QUEEN’S PARK – One of the things that I’ve heard being chronically and systematically criticized in this House by the NDP over the course of the last two or three years has been our commitment to lower business taxes in the province of Ontario. This budget maintained that commitment. The corporate tax reductions, of course, are now getting some play, some louder noise than the other business tax reductions.
It’s important to note that over the course of the last two to three years, we have systemically, on a regular basis, been lowering the cost of doing business in the province of Ontario to lead to investment and job creation: HST, lower business education tax rates, lowering the small business tax threshold, the elimination of capital tax, and the reduction in corporate tax rates. So there is a whole program in place—not just corporate tax rates—that we have embarked upon to ensure that as we come through the greatest recession since the Great Depression, Ontario will be viewed as a jurisdiction that business investment will view favourably.
It’s not lost on anybody in this Legislature, I am sure, that when jobs are lost through no fault of anyone’s, business investment then begins to look to where it is that they will reinvest to create employment and investment in given jurisdictions.
I want to focus a little bit on the corporate tax reductions, though, because that’s the part that gets criticized on a regular basis primarily by the NDP.
In northern Ontario, there is a development right now that is commonly being referred to as the Ring of Fire. That find in northern Ontario is a chromite deposit that is said to be the richest on the planet. I’m hesitant to quote a number, but I’m told that that deposit has an 80- to 100-year mine life. It is that incredibly rich. The mine is going to occur where it will occur, and then the smelting operations—the company, Cliffs resources, is currently spending some time determining where it is that smelting processing operation is going to occur. There’s a lot of discussion, a lot of jockeying amongst different communities in Ontario and, I am sure, amongst other provinces, in terms of lobbying and sitting down with Cliffs to try to entice them to process that ore body within their jurisdiction. The job creation that will flow from the processing component of that mining operation is going to be enormous: Some are saying as many as 500 or more jobs once the plant is constructed. The original cost of the construction of the plant—I’m not sure how many construction jobs would be associated with that, but it would be significant.
My point is this: While the NDP, on a consistent basis, want to criticize corporate tax reductions, I think it might be worth their time if they would pick up the phone and ask Cliffs resources what it is they consider when they choose a jurisdiction in which they will place their processing facility for the chromite deposit that is called the Ring of Fire.
As you know, it’s primarily the NDP and, unfortunately, even a bit more lately, the Conservatives who want to harp on electricity pricing as having been responsible for the loss of jobs in the forestry industry. I’ve spoken at length in here and I’ve said what a ridiculous argument it is that the NDP have put forward. I look forward to spending more time on that in the coming months and especially in the election, to just blow that argument out of the water, and I’ve spent some of the time doing that here. Electricity pricing is something that they will consider, but so are labour costs and so are tax costs.
If you’re serious about seeing job creation occur in the province of Ontario, you have to understand that while sometimes we all have difficult times with large corporations—I’ve spent some time in meetings with them where there are things you probably prefer to say that you can’t. But at the end of the day, the NDP seems unwilling to acknowledge that they still are the people, in many instances, who provide a lot of employment. While all of us, from time to time, don’t particularly enjoy our meetings with large corporations, they are large employers and we all want them to locate in the province of Ontario so that they can provide investment and jobs.
While the NDP, it seems, are opposed ideologically to any kind of business tax cut, I would expect them to understand that Cliffs resources, who are considering locating a major processing facility in Ontario, will be very interested in what the corporate tax rates in Ontario are and how those corporate tax rates compare to other provinces, especially Manitoba and Quebec, our neighbouring provinces. I would think they might spend a little time considering that.
Contained within the budget was one more exhibition of our government’s commitment to northern Ontario, and that is, of course, the $10-million increment that was included for the northern Ontario heritage fund program. This program gets referenced a lot in this Legislature, and I think, quite frankly, it gets taken for granted. The job creation and retention that has occurred in northern Ontario in the last seven years under this program is somewhere in the order of 15,000 jobs. When we formed government in 2003, that program had morphed into a public sector infrastructure program, and I was pleased that the minister of the day, Rick Bartolucci, asked me to undertake a study to review that program. We brought back a report that was adopted, and the program shifted back to its original mandate, which was away from public infrastructure—we retained one public infrastructure program—back to supporting and creating private sector jobs. That program is doing it, as I just mentioned, to the tune of about 15,000 retained or created jobs over the last six years or so.
Why is that $10 million important? In 2007, we committed to increasing the fund, which was annually at $60 million a year, by $10 million per year every year for four consecutive years. This is the fourth year of that commitment. So we went from $60 million to $70 million, from $70 million to $80 million, from $80 million to $90 million, and now $90 million to $100 million—this year, $40 million more than four years ago, last year $30 million more than three years ago, the year before that $20 million more. Now we will have spent $100 million more in the last four years out of the northern Ontario heritage fund than was previously the case. That’s on top of the $60 million a year. Four years times $60 million would have been $240 million in northern Ontario. Our increases in commitment have meant that $240 million is actually $340 million. If people are looking for a commitment to northern Ontario, I would say that one example is clear and concise in terms of our government’s commitment to northern Ontario.
I’ll even make the point a bit more concise and compare our approach to the northern Ontario heritage fund, as we came out of the greatest recession since the Great Depression, to the approach that was taken by the NDP when they went through a milder recession in the early 1990s. What did they do with the northern Ontario heritage fund? Sixty million dollars, around 1993 or 1994, a fund only there to support northern Ontario—the NDP took all $60 million of it out, 100%, and put it into general revenue. Our approach, as a Liberal government, with a much deeper recession and the pressure on budgets significant and severe, is slightly different. It would have been easy to roll over that program and bring it back into general revenue. Not only didn’t we do that, like the NDP did in the early 1990s; we increased it. So we didn’t take it out; we increased it from $60 million to $70 million, from $70 million to $80 million, from $80 million to $90 million, and now up to $100 million, as I’ve said.
This was not a budget that sprinkled little bits of money and programs and new spending around the province. Some of the press releases that went out after the budget tried to say there was nothing for northern Ontario. There really was nothing in this budget that spoke to specific geographic regions of the province, but this $10-million commitment, the fourth of a four-year commitment of an extra $10 million per year up to $100 million, clearly spoke to that. I think it’s extremely important that I highlight that.
My time is almost up. I only have 10 minutes today. I want to quickly acknowledge our commitment on the breast screening program and the expansion of that program. As people have heard in the Legislature, contained within this budget document is $15 million of funding over three years that will provide upwards of 90,000 more exams, lowering the age of eligibility for a breast screening exam from 50 down to 30 years old for those people at risk. So it’s a very significant enhancement.
There’s a run in Thunder Bay, the CIBC Run for the Cure, that I participate in every year. I know those people will be extremely gratified and happy to hear about this as well.
Bill Mauro MPP
Thunder Bay Atikokan