In a land of con­fu­sion, tax­pay­ers must tell gov­ern­ment where to go

The Glengarry News - - The Opinion Page - -- Richard Ma­honey (richard@glen­gar­rynews.ca)

When in doubt, con­sult, or blame some­body else for real or imag­ined prob­lems. While most Glen­gar­ri­ans no doubt agree with the prov­ince’s shift to the right, the Con­ser­va­tives’ di­rec­tion on many is­sues, such as ed­u­ca­tion and mar­i­juana, re­mains un­clear. Plus, it seems that the lo­cal govern­ments that will be elected Oc­to­ber 22 will have to grap­ple with cannabis sales, as if coun­cils did not have enough to do al­ready.

The lack of a concise plan prompts the de­fault de­lay tac­tic way out: Ask the tax­pay­ers to tell the gov­ern­ment what it should do.

Yes, folks, The Plan­ning For Pros­per­ity Con­sul­ta­tion per­mits any­one with a de­vice to tell Ford Na­tion where to go. “On­tario's Gov­ern­ment for the Peo­ple is con­tin­u­ing to take ac­tion in restor­ing trust and ac­count­abil­ity in the prov­ince's pub­lic fi­nances,” Trea­sury Board Pres­i­dent Peter Beth­len­falvy said in an­nounc­ing “the next step in en­gag­ing with On­tar­i­ans by launch­ing a three-week on­line pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion.”

Septem­ber 21 is the dead­line for peo­ple to “have a di­rect say in how gov­ern­ment can im­prove the ef­fec­tive­ness and ef­fi­ciency of pro­vin­cial pro­grams and ser­vices, while avoid­ing job cuts.”

Fall­ing flat

Well, since the gov­ern­ment asked, for starters, what hap­pened to the cheap beer law? Ev­i­dently, one of the many scourges left be­hind by the hor­ri­ble Lib­er­als was the high price of suds. Thank­fully, Pre­mier Doug Ford dropped the floor price, pro­claim­ing the dawn of the bucka-beer era in On­tario. The prob­lem is that few brew­eries jumped at the chance of cut­ting its re­tail prices, and suf­fer­ing huge losses. An­other mi­nor con­sid­er­a­tion is that you get what you pay for; it is hard to pro­duce a drink­able brew for $1 per unit.

While the pop­u­lar, yet short-lived, di­ver­sion fell flat, the Tories’ out­look re­mains hazy about an­other form of med­i­ca­tion.

Stor­mont-Dun­das-South Glen­garry MPP Jim McDonell notes in a press re­lease that the prov­ince is tak­ing steps to “bring ef­fi­ciency to the new cannabis re­tail frame­work” in prepa­ra­tion for Oc­to­ber 17, when recre­ational pot use be­comes le­gal.

“The prov­ince did not need the ex­pen­sive and bu­reau­cratic sys­tem the previous gov­ern­ment put in place when work­ing mod­els ex­ist else­where in Canada and even within On­tario for con­trol­ling, dis­tribut­ing and sell­ing age-con­trolled prod­ucts,” says Mr. McDonell. “Our pri­or­i­ties re­main guar­an­tee­ing On­tar­i­ans’ safety, fight­ing im­paired driv­ing and keep­ing age-con­trolled prod­ucts out of the hands of chil­dren. This is why when cannabis be­comes le­gal, the On­tario Cannabis Store will fol­low the model cur­rently in use for medic­i­nal cannabis. On­tar­i­ans will be able to pur­chase cannabis on­line through the On­tario Cannabis Store and have it de­liv­ered to them, just like medic­i­nal cannabis, with their age and iden­tity ver­i­fied on de­liv­ery, or the prod­uct is re­turned. We will also con­sult with busi­nesses and com­mu­nity stake­hold­ers on the right way to im­ple­ment a pri­vate re­tail model by the spring of 2019. Now elected coun­cils will have the right to opt out of the pri­vate re­tail frame­work, which would make cannabis avail­able to res­i­dents only through on­line pur­chases.”

Given the con­ser­va­tive lean­ings of their elec­tors, the “new” North and South Glen­garry coun­cils will likely “opt out” and avoid all the has­sles of try­ing to reg­u­late pri­vate, le­gal weed ven­dors.

So we will be left with a mish-mash of dif­fer­ent rules that vary from place to place. Con­fu­sion also reigns about the gov­ern­ment’s ap­proach to poverty. One in eight house­holds in Stor­mont-Dun­das-Glen­garry, Prescott-- Rus­sell and Corn­wall does not have enough money to buy groceries. Prov­ince-wide, one in seven On­tar­i­ans lives in poverty.

Ad­vo­cates for a ba­sic guar­an­teed in­come sug­gest that so­cial as­sis­tance pay­ments be in­creased so that an in­di­vid­ual on On­tario Works re­ceives a min­i­mum of $1,320 per month, non-tax­able, with an op­por­tu­nity to keep par­tial ad­di­tional in­come earned from a job.

About 17 per cent of North Glen­garry house­holds have low in­comes, or less than half of the rev­enues of most other house­holds.

“Food in­se­cu­rity” has be­come a daily prob­lem for more and more peo­ple, a sur­vey by the Eastern On­tario Health Unit has found.

But the prov­ince, which has canned a min­i­mum wage hike, has axed a ba­sic in­come re­search project, a test that would lead to im­por­tant so­cial as­sis­tance re­form.

“We have a bro­ken so­cial ser­vice sys­tem. A re­search project that helps less than four thou­sand peo­ple is not the answer and pro­vides no hope to the nearly two mil­lion On­tar­i­ans who are trapped in the cy­cle of poverty,” said Lisa Ma­cLeod, Min­is­ter of Chil­dren, Com­mu­nity and So­cial Ser­vices. “We are wind­ing down the ba­sic in­come re­search project in a com­pas­sion­ate way.”

Pay­ments to el­i­gi­ble par­tic­i­pants will con­tinue un­til March 31, 2019. “This will al­low par­tic­i­pants enough time to tran­si­tion to more proven support pro­grams with­out putting an un­due bur­den on On­tario tax­pay­ers,” the min­is­ter said.

“The re­search project had an ex­tra­or­di­nary cost for On­tario tax­pay­ers which, ac­cord­ing to the Min­istry of Fi­nance, would re­quire in­creas­ing the HST from 13 per cent to 20 per cent if im­ple­mented across the prov­ince,” she said in an­nounc­ing a 100-day re­view of so­cial as­sis­tance and poverty re­duc­tion strate­gies.

The pre­scient min­is­ter some­how knows that, even be­fore the project has been com­pleted, that the test of­fers “no hope” to low-in­come cit­i­zens.

As it con­tin­ues to con­sult, the gov­ern­ment has been busy try­ing to erase the fi­nal ves­tiges of the 15-year Lib­eral regime.

“It was an ex­haust­ing but pro­duc­tive first 40 days for the new gov­ern­ment,” re­ports Mr. McDonell.

Hy­dro has been sorted out, car­bon taxes are toast, top pub­lic sec­tor salaries have been frozen.

“When On­tar­i­ans strug­gle to pay their bills and have to choose be­tween eat­ing and heat­ing, se­cret deals for golden good­bye ex­ec­u­tive pack­ages were an af­front to the peo­ple of the prov­ince,” he says.

While it def­i­nitely is not easy to be green in On­tario th­ese days, the prov­ince is waf­fling on its pledge to abort wind farm de­vel­op­ments.

“Com­mu­ni­ties’ fights against large wind projects will con­tinue as the gov­ern­ment takes steps to con­trol the cost of elec­tric­ity. Rest as­sured our gov­ern­ment is look­ing into th­ese projects to de­ter­mine if can­cel­la­tion is in the best eco­nom­i­cal in­ter­est of On­tar­i­ans,” the MPP com­ments.

“On­tar­i­ans at last have a gov­ern­ment that cares about their money be­ing spent well and mak­ing a dif­fer­ence. This prin­ci­ple will con­tinue driv­ing my ef­forts and those of my col­leagues to make On­tario pros­per­ous and the best place to call home.”

Whew! Those words of com­fort may help al­lay grow­ing con­cerns that the Con­ser­va­tives have taken a “ready, shoot, aim” tact to gov­ern­ing our af­fairs.

Still, as our sum­mer of con­fu­sion lingers, we are left thirst­ing for clar­ity.

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