Leaner, meaner, less greener Ontario
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.