Red Flags Over Red Ink

Insiders are once again waving red flags over the Liberal government’s mismanagement and misplaced priorities. As with whistle-blowers that exposed failings at Ornge, we recently saw a calendar of budget items leaked by civil servants fed up with partisan vote-buying disguised as public policy.

Those appalled at the $1.1 billion wasted on gas plant cancellations to secure five Liberal-held ridings should brace themselves: $5.7 billion in spending announcements – many of them reheated promises from the past – are slated to be rolled out in advance of the 2014 Budget.

Last week’s economic statement arrived six months after it was legally due. Despite the delay, it contained no plan to reduce the deficit. It predicts deficit elimination by 2017-18, but omits medium-term plans to reach that target. In the past 10 years, Ontario’s debt has more than doubled to $288.1 billion. Our debt-to-GDP ratio is 37.4%, the highest in the province’s history. This aimless government has no vision aside from spending madly for political advantage.

That scattered focus makes it hard for our economy to find its feet. The Ministry of Finance anticipates annual growth averaging 2.1% — just 60% of the U.S. forecast and lagging the rest of Canada — over the next two decades. These glum projections were foretold in 2012’s Drummond Report.

Don Drummond was hired by the government to make recommendations about how to get government spending under control. His report on Reforming Ontario’s Public Services was a fair and broad-based fiscal remedy the Liberals flatly ignored. Instead, government officials continue their high-rolling ways even as deficits climb and debt piles up. Debt payments, government’s third largest spending item, now consume almost 10% of provincial revenues.

Relative to many parts of the world, Ontario is blessed with good government and prosperity, but it’s foolish to think we can continue to debt finance the present and pass the burden of that debt on to future generations – our children and our grandchildren.

Debt and deficits are a major and immediate threat to our ability to attract jobs. Without urgent action, Ontario will lose still more jobs — and government will not be able to afford our health and education programs or take care of the most vulnerable in our society. Postponing tough choices now means doing without in future.

In the past decade, Ontario has lost 300,000 manufacturing jobs and gained 300,000 government jobs. This “strategy” simply doesn’t add up. A shrinking private sector cannot continue to finance the growing cost of the public sector.

Ontario PCs have an achievable plan to create a million jobs. We will lower public debt and with it the need for tax increases, increasing take-home pay and fostering the environment for economic growth. We will help create jobs through affordable energy and train more skilled workers to meet the demand in trades, and help young people find good jobs. We will end job-killing red tape and expand trade with our neighbours – here in Canada and around the world.

Government’s most basic responsibility is to create the conditions for business to thrive, for the economy to grow and for families to prosper. It’s time to get Ontario moving again. The people of this province deserve nothing less.

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A version of this entry appeared in the Apr 9, 2014 edition of the Burlington Post.

How To Close the Skills Gap

In my visits to Burlington manufacturers and through economic roundtables I have hosted in the community, I have heard one thing loud and clear from local businesspeople: The skills gap is real and so is the need to reach a solution.

The Conference Board of Canada estimates the skills gap is costing Ontario a staggering $24 billion annually in lost economic activity. Our skills shortage will only intensify as baby boomers exit the workforce and other jurisdictions compete for the most talented.

Yet for the past five years, Ontario’s youth unemployment rate has been at or above 15% – twice that of the general population. One in six young people are stalled on the starting blocks, losing ground and losing hope.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

We need to create more effective links and synergies between our high schools and the labour market. Business leaders should have the opportunity, working in concert with school boards, to talk to students at special-purpose assemblies, letting them know about the exciting, challenging, well-paying work opportunities out there.

Government should also expand specialist skills programs and industry partnerships, equipping our young people with skills that mesh with the real-world jobs market.

Germany’s Dual Education System is a promising model. High school students spend their week in paid co-ops split between training with a company and studying at school, receiving on-the-job training and the possibility of being recruited upon completion. The result? Germany’s youth unemployment rate is roughly half that of Canada’s.

Ontario Progressive Conservatives have called for renewed emphasis on math and science education, skills that are vital to this province’s economic future and essential to young workers looking to carve out careers. Our party has long promoted the importance of training more skilled workers to meet the demand in trades and help young people find good jobs.

Preparing our young people for life is a fundamental part of our duty to the future. Staying competitive means keeping pace with global change, and requires business, schools and government to be equally engaged. In-school presentations from business leaders will inspire students, open up life-changing opportunities and invigorate our economy.

We have the tools. Let’s work together here in Burlington to fill the gap and be front-runners in finding a common-sense solution to this urgent problem.

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A version of this entry appeared in the Feb 5, 2013 edition of the Burlington Post.

Advancing Our Economy

The most striking news in recent weeks has been the flurry of job losses under Premier Kathleen Wynne.

The fourth quarter of 2013 saw plant closings announced at iconic businesses like US Steel and Heinz, and deep layoffs at companies like Kellogg’s and BlackBerry.

It also saw the government bungle a mining deal in northern Ontario that would have delivered billions in development and hundreds of jobs. The Ring of Fire is an unparalleled opportunity that, for the time being, has been lost.

I still hold out hope for a revitalized economy and an Ontario primed for success.

People in Burlington and across Ontario are tired of a government with no plan. We all deserve government that won’t threaten our health and education systems through reckless overspending; a government that brings businesses to Ontario and can create opportunities for young people now struggling to find their way in the world.

As a member of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, I’m proud to bring forward ideas to make those goals a reality. As Burlington’s MPP, I find inspiration here at home. The city itself offers an example of a better way of doing things. It has fostered a growth-positive environment of innovation, collaboration and smart risk-taking.

Burlington is home to close to half of all advanced manufacturing firms in Halton Region, businesses responsible for 55 per cent of the city’s economic output. These next-generation jobs are literally building the future as they capitalize on emerging opportunities in the global economy and design products and solutions for tomorrow. This sector attracts young entrepreneurs with the ideas and drive to build a business. These are the leaders that will recharge Ontario’s economy and safeguard our place as one of the most desirable places in the world to live and work.

One in four advanced manufacturing companies in the Halton Region are recent start‐ups, and this is one of the reasons why ours is among the fastest growing economic regions within the Greater Toronto Area.

Like Burlington, our province has the ideas, the workers, the resources and the geographic location to succeed. Ontario’s challenge is to transform ideas and experience into jobs. That won’t happen without a strong, confident government leading the way, and it won’t happen without an innovative manufacturing sector to create great products for the 21st century.

The current government acknowledges a new economic reality in its words but not its actions. That must change. As we work toward that change, let’s be thankful that we live in a prosperous and caring community.

May your home be filled with peace and joy this holiday season.

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A version of this entry appeared in the Dec 6, 2013 edition of the Burlington Post.

A Teachable Moment

Of all the issues to grip provincial politics in the last two years, few have hit as close to home as the wrangling over teachers’ contracts and the resulting tension in our schools and communities.

The Liberal government’s response, after months of bitter squabbling with unions, was a contentious attempt to assert control: Bill 115. Ontario PCs supported that bill because it was a rare example of government’s willingness to address some of the problems that its mismanagement had caused.