NDP: Liberal government abandoning small communities

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QUEEN’S PARK – Timiskaming-Cochrane MPP John Vanthof says the future of small Ontario communities is being brought into question by a Liberal government more focused on making money than serving Ontario’s residents fairly, whose long list of cuts now include LCBO locations critical to local families and tourism-driven communities.

“The area around Larder Lake has about 1,000 residents. The town has one gas station, one co-op grocery store, two restaurants, several tourist lodges and campgrounds and, until recently, it had one LCBO outlet. In a northern Ontario tourist town, an LCBO outlet is an anchor store,” explained Vanthof during question period this morning. “Due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control, the LCBO could no longer stay in their current location. But instead of moving locations, they … abandoned the town. They abandoned the residents.

When asked about the closure, the LCBO said residents would be served by neighbouring communities. But, as Vanthof explained, for northern and rural Ontarians, that could mean hours of driving roundtrip, and ordering online isn’t an option as many small communities still lack internet service.

“According to the president of the LCBO, rural Ontarians travelling 27 to 40 kilometres one way for service is reasonable. With this ratio in mind, many other outlets in my region are at risk. In fact, many outlets throughout rural Ontario are at risk under that ratio,” said Vanthof.

Vanthof urged the government to prioritise the social responsibility the LCBO has to Ontario’s residents and communities over cost cutting measures, asking:

“Does the Minister of Finance agree with the president of the LCBO that maximizing profits for the LCBO should be the only basis on deciding where to locate a store? Will the minister work with me and … ensure that all rural Ontarians in the future have the benefit of the social responsibility of the government through the LCBO and aren’t abandoned?”

 

QUESTION PERIOD: Vanthof quizzes Minister of Energy about By-election in Sudbury

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LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF ONTARIO

Monday 11 September 2017

HANSARD

By-election in Sudbury

Mr. John Vanthof: My question is to the Minister of Energy. The courts have heard testimony that the Minister of Energy demanded paid jobs for staff before he agreed to run in the Sudbury by-election for the Liberals. We want to know from the minister: Is this accurate?

Hon. Glenn Thibeault: Ministry of the Attorney General.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Attorney General.

Hon. Yasir Naqvi: Thank you very much, Speaker. I guess—

Interjection.

Hon. Yasir Naqvi: Yes. The NDP continues to not follow the rules of this House and continues to ask questions that are before the courts. It would be highly inappropriate, as I said, for any member to answer any questions that are before the courts.

I again urge the members opposite, especially the NDP: Let’s focus on issues that are important to the people of Ontario, like bringing their hydro rates down, like increasing their minimum wage to $15 an hour and making sure that people are working in fair workplaces and have good jobs in the province.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Mr. John Vanthof: Again, to the Minister of Energy: Just because it’s not illegal to accept a bribe doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. Does the minister think it’s appropriate for someone to accept a bribe just because there’s no legal penalty for doing so?

Hon. Yasir Naqvi: Speaker, this matter is before the courts, and it would be highly inappropriate to answer any of these questions here in the House.

NDP: Urgent action needed to solve capacity crisis in Ontario hospitals

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OHA raises alarm bells Monday

QUEEN’S PARK – With the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) raising alarm bells about a worsening capacity crisis in Ontario’s hospitals over the winter months, Ontario New Democratic Leader Andrea Horwath says the Wynne Liberals must act now to reverse decades of cuts to Ontario’s health care system.

“The last Conservative government fired 6,000 nurses, eliminated 7,000 beds, and shuttered dozens of hospitals. When the Liberals came into power, instead of reversing those cuts, they froze health care spending, slashed more front line jobs, and continued to worsen the health care crisis across this province,” said Horwath this morning. “The OHA is highlighting what many Ontarians have already experienced firsthand: Ontario’s hospitals are overcrowded, and – without a major change – things are only going to get worse.”

According to the OHA, wait times in emergency departments across the province reached their highest levels ever this summer, since the government began tracking wait times. Many hospitals were operating above 100 per cent capacity. With flu season and colder weather only weeks away, health care experts are worried about how Ontario’s hospitals will cope with surging admissions in the winter months.

“With the Wynne Liberals shortchanging hospitals by over $300 million this year alone, over-capacity ERs and hallway medicine have become the norm in too many of our hospitals and communities,” said Horwath. “Ontario is home to thousands of world-class, dedicated nurses, doctors, and health care professionals. But they are being asked to do more and more, with less and less – Liberal and Conservative cuts and neglect have stretched our health care system to the breaking point.”

With the legislative session resuming at Queen’s Park this morning, Horwath is calling on Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals to take urgent action to undo the harm they have done to Ontario’s hospitals, piling onto years of Conservative cuts. 

“The people of Ontario should be able to access the care they need, when they need it – and our health care professionals should be given the resources they need to do their jobs. Enough is enough,” said Horwath. “Ontario families deserve immediate action from Premier Kathleen Wynne to resolve this capacity crisis caused by years of chronic underfunding of hospitals by her government.”

Horwath and the NDP have promised, if elected, to stop the cuts in hospitals and ensure that hospital funding, at a minimum, keeps up with inflation, population growth, and the unique health needs of Ontario communities.

Open Letter to Transportation Minister Del Duca Regarding Condition of Highway 11 near Iroquois Falls

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The Honourable Steven Del Duca
Minister of Transportation
3rd Floor, Ferguson Block
77 Wellesley Street West
Toronto, Ontario M7A 1Z8

September 1, 2017

Dear Minister Del Duca,

Over the course of the last few weeks, my constituency staff and I have fielded numerous calls regarding the condition of Highway 11 between the communities of Iroquois Falls and Cochrane. At this time, this portion of Highway 11 is under construction (Contract 2017-5105 – Highway 11 – Iroquois Falls). While people generally understand the nature of road construction and its accompanying delays, many of my constituents have expressed real concern regarding their safety when using this road. Several have also suffered damage to their vehicles, due to the condition of the road.

We have contacted your Ministry’s liaison, and have received a reply. While I appreciate the clarifying comments, it is hard to understand why the road has been allowed to deteriorate so badly during construction. As Highway 11 forms a portion of the Trans-Canada Highway, it is reasonable for travelers to expect a consistent quality of road surface across the country. The contract information posted on the Ministry’s Traveller’s Road Information Service website as of August 25, 2017 states that there will be no reduced speed limits, but the Ministry’s response dated August 22, 2017 states that reduced speed limits have been posted. Could you clarify whether all conditions of the contract are being met at this time, particularly those pertaining to driver safety during construction?

We appreciate that the weather has been challenging, but it is vital that the road remain in good condition for travelers, regardless of the weather. Our office has been assured that paving will commence this week. It is my sincere hope that it does, and that on-going maintenance is brought to a higher standard during the remainder of the construction phase. It is imperative that people feel safe on our main public transportation route in the North.

I trust that you will look into this matter   – I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

John Vanthof, MPP Timiskaming-Cochrane


NDP will be the partner that municipalities need at Queen’s Park: Horwath

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OTTAWA – In her address to the annual Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) conference, Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said that an NDP government will be the partner that municipalities need at Queen’s Park.

“Ontario is at a tipping point. If we don’t make big changes soon, the next generation simply won’t have the same opportunities as we did, to build a great future, right here in Ontario,” said Horwath. In her remarks, she strongly criticized the previous Conservative government for downloading the cost and responsibility for services onto municipalities – much of which the Wynne government has supported and refused to reverse.

The NDP Leader outlined an action plan that includes: a universal pharmacare drug plan that covers everyone regardless of age or income, which is expected to relieve $800 million in costs to current payers including municipalities; infrastructure like roads; and financial support for services like child care, social housing and transit. Along with her pledge to upload costs, she outlined her plan to end damaging cuts to health care and schools, and to put Hydro One back in public hands so the government can control rates again, and bill-payers like households, businesses and municipalities will see their bills drop by at least 30 per cent.

“Municipalities need a better partner in the next provincial government that will take the pressure off. They need a government committed to services – not cuts – and one willing to shoulder its fair share when it comes to these shared priorities, which are services that Ontario families really count on,” said Horwath.

“New Democrats will make sure that families living in every corner of our province have equal access to great schools and excellent health care and the opportunity to build a prosperous future.”

Hydro One sell-off pain also leading to long-term trouble: NDP Finance critic

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QUEEN’S PARK – Ontario NDP Finance Critic John Vanthof issued the statement below following the release of the first quarter finances for Ontario in 2017:

“Ontario is at a tipping point. This government has neglected the services that Ontario families depend on. Schools are closing, health care is suffering, and hardworking Ontarians are paying the price. The first-quarter financial update from the Wynne government today is a stark reminder that the sky-high hydro bills we’re facing will be followed by more long-term pain from privatization.

In 2014-15, Hydro One delivered $1.79 billion in revenue to the province. That paid for things like health care and keeping schools open. This year, thanks to Wynne’s sell-off of our hydro system, the province plans to take in just $617 million – a plummet of more than $1 billion. More than $1 billion that used to pay for health care and our children’s education is now flowing into private bank accounts around the world instead.

These first quarter finances remind all Ontarians of Kathleen Wynne’s priorities. She sold off our hydro system to private investors for a one-time payout. Instead of working to undo the damage she did, the Wynne Liberals are privatizing even more, and getting Ontario back into the dirty coal business by signing off on Hydro One’s multi-billion-dollar purchase of an American energy company.

You can’t run a province for long on one-time cash infusions from selling off of public assets. Kathleen Wynne just doesn’t get it. The people of Ontario need a government that puts everyday families and bill-payers first, not private investors. Today, we are reminded once again that it will take a change of government to get there.”

OPEN LETTER to Premier Wynne, Regarding Closure of Larder Lake LCBO outlet

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August 3, 2017

The Honourable Kathleen Wynne
Premier of Ontario
Room 281,
Main Legislative Building, Queen’s Park
Toronto, Ontario M7A 1A1

Dear Premier Wynne,

The LCBO has closed its outlet in Larder Lake. I am writing to you directly because the Minister of Finance has not responded to any of my enquiries to date.

The closure of the Larder Lake LCBO outlet is of significant concern to my constituents and myself, as the Larder Lake economy relies heavily on seasonal tourism. The area is dotted with many campgrounds and lodges which provide employment opportunities for many of Larder Lake’s permanent residents.

Despite the troubling circumstances under which the LCBO has closed the Larder Lake outlet store without providing any advance notice to the community, the residents of Larder Lake have tried to work with the LCBO to develop an alternative option, to no avail. Residents are especially concerned that the tourists and residents will be forced to travel outside of the community to purchase alcoholic beverages; in turn, people may choose to purchase other needed supplies while out of town. As the town relies on a single, co-operatively run grocery store, the potential for under-cutting of a local business is a real and significant concern.

In response to the LCBO outlet closure, I have written to the President of LCBO, Mr. George Soleas. While Mr. Soleas responded to my inquiry, his response contained a statement that raises several questions. Mr Soleas wrote, “There are other areas in the province that are underserviced where we can better allocate resources. While it is not as convenient, Larder Lake residents can purchase beverage alcohol in Kirkland Lake and Englehart or online at LCBO.com.”

While ordering alcoholic beverages online can be a viable option for events that are planned in advance (such as pre-planned family gatherings), it is an unrealistic option for more spontaneous events. For example, ordering a case of beer online when your friends have just dropped by for a visit is not realistic, due to lack of access to both internet services, and timely delivery services. Given that so few Northerners have access to the internet at all, it is evident that the Ontario Government’s LCBO business strategy is out of touch with the reality of infrastructure deficiencies in rural and Northern Ontario.

As of early 2016, your government changed legislation to allow the sale of beer and wine in grocery stores, located in urban centers. In a press release dated February 18, 2016 you state that availability of alcoholic beverages in urban grocery stores leads to “a win-win-win scenario, (with) more choice and greater convenience”. However, Mr. Soleas’ response acknowledges that forcing people to travel at least 25 kilometers to purchase alcoholic beverages is not as convenient as having a local bricks-and-mortar location. This discrepancy in access to alcoholic beverage purchase opportunities throughout all of Ontario leads me to ask whether your administration is solely concerned about convenience for consumers in urban Southern Ontario?

Furthermore, the LCBO has provided written acknowledgment of requiring Larder Lake residents to now travel more than 25 kilometers to the next LCBO store. I am greatly concerned that the closure of the Larder Lake LCBO outlet store sets a precedent, or is even perhaps part of the LCBO’s long term strategy. It is unclear at this time whether there is an active policy to force the closure of all smaller LCBO outlet and/or agency stores within 25 kilometers of a larger LCBO location. If so, then many more outlets in my riding, and throughout rural Ontario, are at risk. Can you confirm whether this is indeed the case?

Though I fully support the LCBO model, its status as a Crown Agency should obligate the LCBO to provide equitable access to Ontarians throughout the province. Abandoning the people of Larder Lake, and possibly other villages and towns in rural and Northern Ontario, does not fulfill that mandate. The ongoing removal of government services from small towns is quickly widening the rural-urban divide, and further eroding public confidence in the current provincial government.

In an effort to ensure the survival of Larder Lake’s tourism economy, it is my hope that you will ensure prompt action is taken to provide on-site LCBO services as soon as possible.

I look forward to receiving your response, as well as that of the Finance Minister.

Sincerely,

John Vanthof, MPP Timiskaming-Cochrane


NDP calls for financial risk information on OLG privatization

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With the Wynne Liberals expected to hand over a gaming monopoly as part of its OLG privatization in the coming weeks, the NDP is asking the independent Financial Accountability Office of Ontario to calculate how much Ontario families stand to lose.

Finance critic, MPP John Vanthof, wrote to Financial Accountability Officer Stephen LeClair Wednesday asking the FAO to determine the financial risks to the province.

“OLG is the largest non-tax revenue source in the province at about $2 billion each year,” said Vanthof. “Kathleen Wynne’s OLG privatization scheme gives away a minimum guaranteed $72 million annually, plus as much as 70 per cent of all gambling revenue.

“That’s a lot of money going into the bank accounts of private corporations instead of going to the province. Less provincial revenue could mean less funding for the services Ontario families count on, like hospitals and our kids’ classrooms. We’ve seen enough cutting and squeezing under the Wynne government – these things really are at a breaking point, and they can’t take any more cuts.”

The OLG has a stated objective of earning an additional $900 million for the province by 2021 – a plan that Vanthof says could be as risk as a result of the privatization.

“Responsible gaming in Ontario can offer good jobs, tourism investment and revenues that can be used to improve health care, education and the services Ontario families count on,” said Vanthof. “Given the choice between those profits going into a private corporation’s bank account, or into our hospitals, schools and communities, I know which side I’m on. People and communities deserve to know just how deep the risks run with this privatization plan.”


Stephen LeClair

Financial Accountability Officer

2 Bloor St. West, Suite 900

Toronto, ON M4W 3E2

Dear Mr. LeClair,

In the upcoming weeks the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) is expected to select the winning bidder for the privatized GTA Gaming Bundle. The winning private gaming company will have a monopoly over gaming and horse racing in the GTA for the next 22 years. This includes the operation of Toronto’s Woodbine racetrack, Ajax Downs, the Great Blue Heron Casino in Port Perry as well as the authority to establish a fourth gaming site within the region.

As part of the sell-off contract the winning bidder is guaranteed by the Ontario government to earn a minimum of $72 million annually for the lifespan of the deal. Additionally, the winner bidder is entitled to retain up to 70 per cent of gambling revenue.

Given that the GTA’s gaming and horse racing establishments are owned by the people of Ontario, and that the OLG is Ontario’s largest source of non-tax revenue contributing approximately $2 billion annually, I request the FAO conduct financial and risk analysis of the proposed sale.

Selling-off the right to exclusively deliver gaming and horse racing services in the GTA to a private firm is not in the best interest of the current owners – the people of Ontario. Moreover, I am concerned the sale will negatively impact Ontario’s revenues, diverting resources away from the services Ontarians rely on like schools and hospitals. The $72-million annual promised revenue puts Ontarians at further financial risk.

Therefore, I request the assistance of the FAO in understanding:

  • What are the financial risks to the province, in terms of forgone tax revenue and the risks associated with guaranteeing private sector profits, of the sell-off of the GTA Gaming Bundle?
  • How will the sell-off impact the province’s liabilities given that the contract provides a government guarantee of annual profits of $72 million plus up to 70 per cent of revenues?
  • Will the province be responsible for any debt or liabilities incurred by the private gaming firm in the event of bankruptcy or termination of the contract?
  • How will the sale impact any gambling revenue-sharing agreements and funds that the province currently has in place?
  • How will the sell-off help the OLG reach its stated objective of remitting an additional $900 million annually to the province by 2021? Under what circumstances could this be reached?
  • What would be an appropriate selling price that will fully compensate Ontarians for divesting their rights over the GTA Gaming Bundle?
  • What rights to make policy will the Ontario government and the OLG retain and give up as a result of the sale?

I would like to thank you in advance for your research and analysis on this important issue.

Sincerely,

John Vanthof

Ontario NDP Finance Critic

Member of Provincial Parliament for Timiskaming-Cochrane

COMMENTS WANTED: Northern Ontario Multimodal Transportation Strategy

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The Ontario Government is looking for public feedback about public transportation in Northern Ontario.

The Ministry of Transportation, and the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines have released a draft Strategy and are seeking public comments and feedback on the goals and directions included in this document, to inform work towards the final Strategy and Action Plans. The Strategy adopts an integrated multimodal approach that considers highway, marine, air, rail, and other modes of transportation, and will guide transportation policy, program and investment opportunities for a modern and sustainable transportation system in northern Ontario.

Starting today, everyone is invited to give their input on important decisions related to the development of  transportation strategy for Northern Ontario, which can include bus and rail service.
 
To give your comments online through the transportation survey, visit http://feedback.nomts.ca/
Mail contact/email contact information is provided in the image below.
PLEASE COMPLETE THE TRANSPORTATION SURVEY BY SEPTEMBER 15, 2017!
 
For more information, visit https://nomts.ca/resources/

NDP says Wynne’s sign off on purchase of coal plants frustrating, hypocritical

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QUEEN’S PARK – With Hydro One’s deal to buy and merge with American energy producer Avista, Ontario families are paying billions to once again own coal-fired power generation – an environmentally devastating business Ontarians have already paid to get out of.

“Kathleen Wynne is spending billions so that Ontario can once again own a dirty coal plant – that’s incredibly frustrating,” said Peter Tabuns, the NDP’s Energy, Environment and Climate Change critic. “By selling off Hydro One, she ensured that Ontario would lose control, and this merger shows just how little control the government has over a privatized Hydro One.

“She set us up for this type of deal – one that’s so environmentally unsound, it wouldn’t even be legal in Ontario.”

Coal-fired power was outlawed in Ontario in 2015, but Kathleen Wynne is now signing off on using Hydro One cash in a deal that includes partial ownership of one of the biggest coal-fired power plants in America. The massive Colstrip operation emits 13.5 megatonnes of carbon dioxide annually.

“They hypocrisy of Kathleen Wynne is astounding,” said Tabuns. “I think Ontario families have made it clear that they want her to stop privatizing hydro. They want her to stop driving up their bills. And they want to do their part for the environment. With one swoop, Wynne betrays us again on all three counts.”

The Avista merger, which will cost Hydro One $6.4 billion, is yet another step in Wynne’s privatization of hydro.

Ontario’s Conservative party first pitched selling off Hydro One and OPG, before Kathleen Wynne and her Liberals took over and sold off most of the former Crown corporation, driving hydro bills sky-high in the process. The merger with the American corporation further ships out Ontario’s ownership and control.

While the Conservatives say they would keep Hydro One privatized, Andrea Horwath and the NDP’s plan will reverse the privatization, bringing hydro back into public ownership so the province has more control over hydro prices again. That plan will lower hydro bills, and result in profits being returned to the provincial coffers to help pay for services families count on, like hospitals and transit.