Leaner, meaner, less greener On­tario

The Glengarry News - - The Opinion Page - -- Richard Mahoney [email protected]­gar­rynews.ca

An­other week, an­other pro­gram is axed. Wel­come to the new On­tario, which is “Open For Busi­ness.” As the prov­ince be­comes a leaner, meaner and less greener place, cit­i­zens must re­duce their de­pen­dence on pub­lic cof­fers and pre­pare to ex­pect less from their gov­ern­ments.

In case you haven’t heard al­ready, we are broke. Party time is over; the Lib­er­als left a mess; the Con­ser­va­tives have a strong man­date to come in to right the fis­cal ship; sac­ri­fices must be made.

There is still money left to con­tinue wag­ing le­gal bat­tles against the fed­eral car­bon tax, but times are hard; we are in dire straits.

Mis­ery has good com­pany. The pain is be­ing shared, though some will feel the bite of fis­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity more than oth­ers.

Few sec­tors have been spared the aus­ter­ity knife. Ed­u­ca­tion, health, so­cial ser­vices, li­braries mi­nor­ity lan­guage ser­vices, con­ser­va­tion are all be­ing af­fected.

But this is what the peo­ple voted for. Glen­gar­ri­ans ought to be con­tent with the tight-money poli­cies since they helped elect a strong ma­jor­ity Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment.

Ev­ery­one an­tic­i­pated re­duc­tions. But that does not mean ev­ery­one is go­ing to qui­etly ac­cept them.

“The re­cently re­leased 2019 On­tario Bud­get, “Pro­tect­ing What Mat­ters Most,” makes it clear that ed­u­ca­tion, as well as health ser­vices, li­braries, and so­cial ser­vices, do not mat­ter to Doug Ford’s PC gov­ern­ment. Their deep and cal­lous cuts, dis­guised as “in­vest­ments,” will dec­i­mate the world class ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem ed­u­ca­tors have been work­ing tire­lessly to re­build for two decades since the Har­ris era PC gov­ern­ment at­tacks on On­tario’s pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion in the 1990s,” de­clares Eastern On­tario ed­u­ca­tion work­ers unions. Teach­ers unions tend to be vo­cal, ob­vi­ously. Oth­ers who are de­pen­dent on the gen­eros­ity of Queen’s Park choose to take the “Do not bite the hand that used to feed you” ap­proach.

For ex­am­ple, a softer re­sponse has been of­fered by con­ser­va­tion au­thor­i­ties, which have seen their fund­ing for flood con­trols chopped in half.

“We were ex­pect­ing some cuts,” Raisin Re­gion Con­ser­va­tion Au­thor­ity Gen­eral Man­ager Richard Pilon said last week. But he was “re­ally sur­prised” when the new On­tario bud­get lopped off 50 per cent of the $7.4 mil­lion that had been chan­neled to con­ser­va­tion agen­cies.

He has asked the prov­ince, “If you are go­ing to make more cuts, tell us now.”

Un­cer­tainty only adds to the angst of provin­cially funded ser­vices whose ad­min­is­tra­tors must make fi­nan­cial fore­casts based on big as­sump­tions. Or, as Mr. Pilon noted: “The big ques­tion is what is the plan mov­ing for­ward?”

From South Nation Con­ser­va­tion comes a mea­sured ob­ser­va­tion: “Pro­grams cuts are un­timely; peo­ple are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing his­toric floods and gear­ing up to plant record num­bers of trees. SNC is set­ting a record in trees planted to date this spring.”

The au­thor­ity main­tains, “We are com­mit­ted to work­ing with the prov­ince on lo­cal ser­vice de­liv­ery im­prove­ments, re­spond­ing to re­cent bud­get changes and post­ings, and en­gag­ing part­ners.” Con­ser­va­tion types are diehard op­ti­mists. If you are try­ing to con­vince peo­ple to plant trees in farm­ing coun­try, your glass is al­ways half full.

This cheery dis­po­si­tion is re­flected in this dec­la­ra­tion: “De­spite the re­cent On­tario gov­ern­ment an­nounce­ment to cut the 50 Mil­lion Tree pro­gram, Forests On­tario ex­pects to find a way, with ex­ist­ing and new part­ners, to plant trees, ed­u­cate On­tar­i­ans and speak for the for­est and all for­est users.”

“This cut­ting of the 50 MTP has gen­er­ated un­prece­dented con­cern about the fu­ture of tree plant­ing in On­tario and an out­pour­ing of sup­port for Forests On­tario’s ef­forts,” said Rob Keen, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Forests On­tario. “Peo­ple from all cor­ners of the prov­ince and all po­lit­i­cal stripes are speak­ing loud and clear: they be­lieve it is vi­tal to con­tinue to plant trees.”

Canada’s largest tree plant­ing char­ity re­mains op­ti­mistic that now that the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment “bet­ter un­der­stands and ap­pre­ci­ates the im­por­tance and pop­u­lar­ity of the tree pro­gram,” the Con­ser­va­tives will con­tinue to fund tree plant­ing.

Here is a pitch that the Tories might have some sym­pa­thy for: A study com­mis­sioned by Forests On­tario this spring found that the trees planted un­der the 50 Mil­lion Trees pro­gram pro­vide $83 mil­lion in an­nual ecosys­tem ser­vices.

The eco­nomic spinoffs will not likely per­suade the cost-con­scious gov­ern­ment to pull an about-face and sal­vage the tree pro­gram. The pub­lic po­si­tion from the right-minded is that the pri­vate sec­tor ought to take up the slack.

We can­not ex­pect the gov­ern­ment to do ev­ery sin­gle thing for us. That is why we have vol­un­teers, and com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions and bake sales and raf­fles. Look at the adopt a high­way pro­gram, which works just fine. Suck it up and carry on, peo­ple. The Gov­ern­ment For The Peo­ple ex­pects us to do more for our­selves, be­cause the cup­boards are bare.

Buck up, folks. A side-ef­fect of this new harsh re­al­ity will be a height­ened sense of in­de­pen­dence and self-reliance, and greater com­mu­nity en­gage­ment.

And, if you be­lieve that, ob­vi­ously the tree hug­ger’s sunny dis­po­si­tion is con­ta­gious.

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