we are still having the same sort of conversations around education in Ontario that we had way back in the 1980s.

Back then the Harris Government was elected to bring a Back to Basics agenda to educating our young Ontarians. The push was to restore their abilities in the three R’s: Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic (obviously only one of those words begins with an R!). Each year since Harris brought in standardized testing, the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) conducts standardized tests on all grade 3, grade 6 and grade 9 students in the province. They also test grade 10 students’ literacy skills.

In the intervening years we have seen some progress as reflected by those standardized test results. 2017 EQAO results show that grade 3 students have improved their reading scores since 2013, when only 68% could meet the provincial standard (equivalent to a B). Now 74% meet the standard. But, in writing, those same students have gone from 77% meeting the standard to 73% in 2017. As for Arithmetic scores, they have gone from 67% in 2013 to 62% in 2017.

Grade 6 students’ reading has gone up from 77% in 2013 to 81% in 2017. Their writing marks have inched up, from 76% to 79%. But arithmetic marks have dropped, from a worrying 57% pass rate in 2013 to only 50% in 2017.

Overall, almost 30% of grade 3 and 6 students have never been able to meet the provincial standard. The drop in math abilities is noticeable from those who pass in grade 3 but by the time they are in grade six, are no longer able to meet the provincial standard. As for grade 9 students in the academic (university) level math courses, results show that they have had a slight slip in math abilities between 2013 and 2017. However, more alarming is the that the Applied level students in grade 9 continue to operate at a poor level, with only 44% achieving the provincial standard. A staggering 55% of these students never met the standard in math, and a further 30% dropped from the standard. 12% maintained their standard level performance, while only 5% improved. One conclusion of the latest EQAO testing is that those students who were weak in reading, writing, or math in grade 3 were generally still struggling by grade 6, and by grade 9 they struggled even more.

There are ways to improve this situation. It starts with teachers. A good teacher can teach the vast majority of students a subject that teacher is strong in, and the reverse is true. A weak teacher results in weak students.

Two solutions present themselves: Either replace teachers who do not have the ability to teach reading, writing and arithmetic with ones who can do the job. Or, ensure that all students in a school are taught each subject by a strong teacher in that area. All math could be taught by the school’s math teachers, English by the English teachers, and so on. I wouldn’t want to learn science from an auto shop teacher, or math from a science teacher, or science from an English teacher.

Another thing to improve instruction is to rework the curriculum to ensure the proper concepts are being taught at the right grade level.

Also, focus on the basics so that children entering the workforce have legible printing and hand-writing, can do basic math with a pencil or paper or even in their head, have an ability to read and write material that would be seen in a workplace setting. They need to become comfortable with books, yes books, and paper, real printed materials, including newspapers, magazines, manuals, catalogues, reports, etc.

And an end to being friends with their students: Teachers should dress properly for their role in the classroom, swearing should not be tolerated, and poor behaviour should be punished. A return to giving failing students an ‘F’ is needed. Participation ribbons should be done away with. Let’s make school a realistic reflection of the adult world these kids will find themselves in.

The Liberal Government under Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne has allowed far too much experimentation and our children’s futures are the worse for it.

IT'S TIME WE HAD A REAL, FAIR OVERHAUL OF TAXATION

22 September 2017

It is hard to figure out our elected politicians at the best of times. They often will say what we want to hear to get elected, and then in between elections, those on the Government side of the House chuck out those election time speeches and go with whatever the heck they think is best, usually their own party’s pet projects.

Think of marijuana legalization - on the campaign trail it was merely marijuana decriminalization for personal possession and private use. If put to the referendum, I doubt the current plans would be supported by a majority of voters.

I don’t recall anything about tax changes of the sort the federal Liberals are now proposing coming up in the last election either. And who campaigned in Ontario on what is likely to be a crippling minimum wage hike to $15 per hour?

By some estimates the federal tax changes on small businesses could result in some of them suffering with a 90% tax rate - up from 11.5%. Given that small businesses are the drivers of our economy and of job creation, why would any government want to kill the goose that laid the golden egg? Often it is because those elected politicians are unfamiliar with what they are toying with, having never worked in small business, long enough or at all, to properly understand it’s role in our society and economy. Small business provides local jobs, supports local business, donates to local charities and worthy causes.

It often creates many of our first jobs - wait until that $15 per hour minimum wage kicks in, and see how those entry level jobs dry up! There is only so much money to go around, and if we have to pay workers more by the hour, it means there are fewer hours - jobs - to be funded. The higher wage means more taxes to government, the very one killing small business with such policies. It represents VERY short term thinking. Election time is in nine months...

Federally, how about bringing in tax changes on wealthy families that use Family Trusts to shelter and distribute estates of deceased rich folks? Pierre Trudeau set one up to funnel his money to his three sons. PM Justin has been dodging questions about the Trudeau Family Trust this week and it is obvious why he is doing so. If we want to have a grown up discussion about taxes, we need to start with the role of tax revenue, which is to fund the government expenses that we the voters elect politicians to carry out on our behalf. Budgets in government are often last year’s budget, updated for a cost of living increase and any other additions. In the world of Tim Hortons and Kraft Foods and several other big multinational corporations, budgeting is now zero-based budgeting. Start from scratch and build a budget that proves why you need the money and how much each year.

That sort of approach would be ideal for governments of all stripes to follow. Go back and see which of the thousands of government projects, initiatives, contracts, and regular spending are needed in the upcoming year. Maybe some of them are no longer needed? Once a total budget requirement is calculated, figure out how to fund it. New purchases should come from reserve funds saved up in advance. Operating funds should come from tax revenues, including personal, corporate, sales, gas taxes and from customs and duties. Then there are licences and fees revenue, too. However, when we are calculating the total tax take each year, then we can decide which sources of taxes might provide more or less than last year. Question: Why is sales (value added) tax charged on used goods?

Our discussion on taxation ought to take a serious look at a Flat Tax in place of our Tiered Tax Rates. It should also take a look at treating all sources of income in the same fashion. Dividend income - how wealthier people get paid - as well as income from family trusts and businesses - ought to all be treated the same, as Income. Corporate grants and subsidies, pension and welfare income, baby bonuses, spousal and child support payments are all income. There should be no special treatment for anyone.

And then tax it at a Flat Rate, say 10%, on any and all income of more than $0. Fair for all.

THANKSGIVING THOUGHTS - PUT AN END TO CASH REGISTER CHARITABLE DONATION SOLICITATION

10 October 2017

Hopefully we all enjoyed a pleasant and relaxing Thanksgiving full of family time, food, and good cheer. It was indeed a time to catch up and discuss matters of mutual interest.

One item that did come up this weekend was a unanimous desire to see provincial legislation in place to end cash register charity solicitation in stores big and small.

Consensus Ontario, as a public policy organization, doesn't ask first - we listen to what you to voters say are your priorities.  And this one came up in just that fashion.

While we all shared stories about the charities we do support, our favourites, and new ones being added this year, we all had stories about awkward and uncomfortable situations at grocery stores, Walmarts, Canadian Tires, the LCBO stores, Shopper Drug Marts, and so on, where a cashier at a retail store run by a corporation is asking to add $2 (or some small amount) onto a customer's bill, all in the name of some charity the company claims to be supporting. Worse, the company will, later on, make a big song and dance production of how much money it donated to those charities...when in fact the money was donated by the customers, not the company.

All had stories about some hapless customer shamed for not wanting to donate or not having the cash on hand to do so.

I was in complete agreement with these others on this one, and was quite surprised how unanimous and unsolicited this priority of ending cash register donation solicitation seems to be.

Consensus Ontario will follow up on this in our surveys across the province to find out how widespread this sentiment is. Were we to adopt a policy on this, we would likely also include a doubling of the tax credit treatment for charitable donations, currently at 25% for the first $200 given and 45% for amounts over $200. Keep in mind the political tax credit is 75%. We’d like to see both treated the same: 40% for the first $200 and 80% for amounts over $200 annually to the same donation recipient. This would facilitate an end to cash register donation solicitations.

ONTARIO COLLEGE STRIKE UNDERLINES WHY THE SYSTEM IS IN NEED OF A MAKEOVER

11 November 2017

There are six sides to the college teachers strike: Students, teachers, management, taxpayers, local businesses working with the colleges, and the provincial government. Ontario’s college strike has entered its fourth week, with both the union and college management sides entrenched.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) is pushing for half of academic (teaching) positions to be converted to full-time, as well as for improved wages. The Association of Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology of Ontario, the management negotiating side, claims that converting that many teaching positions to full-time from part-time (the latter is defined as 7-12 hours work per week) would cost the colleges collectively $250-million more annually than they have available, and that does not include the improvements to wages and salaries.

Higher education in Ontario includes postsecondary education and skills training regulated by the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development and is provided by universities, colleges of applied arts and technology, and private career colleges. The ministry administers laws covering 22 public universities, 24 public colleges (21 Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology and three Institutes of Technology and Advanced Learning), 17 privately-funded religious universities, and over 500 private career colleges. Under the legislation, The Ontario Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology Act, 2002 establishes the colleges as Crown Agencies and authorizes the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities to issue binding policy. Within these policies “… Boards of Governors of colleges of applied arts and technology are … accountable to the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities and to the public for … prudent use of funds”.

So clearly the minister has legislative responsibility to see that this strike is settled in a manner that is workable and affordable. And that is the problem. As with so many past problems in Ontario, the provincial government of the day (Liberal, PC and NDP) have applied Band-Aid solutions rather than reforming what is a hybrid post-secondary educational system that has grown and evolved in an ad hoc fashion. The bottom line consideration ought to be taxpayers: We fund the system, we elect our representatives to the Ontario Legislature to make decisions on our behalf.

Clearly, what most Ontarians want is: Post-secondary educational facilities (colleges and universities and private collages and apprenticeship programmes) that are open, operating, and successfully graduating students to fill the need of employers. We know this is good for the economy and for individual Ontarians.

Some $6.5-billion is pumped into the post-secondary education system each year by the Ontario government, 30% of it going to colleges. Colleges get their full funding from a variety of sources: 33% is Ontario Ministry funding; 28% student tuition & fees without OSAP support; 6% student tuition & fees with OSAP support (Ministry support); 8% public funding excluding Ontario (federal grants and random municipal injections of money); and, 25% of funding is Private sources of revenues excluding tuition & fees. Each college (and universities ) are managed by a Board of Governors, responsible to the Ministry of Advanced Learning. In 2017, Ontario’s 24 public colleges employed 47,393 people, of whom 23,090 were teaching staff and one-third of those being full-time. Enrollment is up, way up, at our colleges, partly due to it being a cheaper option than university and partly due to the employability of graduates. Also, in recent years the admission of more and more foreign students has been a cash bonanza for colleges. The original reason for our Colleges of Applied Arts & Technology was to produce skilled workers for our economy. Colleges should not compete with universities in terms of programming. Skills training should be for Canadian residents.

The Ontario Government does not have additional money. It’s in debt...heavily. Instead, it needs to rearrange the way it uses its existing funds to meet current needs, such as cost of living increases. OPSEU must be realistic, too. Compromise and reach a consensus, soon. After that, we need a serious examination of what we actually need our post-secondary education and skills training to do for us, and what we are willing to pay - and how.

Bradley Harness, Leader, Consensus Ontario

ONTARIO'S FALL ECONOMIC STATEMENT SHOWS WE HAVE A MOUNTAIN OF DEBT - AND IT IS GROWING!

20 November 2017

This week Finance Minister Charles Sousa unveiled the province’s final Fall Economic Statement before next June’s provincial general election.

Loaded with dozens of pages of spin - to show what the Liberal government has been and will be spending your tax dollars on - the back third of the statement shows the important stuff: We are still in a deficit situation after nearly a decade in the red ink.

Despite last year claiming the province’s budget was balanced, the government has accepted the Legislature’s Budget Officer’s and the province’s Auditor-General’s findings that they were not out of deficit yet.

Sousa then noted that for the fiscal year 2016-17 just ended, the province was in a $1-billion hole still (and he had projected a $4.3-billion shortfall), although the Wynne government considers it a trivial amount compared to the overall $140-billion budget.

Now, I have to say that $12-billion of that $140-billion (nearly 10% of it) is money spent to pay just the interest on our provincial debt, the largest provincial or state debt in North America. While other province’s included Quebec are starting to chip away at their own (smaller) mountains of debt, Ontario has not and has no plans to do so.

That debt now sits at $302-billion, up significantly since 2009 when it was a slimmer $194-billion owing! What’s more significant, the spend thrift Liberal ways will see that $302-billion debt rise by another 10% over the next three years.

Sousa pointed out it will be spending on infrastructure, but regardless, when we are in this much debt, no more borrowing should happen. If they want to spend on new initiatives, rearrange the existing $140-billion in spending to cover the costs.

Ontarians don’t seem to be taking much notice of all this despite the regular Liberal and Ontario government commercials on television and especially ads on the internet (YouTube, etc.). The provincial public opinion polls haven’t changed much and the relatively small numbers of people being surveyed appear consistent in their choices.

If there is one change it is that support for the NDP dropped 7% since the end of September while support for the Liberals and Greens increased 2% for each. The PCs have a comfortable lead at 45% of decided voters saying they will support them if an election were held now.

The election will be interesting and should see one of two things happen: The PCs will lose some support as the campaign ads focus on their weak leader and all three parties could end up in the 30%-range of support. That could see very narrow wins for many MPPs. Or, to prevent the PCs from winning, support will shift from the Greens and NDP to the Liberals. Either way it would mean a minority government.

A third option of course would see the PCs win big pretty much everywhere, but that likely won’t pan out. Organized labour will see to it that campaign ads pummel the PC’s and their leader, and Toronto ridings just do not vote PC as a rule.

It might be interesting in individual ridings if minor parties (there are 17 in Ontario) manage to elect even one MPP. The same holds true for any Independent candidate if he or she were elected. They could hold the balance of power in a three-way split Ontario Legislature at Queen’s Park.

Brad Harness, Leader,

Consensus Ontario

A TIME FOR FAMILY & A TIME TO TALK POLITICS! NOW IS THAT TIME

17 December 2017

 We will talk and talk, and sooner or later, the conversation will shift to how everyone is doing, what’s happening in their part of Ontario, and who they should vote for in the June 2018 Ontario Election.

And this year, I believe, everyone who is thinking about Ontario politics for 5 minutes or less - and who is even mildly informed on how our province has been misgoverned by the Ontario Liberals under Kathleen Wynne and Dalton McGuinty before her - knows that NOW is the time to get the ship ‘ONTARIO’ back on course.

But, that doesn’t mean people are comfortable with the prospect of Ontario under Patrick Brown’s PC party... or Andrea Horvath’s Ontario NDP. So where does that leave us?

It leaves us precisely here and NOW: Looking at other options to vote for.

There are 20 provincial parties in Ontario. Not every party will run a candidate in your riding. But NOW is the time to get online and research your options. The PCs are not the only conservative party, and the Liberals and NDP are not the only socialist ones, either.

NOW - If you look, you will discover that there is ONLY a single one that answers the desire of many Ontarians - to get rid of all parties from our political system and instead run Independent candidates only.

Such a change would see those Independent MPPs as YOUR riding’s elected representative, carrying forward your riding’s messages and priorities to the Ontario Legislature....Voting the way they are told to vote by YOU. They should be Not leaders, but rather, YOUR Representatives. And also under this system, imagine large important decisions being made by YOU through referendums? Finally Ontario could make lasting decisions, that are supported by the majority, on important priorities.

NOW - To get there from here - it will take a majority of MPPs dedicated to make this crucial change happen: Consensus Ontario MPPs will need your support to get to Queen’s Park and make this change happen. For us all, and for future generations.

The people who do not like this idea are those who thrive on partisan politics, mudslinging, and on party people telling YOU what your priorities ought to be.

Consensus Ontario believes YOU already know what is important to you. And you should tell your MPP. And they should listen carefully. And they should gather up everyone’s priorities and represent what the majority want done.

The time is NOW. Visit www.consensusontario.ca and join NOW.

Brad Harness, Leader

CONSENSUS ONTARIO

CONSENSUS ONTARIO'S FOUNDATIONAL POLICIES ARE TAKING SHAPE - IMPROVED HEALTH CARE 

13 February 2018

Ontarians are concerned about HEALTH CARE being there for them, when and where they need it, that it is affordable and that they get this care within a reasonable time frame.


Health Care is the largest and most-expensive of the provincial government's spending areas, fully 40% of the entire provincial budget.  Additionally, the increase in health care costs happen at a rate faster than all other spending areas.  Consensus Ontario supports a thorough and detailed spending analysis of all provincial government ministry budgets to identify areas that are no longer needed, or that can be done more efficiently and cheaply.  This same analysis was conducted successfully by the Chretien Government in Ottawa and it found over 10% of the budget was no longer required.  Such an analysis in Ontario will free up funds for deficit and debt reduction, with the savings made in interest on the debt (which represents 1 dollar in 10 in the Ontario Government's annual budget) being able to be redirected to better fund health care,.  


Here are areas Consensus Ontario believes voters want improvements:


Supply of Doctors - The entry point for all of our health care in Ontario starts with our Family Doctors.  To that end, government must ensure there are enough doctors for us all, and that they are licensed and practicing in our communities, where they are needed.  Ontario should increase the number of doctors in training, including foreign-trained doctors, and it should also create Ministry of Health training positions for doctor trainees whereby these people will be put on salary and receive free tuition for their training period and afterwards, and be required to work upon graduation where they are needed in Ontario, on that salary, until the tuition has been repaid.  At that point they would be free to relocate.


Supply of Nurses - A similar programme for training nurses should be explored.


Wait-times - Ontarians want to see further reductions in wait-times.  Programmes need to be put in place to tackle the most severe wait problems first, and then over time as funding permits, reduce wait-times for the remaining areas.


Pharmacare - 40% of prescription medication is purchased by seniors who constitute roughly 15% of Ontarians.  This group - along with those individuals of any age facing castrophic drug costs - should be covered by an expanded pharmacare programme for Ontarians.  Over time, as the provincial finances permit, this should be expanded to cover all Ontarians.


Preventative Health Care - Currently about 3% of health care spending in Ontario goes towards preventing future health problems.  This includes areas like smoking, alcohol, drug usage, and so on.  This needs to be expanded to educate Ontarians on the many benefits of adopting healthier lifestyles and getting regular physical exercise at least three times weekly, every week.  This will reduce health care costs down the road.


Brad Harness, Leader,

Consensus Ontario

CONSENSUS ONTARIO'S FOUNDATIONAL POLICIES ARE TAKING SHAPE - MORE AFFORDABLE HOUSING

7 March 2018

ONTARIANS ARE CONCERNED ABOUT AFFORDABLE HOUSING. They need it to be there for them in ordinary circumstances as well in times of need: Unemployment, ageing, sickness, poverty.  The cost of housing is directly related to location: You live in an expensive community, the housing will be expensive also. If you move out further the costs go down. This is determined by the cost of the land the housing sits upon.

We all have our own personal or family budget (or we should!). This tells us how much money we have to spend on housing. If you decide to live in an expensive community, housing will gobble up a bigger portion of your budget. Banks don't let you buy homes if housing tops 40% of your budget. This is a wise move, to ensure you do not get into debt problems.

   Rent is an option instead of buying. Rent costs are higher in the expensive communities, so don't be surprised. From a landlord point of view, he/she must cover the mortgage costs as well as property taxes, property insurance, and often electricity and water costs, condo fees, plus possibly snow clearing, waste removal, etc. And then there are costs related to regular or special building maintenance as well as any improvements. Renters may think the money is just being pocketed by the landlord but it is not so in the vast majority of cases.

   So, how can the provincial government assist in MAKING HOUSING MORE AFFORDABLE?

For one thing, the province's low-income housing investments need to be maintained and projects to spend this allocated money must actually occur. The province can keep that pressure on with municipalities and builders. Building a percentage of low-income housing units in all new multi-unit housing projects in Ontario is a wise move and ensures that unsightly ghettos do not develop. It also goes far in removing the stigma attached to low-income housing projects, places like Toronto's Regents Park.

   For another thing, regular housing and rental costs are affected by the supply and demand of those homes and apartments/condos. Increase the supply and the prices will fall. Lower the demand and the prices will fall. Government rent controls skew the housing market by stalling new rental projects, thereby limiting supply, and therefore, increasing rent. Builders do need to obtain a reasonable return on their investments for them to happen. Better to phase out rent controls and ramp up building projects to significantly increase supply and thereby lower rents and housing prices.


Brad Harness, Leader,

Consensus Ontario

CONSENSUS ONTARIO'S FOUNDATIONAL POLICIES ARE TAKING SHAPE - IMPROVING OUR TRANSPORTATION

14 March 2018

ONTARIANS ARE CONCERNED ABOUT THEIR HIGHWAYS -  They want their provincial government to focus on increased safety on our highways, on an improved network of provincial highways, and on ensuring highways are well-maintained in all seasons.


Road safety: Measures which need to be expanded include cement medians/lighting in dangerous portions of Hwy. 401 and 402, and elsewhere where they are needed. A focus by OPP on dangerous drivers and not on the average driver going 20km/h above the posted speed limit is what voters want. Driving at 50km/h over the limit is dangerous. Texting while driving is dangerous. Zig-zagging in and out of traffic as if our highways are a video racing game is dangerous. Ticket these people significantly. Also improve transport truck safety. So, let's improve road safety for the benefit of us all.


Improving our provincial highway network: The Ministry of Transport should assume ownership of municipally built expressways including Toronto's Gardiner and DVP, Hamilton's LINC and Red Hill Parkway, Kitchener-Waterloo's expressway, Ottawa's, too. The province's MTO should be focused on moving large volumes of traffic.

Provincial government infrastructure spending: Should be focused on improving provincially-owned infrastructure, such as the highways that it owns and operates.


High-Speed Rail: To alleviate current and future pressure on our existing 400-series expressways the high-speed rail project needs to be not just for passengers but also for freight. Getting as many of both off the expressways will extend the life of the 400-series highways and put off future highway widening, allowing us to focus on safety measures and bridge/overpass improvements instead. Half of all truck traffic on the 401 travels from Montreal to Detroit and back. Much of that through-traffic could go on a high-speed passenger/freight line, and not necessarily the route being proposed at present.

Our overall goal should be to improve the efficiency and the flow of traffic on our provincially-owned transport systems. Stay tuned for additional ideas for Metrolinx/GO Transit under the Traffic policy which we'll be releasing in the weeks ahead.


Brad Harness, Leader,

Consensus Ontario

CONSENSUS ONTARIO'S FOUNDATIONAL POLICIES ARE TAKING SHAPE - IMPROVING LONG-TERM & SENIOR CARE

16 March 2018

Almost all of us will end up in a long-term care facility eventually. So it's in our best interests to make these places as comfortable, enjoyable and safe as possible.

In many smaller rural centres across Ontario, nursing and retirement homes are often the largest employer. In urban centres, long-term care facilities are also important major community institutions.

Ontario's population of 14.5-million includes 2.5-million people 65 years of age and older. These seniors account for 16% of our population, but that number is expected to reach 25% by the year 2040, after which it will remain at about that level.

There are currently not enough retirement and nursing homes for today's over 65 population. Fortunately, many seniors remain in good physical and mental health and our goal should be to help them remain as self-sufficient as possible, living in the housing of their choice and staying as active and fit as possible for as long as they are able. The ministry must continue to improve home care to meet these demands.

There will continue to be a need for more affordable housing for those aged 65 and over, who are retired. The provincial government must ensure it's policies encourage this type of housing growth and ensure it's affordability as the need for it will double by 2040.

For the 10% of seniors (250,000) who are unable to look after themselves - and this would include those without family to care for them - Ontario has a collection of privately- and publicly-owned nursing homes. The average age of residents in our nursing homes is 84. Nursing home residents are arriving there in worse health now since they are now older than the residents of a decade earlier. This places extra challenges on nursing home staff to deal with more and more complex medical issues than in the past.

*Clearly ongoing staff training would benefit our nursing home residents and staff, and increased funding for pay and higher staffing levels for PSW and nursing staff are needed, based on much public information from many Ontarians.

*The same is true of clear Standards Of Nursing Home Care - dictating minimum daily patient care levels higher than at present, and improvements to diet and activity schedules - need to be set by the province and inspected regularly and without warning by the ministry.

*Patient cameras in rooms would also be beneficial and should be installed by the Ministry of Long-Term Care.

*That NEW ministry - which we would call the "Ministry of Seniors & Long-Term Care" - would be removed from the Health ministry and set up as an important separate one under a CONSENSUS ONTARIO government, since it serves such an important and large portion of our population.

*Initiatives to combat Loneliness would be funded to improve quality of life and mental health issues for our seniors.

*Initiatives to Improve Senior Physical Fitness & Mobility would be funded to improve quality of life and mental health issues for our seniors.

*Finally, an expansion of Palliative Care and Hospices are needed across the province by the ministry. Anyone who has experienced this in their own family knows exactly how amazing these places and services are.

Brad Harness

Leader, CONSENSUS ONTARIO

CONSENSUS ONTARIO'S FOUNDATIONAL POLICIES ARE TAKING SHAPE - GETTING OUR FINANCES IN ORDER

23 March 2018

Last week Quebec surprised everyone by paying $10-billion off of their provincial debt. It was the largest debt repayment by that province since 1959.

Ontario has many assets, but we also have many liabilities. One key liability is Ontario’s provincial debt, which is the largest of any province or state in the Western World. It sits at $312-billion.

For those of you reading this article, your personal share of this provincial debt stands at $22, 500 and climbing each day.

While paying off the debt is not something we could as a province do rapidly, it is something we can do gradually.

Why would we bother? Because of three reasons: First, Where a debt exists it is easy to add to it, as has always happened in the past. Second, the sooner we start the sooner we pay it off. And third - and this is the most important aspect - we are wasting a lot of money each year paying interest on that debt. The challenge is that the Ontario government’s annual budget is not balanced, and we have, at present, no money geared for debt repayment. We will have to find that money somewhere.

Ontario’s budget has been in the red for over a decade now and while the deficit (shortfall of funds or, how much the government is overspending, which ever way you want to look at it) has narrowed to about $2-billion, it has done so purely on the back of a stronger economy and economic growth, and not because of more prudent spending ways. Both the Liberals and NDP have said they will no longer be balancing Ontario’s budget over the next half dozen years, despite sound financial management advice that governments should save in good times and spend in bad times, they are spending in both good and bad times!

$11.5-billion is interest on the debt annually out of a total budget of $141-billion. So nearly 1 spending dollar in 10 is spent to pay interest on the Ontario debt. What a waste.

Even if we could spend $11.5-billion on paying off a portion of the provincial debt each year, it would still take the government 28 years to pay off all that red ink, and that means no more borrowing!

A more likely CONSENSUS ONTARIO scenario is as follows:

a. Balance the budget each year moving forward, to no longer add to the huge provincial debt burden for Ontarians;

b. Ensure profits from all Ontario crown agencies (hydro, LCBO, marijuana, etc.) are used to pay down debt. This amounted to $3.5-billion in 2017.

Under this new proposal by Consensus Ontario, the debt would be reduced slowly by $3.5-billion per year. After the first five years debt would be under $300-billion. It would result in a drop in interest payments by then of $600-million annually, money that would be redirected to the health care ministry’s spending.

After 20 years of such payments, Consensus Ontario forecasts the debt to have been cut back to $240-billion. At this point, fully $2.5-billion annually would have been saved in interest payments and freed up each year to be redirected to health care spending, putting money where Ontarians say they want it spent.

Merci, Quebec, for reminding Ontario that slaying the debt still matters!


Brad Harness

Leader, CONSENSUS ONTARIO

CONSENSUS ONTARIO'S FOUNDATIONAL POLICIES ARE TAKING SHAPE - POST-SECONDARY SCHOOL EMPLOYMENT

2 April 2018

Our Random Voter Priorities Survey revealed that post-secondary education is the sixth top concern of Ontarians. Whether this education is for themselves, their children, grandchildren or neighbours and friends, we all want to know that our system of readying Ontarians for the workforce and educating our future entrepreneurs, researchers, creative people and leaders, is sound.

(Apprenticeships is a separate concern and we'll discuss that in a later policy statement.)

As far as our universities, community colleges, and private colleges are concerned, voter concerns have much to do with the 'cost' versus the 'jobs available' at the other end of the schooling. Indeed, making a far better system to connect grads with jobs upon graduation - and better yet - to provide career guidance to aim students at jobs available now and in the short- and medium-term even before they begin post-secondary education, is what we all want. This would ensure fewer dollars are wasted and would see less time spent heading in the wrong direction on the part of the students.

Private career colleges fill a role. They allow for at times faster programme/training completion and allow students to pursue programmes they make not otherwise qualify to enter at the community college level. We have nothing to suggest at this point by way of improvements to them, other than lower tuition costs for students.

There is also a desire to see ideally no overlap between community college and university programmes. This will increase the value of one degree or diploma relative to the other and make the costs worthwhile. Degrees would be restricted to universities, diplomas to colleges, under our plan.

Consensus Ontario wants to see a discussion concerning the merits of providing free tuition for all university students in exchange for fewer students enrolled and enrollment selection via entrance exams. Such a system will increase the value of those degrees and allow students to focus more on their studies. Students would still need to pay for their books, materials, fees and living costs while at university, but the province would cover all tuition expenses.

Pretty much everyone agrees: Bachelor degree grads flipping burgers and mired in student debt is not the outcome we desire!

If this system - proved by a pilot project at the university level - works well, then it would make sense to expand it to the community college level, too.

We would like to also see a cap on foreign visa student fees and student enrollment levels. Overseas student money should not be relied upon to develop Ontario's post-secondary education institutions.


Brad Harness

Leader, CONSENSUS ONTARIO

CONSENSUS ONTARIO'S FOUNDATIONAL POLICIES ARE TAKING SHAPE - PENSION INCOME

16 April 2018

Among the top half dozen priorities of Ontarians in the Consensus Ontario surveys is Retirement Income. We all want to retire, in comfort, and enjoy our golden years. For some who have workplace pensions or who have earned comfortable incomes that allowed them to save and invest their money for their retirement years, retirement can indeed by comfortable.

But for those who don't have a workplace pension or larger incomes allowing for adequate savings for retirement, their retirement years are ones of worry. Plenty of average and low-income Ontarians don't save much at all for retirement, and will be relying upon Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Old Age Security (OAS). Even assuming they are reasonable healthy, CPP and OAS provide at best a basic retirement income.

A full and broad discussion is needed in Ontario to identify ways to address this retirement income problem. Regular Ontarians need to share their own situations to ensure that policy makers are clear as to the real state of affairs concerning retirement income.

Options the province has to rectify the retirement income shortfall includes participation within CPP to increase contributions to and benefits from this plan; lobbying the federal government to expand OAS benefits; Explore options for an Ontario Pension Plan, possibly tied to businesses which do not currently offer workplace pensions.

Things that affect how much spending money is available to retirees include home care, prescription drugs, housing costs, transportation, and so on. It makes sense that the following areas will therefore help stretch the few retirement dollars seniors have farther: Provision of more Home Care services at lower or no cost to qualifying seniors; free prescription drugs for seniors; working with all levels of government to increase the inventory of affordable housing for seniors; setting up a stand-alone Ministry of Seniors Affairs to maintain a focus on the many needs of our aging population; and lowering income taxes for retirees. Of course, government cannot do everything at once and money to fund these initiatives needs to come from a balanced budget.


Brad Harness

Leader, CONSENSUS ONTARIO

CONSENSUS ONTARIO'S FOUNDATIONAL POLICIES ARE TAKING SHAPE - PRIMARY & SECONDARY EDUCATION

2 May 2018

Among the top half dozen priorities of Ontarians in the Consensus Ontario surveys is Primary & Secondary. We all want our children and grandchildren to receive the best publicly-funded education possible. That education is meant to prepare them for the workforce and to be good citizens who make a contribution to our society.


Primary Education begins with the basics, and expands into dealing with foundational knowledge and concepts upon which to build their learning in preparation for secondary school (and beyond). This includes language, mathematics, music, the arts, physical education and health studies.


Secondary Education is where students learn and master advanced concepts and skills. This includes in areas such as language, mathematics, the sciences (including biology, chemistry, physics, information technology, and astronomy), as well as social studies such as history,sociology and geography, home economics and life skills, hands-on skills dealing with technical trades which students may wish to join (or perhaps they will employ these skills in their homes and families later on). Also, physical education and health (including sex education) are a must.


At all times our schools must impart and stress rules, manners, courtesy, appropriate language skills, social skills and group and interpersonal dynamics so that these young leaders graduate ready to contribute meaningfully to our society. Respect for all pupils and students as well as school staff is an ongoing goal to providing a safe atmosphere for all to work and learn in. Teachers must be role models and look the part in their dress and deportment. School uniforms should be considered for all publicly funded schools and be adopted if the local desire is met.


Curriculum must be updated regularly to remain current. We need to ensure our public school graduates are literate and have the same ease with math which many of their parents did. Sex education is necessary, but at the appropriate grade level and in the necessary level of detail as required by young minds. Rote learning works - and it needs to be returned to a place of prominence in language and math classes. Hand-writing that is legible is necessary in the work place. Cell phones and other distracting e-gadgets should be removed form the classrooms at all grade levels.

Standardized testing each year would ensure students are ready for the next grade and if not, they should not advance until they are academically ready.

Small and rural schools need a different funding formula than that which is used for larger and urban schools.


Many Ontarians believe there is no need for multiple separate school administrations. Schools are essentially bricks and mortar and can be taken care of by their local municipal governments in the same away as other municipal buildings. Separate schools for Catholic students and for French students can remain under this new municipal administration which we are proposing. Budgets would be funded by local education taxes plus provincial grants. Principals would be empowered to oversee their school budgets including that for staffing. All hiring would be done at each school by the principal in one-on-one negotiations with each applicant for a position at that school. Teaching and support staff would be hired for three-year contracts to provide the school flexibility to keep their expenses in line with their budgets.


The Ministry of Education should provide the public school curriculum, teacher training, licencing and testing, standardized student testing and also must inspect all schools on a regular basis with no warning.


Brad Harness

Leader, CONSENSUS ONTARIO

CONSENSUS ONTARIO'S FOUNDATIONAL POLICIES ARE TAKING SHAPE - CRIME, POLICE, COURTS & PRISON

16 November 2018

As we continue our riding level random voter surveys - to identify what ordinary Ontarians think are their priorities - so far we have found the following, in order of Most Important:

Health Care

Affordable Housing

Provincial Highways

Long-Term Care for Seniors

Government Finances & Debt

College & University Education

Pensions

Primary & Secondary Education

Policing & Crime

Provincial Sales Tax

Special Needs Assistance

Electrify & Hydro

Mental Health Care

Provincial Income Taxes

Transit

Skills & Apprenticeship Training


Our policy development is now underway to develop initiatives that would improve these areas of concern for Ontario Voters.  These are being released, one at a time.


ONTARIANS ARE CONCERNED ABOUT POLICING, CRIME, OUR COURT SYSTEM AND OUR PRISON SYSTEM

Whether the statistics “feel” true or not, Ontarians remain concerned over crime in their communities, and they expect police will be there to deal with whatever level of crime is occurring at any given time.

Policing is a municipal responsibility for most Ontarians and their local police service is structured - and funded by their local property taxation - to address crime and policing issues in their municipality.

The Ontario Provincial Police is on hand to do this in most of rural Ontario as well as to handle provincial laws which are violated.

Provincial Courts are there to conduct trials of those accused of crime, sentence the guilty, and send them to Provincial or Federal prisons depending upon the length of their incarceration.

Most Ontarians we spoke with tell us that they think our Provincial Prison System should be up to the task of properly housing and punishing those sent to prison.  They think prisoners should do the time they are sentenced to serve.  They think prison should be a place criminals never want to return to again. They want to see drugs removed from prisons and privileges curtailed for those serving time.

Victims rights have in many cases appeared to be worth less than the rights of criminals. Most Ontarians do not support that reality and the provincial government must ensure that the rights of victims, their families, and their communities supersede those of the criminal concerned.  This includes making these people aware of the presence of dangerous offenders, sex offenders and those on Peace Bonds who are suddenly living nearby in their communities and pose a real threat to all.

It is up to the provincial government to ensure adequate funding for police, the court system, and the prison system. It is up to municipal government to ensure adequate funding for their own municipal police forces.


Brad Harness

Leader, CONSENSUS ONTARIO

Our Blog

An ongoing series of informational entries

Protecting Rural & Small Schools

8 March 2017

Rural & Small school closures: Consensus Ontario has heard from thousands of Ontarians stuck in this quagmire - a cookie cutter approach to declining enrollment rather than a scalpel in the hands of a gifted surgeon. We in Middlesex County have struggled with this too. Problem is many-fold: Overly large school boards with many layers of bureaucracy that are expensive to operate..new titles for executives who then demand more money. Salaries too high for what these people do. Should the Director of Education really make more than the premier? I don't think so. Small and rural schools are the heart of their communities. Close them and it's a body blow - or a death blow - to those small communities trying to grow. Why would new families move there just to have their kids sit on a bus for an hour? The existing school funding model set out by the Liberals funds schools operating in a certain fashion and shows rural and small schools as unaffordable.

When challenged in Middlesex five years ago to provide financial evidence that a school slated for closure was too expensive to operate, the school board could and would not. It claimed they did not gather data on individual schools. I countered that, therefore, how did they know the school was too expensive to run? I suggested a one-year moratorium during which time complete financial data be gathered on schools faced with closure. This must include both expenses as well as revenues for that school jurisdiction (boundaries). School taxes collected + the share of all other provincial taxes collected in that area that goes into general revenues for education spending. My position is that such an exercise will show schools with 100-300 pupils are actually at least breaking even and are therefore affordable.

Consensus Ontario believes that our communities of all sizes need their schools, and that closures should only occur after both the financial data gathering described above, and then extensive dialogue with communities.

We also believe that our large school boards are part of the education funding problem, and as such, need to be disbanded. The curriculum and school inspections and teacher licensing would all be handled by the Ministry of Education. The schools are really just bricks and mortar. They can be run like arenas and community centres, by their closest municipal government, which would put them under the control of a municipality's local school board just as they have police, recreation and fire boards. They would then hire the principals who would follow Ministry of Education guidelines to deliver the education programme, using the Ministry-provided school budget to hire all school staff and operate the building. This would allow for far greater local control over these vital community institutions.

Ideas For Tackling Toronto Area Housing Costs

10 March 2017

TACKLING RISING HOUSING COSTS IN THE TORONTO AREA - A TAX ON FOREIGN BUYERS NOT THE ONLY OPTION

As with anything we buy in our free market system, price is determined at the most basic level, by the law of supply and demand. Given a limited number of units available for sale, the price of these will increase as more people want to purchase them. The only things that will bring prices back down is a drop in the demand for these units or a large increase in the number of units for sale.

When we look at housing, and the rapid rise of housing prices in the Toronto area in particular, we must agree that this rise is due to a strong demand for those housing units. The forest of construction cranes in the city (nearly 25% of all the construction cranes globally) are busy in Toronto trying to increase supply. This is called Supply Side economics.

Within "housing units" there are - of course - all sorts of units: single detached homes, semi-detached, duplexes, triplexes, townhomes, apartments - and these can also be a combination of freehold or condominium ownership. What's more, the quality - a factor combining age, upkeep, and renovation - will also affect prices. And don't forget location, the age-old top consideration for investing in real estate that will hold its value.

Who are buying these homes? Why, the domestic buyers for certain, as well as investment buyers (living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada as well as those from other countries) who will buy and hold the property and rent it out to cover operating costs and upkeep.

It is certainly unfortunate that rapid price increases of 20% or higher per year have already priced some buyers out of the market. This will mean that they will have to live elsewhere and buy something affordable there.

Do we want our workers to drive many miles from cheaper towns and cities to work in Toronto every day, clogging our highways and filling up public transit? Or do we want them to live as close to work as possible, thereby lessening the pressure on Ontario's transportation network? Lessening the demand on the network will reduce the infrastructure costs the province spends annually.

So we come back to the problem of rapidly escalating housing prices, which are pushed up by a surge in demand, including a demand from investors, a portion of which are foreigners. One cause for the demand is the perception caused by the media and realtors that potential buyers had better buy now or miss out. That hype contributes to price escalation, and is self-reinforcing: Realtors who stick handle higher sales prices for their clients can further escalate prices in units after that for others.

Let's not forget that property value is the prime determinant of your property taxes.

Demand Side Economics options for reducing the demand (and thereby reducing prices) include taxing foreign buyers, or taxes on all "investment" buyers who plan to not live in the housing unit, or provide tax incentives to buyers who will live in the unit, and further, provide incentives to buyers who will live in the unit and who are living closer to their places of work. Incentives could include percentage taxes based on the value of the unit, and incentives could include things like eliminating the land transfer tax for live-in buyers, and an income tax deduction for living closer to your place of work (as this saves the Transportation Ministry money it won't need to spend on your behalf).

The province could provide one or a combination of these measures. It would be sensible to have the Ministry of Housing report on the merits of these various options (without lobbying by the realtors associations or the home builders or property development companies), and to do so in a timely fashion so that changes could be implemented shortly thereafter to help Ontarians in their home buying efforts.

Back on the supply side of things, municipalities control planning ans so that part is up to them. Decide where to put the housing, protect heritage buildings, encourage densification of housing. With a reduction in housing demand the builders will reduce their efforts also and things will regain a more sustainable balance.

Province Should Not Try To Pick Business Winners

31 March 2017

I don't know whether Ontarians would support the idea of pumping multi-millions of government (tax) dollars into privately owned businesses that operate for a profit? Consensus politics says we ought to ask Canadians whether they support this sort of thing before we do it. Of course the recipients are happy with it...why wouldn't they be? This would apply to the injection last week of over $100-million into Ford Motor Co. The Ford deal is said to support hundreds of jobs into the future. I have heard up to 800? That's about $125,000 per job. There are many other Ontarian-owned businesses that do not receive any financial support and operate profitably. Ford, by the way, netted $10-billion in profit last year. Why can't they fund their own business expansions and research & development wholly from their own money? Government has proven repeatedly in the past that it is not very good at picking "winners" in business in which to invest our money on our behalf!

Trudeau's Pot Plans Leave Much To Be Explained

17 April 2017

Trudeau’s pot plans leave much to be explained - Off the top, we must remember that during the October 2015 federal election, Justin Trudeau campaigned on decriminalizing marijuana - not legalizing it. There is a big difference between the two.

Decriminalizing means people who would have been convicted in the past for possession or use of smaller amounts of the drug would no longer be. Legalization means the drug becomes a legal and restricted product, for sale to those above a certain age and taxable by the government. Trudeau claims the main motivator was to protect the safety of children. I disagree: His main motivation appears to be more a step towards dragging Canadian society into a world where more and more things are considered normal and alright. If that’s truly what Canadians want, fine. But that was not what people voted for in 2015. Such a big change with so many far-reaching implications should be put to a referendum, giving Canadians the choice between the status quo, decriminalization, and legalization. I suspect that decriminalization would be the preferred option for the majority. Let’s be under no illusions. There will be plenty of problems caused by legalization. They will affect all three levels of government. Federally, with crime no longer centered around small amounts of marijuana use or small amounts of marijuana growing, we are likely to see people push those limits. It’s only human nature. Police will still remain involved with pot crimes. There is also the tax level that the federal government will set for it’s ‘cut’ that will potentially cause negative effects. Furthermore, border security issues will be a problem, especially with young American tourists flocking to places like Windsor, as well as with anyone crossing that border. or any border.

Provincially, the age limit and the retailing of the drug will be a big matter to resolve. Again, provincially, it is worth a referendum to get clear direction from Ontarians on this. Choices should include retailing it at the LCBO stores, at all LCBO outlet locations, at pharmacies, at medical marijuana dispensaries, or at new retail locations. It will also come down to a battle of big corporations vs. the littler retailer or small chains. And what about impaired drivers?

Municipally, there will be complaints, be sure of that. Everything from smoke swirling through apartments and condos buildings, non-pot users unable to enjoy their own property due to pot smoke drifting into their back yards. Let’s be honest, it smells as bad as burning leaves in the autumn, or worse. Backyard smoke bylaws already exist and will need to be amended to include marijuana. Houses and apartments used for illegal grow ops have become uninhabitable due to high levels of toxins absorbed into the walls. Condo corporations in Ontario have begun bringing in new condo rules banning all forms of smoking from condo buildings in advance of the new marijuana legislation and the expected deluge of complaints from non-pot smokers. Municipalities will also have to deal with zoning retail locations, and also growing locations, depending upon which growers - big corporate ones already licensed for growing medical marijuana - or small ones, that will sprout up all over the place. And expect more illegal growers, too. Local police will be freed up from the pot crimes they now deal with and forced to deal with pot complaints and by-law enforcement. Will lower level local dealers and growers go away? Unlikely. They’ll still sell to users under the allowed age, and at prices below the taxable retail price. That age should not be 18 as the federal plans propose, but at least 19. There is plenty of medical evidence to suggest that 25 might be a more sensible age, given that the developing brain of young adults and children can be negatively affected by pot usage. Political parties dragging society in a direction without authorization is a poor way to develop public policy. The Liberals have always had a sad track record of employing ‘Big Brother Knows Best’. The legalization of marijuana is the latest example.

2017 Ontario Budget

28 April 2017

ONTARIO BUDGET

On 27 April, the Liberal Finance Minister Charles Sousa delivered the first balanced budget in 10 years for the province of Ontario. While the fact that it is finally balanced (that is, providing the province’s economy continues to perform well this year) is a good thing, it is long overdue, and the nine previous unbalanced budgets have caused the province’s already large debt load to swell to $311-billion, more than any other province or state in North America.

It is really a question of how Ontarians believe their government ought to conduct itself: Most people we talk to realize they have to tighten their own belts when funds are short. They expect their governments at all levels to tighten their belts, too, when times are tough and revenues drop. The analogy is that when we are out of work, it is time to be careful with our savings and not the time to carry on spending at normal levels by running up huge bills on our credit cards and lines of credit.

Balanced budget a good thing: But taking nine years to balance it, is a bad thing. Does a nine-year pattern indicate how this party prefers to operate? Yes. The only reason the balance happened now is that it sets the stage for next June’s election in Ontario, and the Premier hopes to be able to point to the budget and say, “See? We are good at handling your tax dollars...we balanced the budget.” Were no election coming, that likely would not have happened based on their track record. They like big government and big spending.

No Debt Repayments: No other Ontario government has made any effort to start paying off the enormous Ontario debt. Even a small and steady debt repayment ($1-billion annually) would be the responsible thing to do, and an excellent signal to the money markets that Ontario is serious about its financial situation. But that is not there. Saying as the budget does that the size of the debt relative to the size of our economy (currently 37%) will drop to closer to 27% in the next 10 or more years, is not doing anything to end those interest payments on the debt. We’ll till owe $311-billion in 10 years time, unless the economy tanks, in which case, they’d start borrowing more money to spend, further worsening the debt situation. Interest payments would then consume even more of annual operating budgets than they do today.

Interest Payments on the Debt: $12-billion this year (out of a budget of nearly $140-billion). Surely, that money would be better spent on increased funding for the priorities of Ontarians, money for more hospital beds, a better pharmacare programme, transportation, keeping rural schools open and fixing the electricity system?

Pharmacare: The new programme announced in this budget will provide free prescription drugs for those under age 25, regardless of family income. It would be wiser and fairer to provide it to those not capable of paying for it, including low-income seniors who are the group most in need of pharmacare financial aid, alongside those Ontarians faced with the costs of catastrophic drug costs for cancer treatments and other serious disease medications.

Land Transfer Tax: The Liberal ‘take’ through this unpleasant tax is projected to rise by 50% this year, more than $600-million. Thanks to the wildely out of control real estate values in Ontario. It would be nice to see this funding turned back in full into low-income housing projects across Ontario to help those most in need.

Extending the GO train service to the Niagara Peninsula: This is being spun as an off-set for the rapidly rising housing costs in the GTA. But rather than consume more prime agricultural land for further housing sprawl (facilitated by the GO Train extension that makes once self-sufficient towns more and more mere bedroom communities of the GTA) it would be better to instead use the money to encourage Ontarians to live closer to work by rewarding those with tax breaks for doing so and thus reducing the pressure on our GO and 400-series highway systems, saving money.

Affordable housing: The housing issue is a supply problem largely, and it means the province must encourage municipalities to plan more of the type of housing that Ontarians actually want to buy.

To summarize: Consensus Ontario is calling on all politicians in Ontario to try hard to find out what Ontarians’ priorities actually are, and to tailor the government’s spending and budgets to focus new spending targets on those priorities in particular.

Flat Rate Electricity - We said it first!

2 March 2017

Back on 13 February 2017 Consensus Ontario posted our position - based on what you are telling us in our riding priorities surveys - that Ontarians want a flat rate for electricity. Simpler, predictable, and not smelling of Big Brother telling them when to wash their dainties! Three days ago the Ontario NDP announced the same thing...and today, Premier Wynne and the Liberals announced...the same thing! Are older parties really old-style parties and out of touch with the wishes of Ontarians? I think so. Stay tuned.

Better Health Care

27 February 2017

Better Health Care

Every single one of us needs a doctor at some point. She/he is the access point for Ontario's health care system. It is important that we all have family doctors. Voters tell us they agree.

We would expand the accreditation programme for foreign-trained family doctors. We would also hire all future medical students as employees of the Ministry of Health for their training period and for their initial tuition payback period, during which time they'd be required to serve where needed, as military doctors are required to do. In exchange, they would graduate without debt. After the payback period they would be free to relocate and work as independent medical doctors and be paid accordingly. They could remain on salary if they prefer.

Smart Health Care also means preventative health care. We hear Ontarians would like things like eye doctors and dentists to be covered by the province as a free and sensible step to prevent worse medical conditions down the road. We agree.

A Long-Term Electricity Strategy

21 February 2017

Having already discussed the important subject of hydro rates (the cost of electricity charged by the producer of the electricity) it is appropriate to discuss a long-term strategy for safe, reliable and affordable electricity for Ontario. Obviously large sums of money have been invested in the creation and operation of our existing hydro, nuclear, thermal and green (wind/solar/biomass) generating facilities.

At this point Ontario produces more electricity than it requires and Ontarians do not like the idea of continuing to produce this large surplus only to give it to other jurisdictions (such as several US states) while Ontarians are paying very high rates for the same product.

There is agreement that we can reach a consensus strategy of maintaining what we have already purchased in the way of generating capacity, and in the future, adding to our energy generating mix when required through a combination of new hydro electric projects as well as through a change in the building code that requires all new buildings to provide for their own power generation (thus adding no further demand to the grid). Solar shingles are one way to do this. A further step could see municipalities encouraged to generate their own power for their own local requirements and to sell any surplus into the grid, giving them a new source of revenue for their always tight municipal budgets. Localization of electric generation would also place the power closer to the end-user, reducing the loss (up to one-third) of electricity as it is moved along hydro transmission lines from distant generating plants to local consumers. An unnecessary waste reduced, and prices along with it!

Unnecessarily generous overhead costs at Hydro One and Ontario Power Generation would be addressed. For example, the CEOs of both of these crown corporations would have their salaries/compensation packages capped at the same rate as the Ontario premier‘s salary and compensation.

Further selling off of Hydro One stock is not supported by taxpayers at this point, who view this crown corporation as a positive revenue generator for Ontario and prefer government ownership to private ownership.

The province should invest significant Research and Development dollars into companies developing storage systems for the surplus electricity generated in Ontario so that it may be captured and used at a later date, thus lowering the costs to consumers. These systems would be a new export product globally -as such technology does not exist but is in demand.

 

Asking About & Following The Priorities Of Ontarians

9 February 2017

It all comes down to whether you believe that positive improvements can be made to the way the Province of Ontario is governed. Consensus Ontario firmly believes positive change can happen...it starts with you, getting involved. Ontario is a large province populated with nearly 14-million talented and well-meaning citizens. It has resources most countries would pray to have themselves. People come to Ontario from all over the world. But things aren't going as well as they should, and this has been the problem for more than 30 years, courtesy of the various Liberal, PC, and NDP governments. It's time to do politics differently: That's where Consensus Ontario comes in. Stay tuned - better yet, join us and help get Ontario off of the Boulevard of Broken Dreams and back on to the Road to Prosperity!

Minimum Wage or Full-time Job Creation?

1 May 2017

MINIMUM WAGE OR FULL-TIME JOB CREATION? There has been much talk lately about the minimum wage in Ontario. Consensus Ontario believes it is not so much a problem in the level of the hourly wage, but rather, the problem experienced by people in those positions is that often, they are part-time or contract positions. If we could fix one problem for Ontario workers, increasing the number of full-time positions would be preferable (having a greater positive social and economic impact) to merely raising the hourly rate.

In 2017 the Ontario minimum wage is $11.40 per hour. Those advocating a $15/hour “living” wage are overlooking the likely side effect that such a raise (a 31.5% raise in a single step) would have on employers across this province. Those employers have pay envelopes - annual budgets they plan for to pay their employees to ensure they have the staff on hand in order to generate the business income needed to be able to pay everyone working for the business. Small businesses make up the greatest slice of employers in Ontario. Take the case of one of those companies and let’s consider a part-timer working there, 20 hours per week, $11.40 per hour. Now the $15/hour wage comes in, and what does the employer - with a finite amount of money in that pay envelope for the year - do? He gives the person the raise but he cuts her hours to balance things off in his pay envelope. To do so this, the part-timer will lose about 5 hours per week. She ends up working for 15 hours at $15, rather than 20 hours at $11.40/hour, and her take-home pay remains unchanged. The employer now has fewer man-hours available to him to generate the business income, threatening the businesses ongoing financial state, and that part-timer’s job. One business think tank suggests the equivalent of 100,000 jobs would be lost when you add up all the reduced hours.

Consensus Ontario hears what people want: More hours, and an annual cost of living increase. Good employers already do this. They know their business success is tied to their workforce. They give cost of living increases and seniority increases, and also provide additional hours to whatever workers they can, in line with the annual plan for the business. Other employers may do the absolute minimum required under the law. A better solution rather than to do deliberate raises in the Minimum Wage would be to have legislated cost of living increases in the minimum wage, every year moving forward. Employers can plan for this and budget for it. In 2015 and 2016 the Cost of Living increase in Ontario was 2.5%. This means that that part-timer’s minimum wage keeps pace with inflation and her hours are not cut. Most businesses plan to increase income by at least 3% annually.

What this 20 hours per week part-timer really needs next (after the cost of living increase each year, which ensures she is not sliding backwards on her income) is more hours. Most companies in Ontario would benefit from having additional workers. Consensus Ontario would invest tax dollars in a tax reduction for all businesses which hire one new full-time position and keep that position in place for the next five years. A one-time 100% tax deduction equivalent to 40 hours per week at minimum wage would be allowed. These 40 hours could be used across several part-time positions to convert them to full-time. This $23,712 tax credit to create new jobs would be expected to significantly reduce unemployment, would be widely spread around the entire province and in all sectors of the economy, and furthermore, likely cause a labour shortage, which will result in businesses paying beyond minimum wage to hire staff. Final point: If the employee is not retained for the five years the $23,712 will be added to the company’s taxes owing. Ontario's 800,000 companies and sole-proprietorships could be expected to create as many as 800,000 new full-time jobs. This would be paid for by eliminating all other business subsidies along with a 10% spending reduction across all ministries, and would be spread over 10 years.

As these workers gain experience and advance at the business or upgrades skills, their pay from their employer would increase to reflect their greater value to the company. Consensus Ontario would also offer workers a personal income tax credit for upgrading their skills, encouraging them to become even more valuable to their employers and thus being able to fill more demanding roles at greater pay for their employer - or another company - for higher wages.

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