ROMA/OGRA Conference 2011
March 1, 2011
Thank you very much, and good afternoon.
I want to express my appreciation to ROMA and Good Roads for having me back again this year.
As a Member of Provincial Parliament, I have been coming to this conference for over a decade now.
These occasions give me the chance to sit down with community leaders from across Ontario – to hear your concerns and to seek your advice.
Of course, the Bear Pit session with cabinet ministers is always entertaining. I look forward to putting my new cabinet, voters willing, up to the challenge this time next year.
There are a lot of different stories behind why this type of session is nicknamed the ‘Bear Pit’. My experience has been some ministers try to play dead and hope the questions won’t take a bite out of them.
It being an election year and all, however, I expect this session to be quite lively.
Speaking of elections, I want to congratulate all the municipal leaders in the room for their successful campaigns last fall.
You know, my first real life experience with public service was at the municipal level – when my mom ran for council in the Stevensville area in the town of Fort Erie. The talk of politics, current events and community responsibility were already quite common place in the Hudak home.
The best part was that Mom won! By seven votes. In fact, it may have been a van full of nuns from the local convent she drove to the polls just minutes before they closed, that clinched the victory.
But the nuns would never tell who they voted for. But Mom certainly did make sure we were in the front pew at mass the following Sunday.
Watching my Mom in her work as a town councillor for three terms, gave me an appreciation for the issues that matter most in small and rural communities. And many of the lessons and values I learned growing up in a small community, in a middle class family, guide me today as the Ontario PC Leader. Like the importance of staying true to your word, sticking to a budget, supporting families, and rewarding hard work. And a lesson that all of you understand too, is the importance of getting your advice directly from the people we serve. The families we serve.
Because small towns are different kind of places. I get that.
It’s the kind of place where you know your neighbour, and like them too…at least most of the time. It’s the kind of place where folks don’t want a handout – just a fair deal. It’s the kind of place where you learn what’s really on people’s minds by dropping by the rink or the local Tim’s. It’s the kind of place, I’m proud to call home.
But I worry that far too often today, decisions are being made from Queen’s Park with little, if any, regard as to how they impact rural and northern communities and the families that live there.
While the legislature wasn’t sitting in January, our PC Caucus and candidates criss-crossed Ontario talking to families in more than 80 communities. We’ve been to coffee shops and town halls, at rotary lunches and chamber dinners, on sidewalks and street corners.
All across this great province, Ontario families have told us they can’t afford skyrocketing hydro bills. They’re tired of endless new taxes like the HST and eco fees and they want to see change. And what we heard has given us even greater resolve to give families a chance to catch up; to give them change from the constant nickel and diming, tax hiking ways of Dalton McGuinty; to give them the respect and relief they deserve.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I think he means well, and I think his heart is in the right place.
But after 8 years in office, he has changed. He has grown out-of-touch with what’s being talked about in homes, around kitchen tables.
Friends, we need change in Ontario. With this in mind, I want to share with you the kind of change a future PC government will bring to Ontario. And, I want to talk to you today about the kind of partner you can expect us to be, as we work with you, based on three key principles: first, greater accountability; second, more consistency; lastly, respect for local decision making.
Let me discuss each of these in turn.
First, greater accountability.
I believe we must always remember there is one taxpayer and that it’s Ontario families that pay the bills. But the family budget is stretched because the size and cost of the Ontario government has grown far beyond their ability to pay for it.
You know this better than anyone. Many of you have struggled to balance your books because forces outside of your control are driving up costs. The worst offender? Dalton McGuinty. He chose to drive up the size and cost of government by a staggering 70% in eight years. And now he can’t stop the bloat.
His wage freeze has proven to be a work of fiction. It’s clear the deals the province strikes have a direct impact on municipal wage demands. Regardless of who signs the deal, it’s the same Ontario families who get stuck with the bill. And worse yet, arbitrators thumb their nose at the province and hand out rich wage increases to the public sector while you are forced to keep pace. They turn a blind eye to local economic growth while you have to face the cold, hard reality of balanced budgets. They use contracts awarded in big cities to dictate wage settlements in yours.
I want to see an incentive for local bargaining, not an incentive to run to an arbitrator.
The arbitration system is badly broken. It needs to be fixed. And a PC Government will get the job done. Here is what a PC government will do to fix it: we will bring more transparency and accountability to the arbitration system, so you know the reasoning for their decisions; we will provide you with clear and tight timeframes that you can count on; we will ensure that public sector agreements reflect the ability of families to pay the bills.
Another example of waste and a lack of accountability that we would fix – the Local Health Integration Networks or LHINs, for short. Basically, these LHINs are regional health bureaucracies that come between the Ministry of Health and doctors and nurses, and the patients they care for. They are anonymous, unaccountable, unelected individuals that you wouldn’t know if you fell over them.
To date, LHINs have taken some $250 million dollars out of frontline health care to support their bloated layer of bureaucracy. People at the LHINs don’t spend a single minute of their day with patients. They’ve never performed a single surgery. They’ve never run an MRI machine.
As Premier, I will close the doors on the LHINs and put every penny into frontline health care for Ontario families instead.
The second principle that would guide our work with municipalities is greater consistency. We have seen the government make promises to municipalities only to backtrack at a later date.
Municipalities have also been let down by broken promises on job creating infrastructure projects like the Mid-Peninsula Corridor through Hamilton and Niagara and the 407 East to the 115/35. The province is also still dragging its feet on approving many of your municipal and regional growth plans.
Infrastructure projects that are vital to your communities’ economic growth – even those that have received funding grants – can’t move forward until the province gives the ‘okay’ on your growth plan.
When it comes to infrastructure funding, perhaps the worst case of inconsistency is the provincial gas tax.
I live in the township of West Lincoln, and like many small communities, we pay the same gas tax as everyone else, but we don’t receive a dime of provincial gas tax funding because we don’t have a transit system.
I think that is wrong. We need a consistent and predictable funding model for municipal infrastructure instead of the orgy of spending before an election campaign.
I will fix the broken provincial gas tax program and give municipalities who don’t get a dime access to funds for roads and bridges as well.
Third, and finally, respect for local decision making.
Your voters put their faith in you to make best decisions for your local communities.
A public mandate matters.
Today, we see a troubling trend where the priorities of unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats, managers and administrators are trumping elected local governments.
From conservation authorities to Places to Grow, to the Greenbelt, to a broken gas tax formula that picks winners and losers based on whether your town owns a bus – we see Queen’s Park trampling on the local communities’ power to make their own decisions.
Let me give you a few examples.
In Simcoe County, local decision makers put together their official plan in 2008, only to have the province cast it aside and substitute their own version of an official plan. In Northern Ontario, the PC Caucus was proud to stand with Northerners in opposing the Far North Act, which puts a straightjacket on northern growth and turns the north into a giant museum.
That’s why a PC government will scrap this bad bill and focus on job creation instead.
And there is perhaps no better example of this government substituting your decision making ability for their political agenda than the Green Energy Act, where they stripped away planning authority from municipalities and gave it to Dalton McGuinty. In the face of strenuous local objections and despite 75 municipalities putting forward resolutions objecting to the government’s decision, they ploughed ahead with giant industrial windfarms wherever they saw fit.
Only when the energy minister himself faced growing local opposition in his Scarborough riding, did the government backtrack on their off-shore wind projects.
They have the gall to call you NIMBYs when you stand up for your local families but backtrack at the first sign of trouble in the minister’s backyard. Instead of NIMBYism – I call that NIMSAR – Not if my seat is at risk!
You have to ask: why is it you can have a say on a new Tim Hortons or 7Eleven, but not on an industrial wind farm? I think you’ll agree, that is just plain wrong.
So, here’s what I will do.
First, we are going to stop signing deals on these expensive energy experiments. They are driving up hydro bills and are simply unaffordable to families.
Even kids know you can’t run a lemonade stand buying lemons for 80 cents and selling the lemonade for 5 cents, but that’s how Dalton McGuinty is running Ontario’s hydro system.
Renewables should be a part of our energy supply mix, but they must be at prices families can afford.
And second, we will restore local decision making powers by taking them away from political staff in downtown Toronto and giving them back to you. Because you know what’s best for your communities, your neighbourhoods, your families.
Friends, I believe the secret to good government comes from respecting your partners, keeping your word, sticking to a budget, and staying true to your principles: accountability, consistency, and respect for local-decision making power.
That’s the kind of partner I will be. It’s what I am offering to you today. And it is what I look forward to offering the people of Ontario – when I seek the office of Premier come October.
Ladies and gentlemen, I want to be Premier to fight for those hard working families and business owners who are playing by the rules, who are paying all of their bills, but are falling further and further behind.
I want Ontario once again to be the economic engine that drives this great country.
I want to be a Premier who sees his role as a partner with municipalities, not a nanny to them.
I want to ensure that my three-year-old daughter Miller will have every opportunity to succeed that I’ve had – and then some.
I look forward to working with you so that Ontario can lead again.
Thank you very much.