On­tario asks pub­lic for pol­icy point­ers

Short­listed ideas will be voted on and en­joy $5 mil­lion in fund­ing in next year’s bud­get

Toronto Star - - CANADA - ROB FER­GU­SON QUEEN’S PARK BU­REAU

Think of it as a $5-mil­lion sug­ges­tion box.

That’s how much cash is up for grabs in next spring’s pre-elec­tion bud­get as Fi­nance Min­is­ter Charles Sousa ear­marks money for ideas from the pub­lic.

It’s the fourth year the On­tario govern­ment has asked for sub­mis­sions on a bud­get web­site, but the of­fer comes with a catch that’s de­signed, at least in part, to keep pranksters at bay.

Pro­pos­als must be aimed at en­cour­ag­ing healthy liv­ing, help­ing se­niors avoid so­cial iso­la­tion, sup­port­ing small busi­nesses, help­ing stu­dents suc­ceed and help­ing par­ents find lo­cal child chare in­for­ma­tion.

“We look for­ward to tap­ping into the skills and ex­pe­ri­ences of On­tario’s best and bright­est,” Sousa said Thurs­day in launch­ing the site, add- ing “in­no­va­tion is the driver of good pol­icy.”

Sug­ges­tions must be made on­line by mid­night on Nov. 3.

Just a hand­ful were made Thurs­day, in­clud­ing a pro­posal to use “grey water” from sinks and bath­tubs to flush toi­lets, an­other to launch a ticket crack­down on smok­ers who throw butts on the street and one for more af­ford­able hous­ing for se­niors.

No more than $1 mil­lion will be spent on each idea, on which it must be fea­si­ble to com­plete or show progress by spring 2019. A short­list will be cre­ated and the pub­lic in­vited to cast on­line bal­lots for their favourites.

The money is a tiny frac­tion of the over­all pro­vin­cial bud­get, which last year clocked in at a record $141.1 bil­lion. That bud­get in­cor­po­rated a sug­ges­tion to de­velop a “su­per­mar­ket re­cov­ery pro­gram” to get unsold per­ish­able and pre­pared foods to On­tar­i­ans in need.

Other ideas in­volved im­prov­ing dig­i­tal ser­vices for ru­ral, re­mote and In­dige­nous li­braries, and im­prov­ing ac­cess to chil­dren’s im­mu­niza­tion records on­line. All three projects are slated to be com­pleted by next spring.

In pre­vi­ous years, sug­ges­tions have ranged wildly, from end­ing pub­lic fund­ing of Catholic schools, to tak­ing guns away from po­lice, scrap­ping front li­cence plates on ve­hi­cles, end­ing French-lan­guage ser­vices, tolling Hwy. 401 and work­ing on im­prov­ing the salt­ing of roads in win­ter.

There was also an ap­par­ently pre­scient pro­posal to le­gal­ize and tax mar­i­juana in early 2015 – now some­thing the fed­eral and pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments are work­ing to with a dead­line of next July 1.

Com­pe­ti­tion is typ­i­cally steep. Last year, 404 ideas were sub­mit­ted and just over 19,000 bal­lots cast.

A bud­get date for next spring has not yet been set. The fis­cal blue­print is ex­pected to be a roadmap for Premier Kath­leen Wynne’s re-elec­tion cam­paign.

The Lib­er­als launched a sim­i­lar on­line sug­ges­tion box be­fore their June 2014 elec­tion cam­paign. It was called “Com­mon Ground,” but few pro­pos­als made it into the party’s plat­form of prom­ises.

CHRISTO­PHER KATSAROV/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO

Fi­nance Min­is­ter Charles Sousa, shown here with Health Min­is­ter Eric Hoskins, hopes to tap into the “skills and ex­pe­ri­ences of On­tario’s best and bright­est,” by set­ting aside money for ideas from the pub­lic.

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