QUEEN’S PARK – Ontario can do a lot better – I want to start off with a simple statement: one that seems to generate a lot of discussion and great disagreement in the Legislature, but it’s one that I fundamentally believe – and I suspect you do too.
As I travel across the province, people tell me things are pretty tough right now. They ask: “Is this really the best Ontario can do?” I say to them – and to you – we can do better. We will do better.
I have tremendous hope for this province – and you should too.
Ontario can do a lot better
Ontario’s history and our people show us we have all we need to succeed. We have a hard-working and skilled workforce. Dedicated and driven entrepreneurs. Vast and valuable natural resources and fertile farmland the envy of the world over.
We border some of the great North American markets – natural trading partners with millions of consumers. We have all it takes to make Ontario the best place to find a good job, raise a family, start a business and see it grow.
That’s why I am confident when I say Ontario can do a lot better.
But to get there, we need two things: A bold, comprehensive plan to put us on the right track, and the leadership to put it into action. That’s what I want to talk to you about tonight.
I believe that the people of Ontario are ahead of the politicians. I believe they are ready to take on the big challenges we face. I believe if we are honest about those challenges and the decisions they require, Ontarians will be right there with us.
We must be bold in our pursuit of a better Ontario.
Of all we can do for Ontario and each other, one task stands above them all: create meaningful, stable work for those who wish it.
A good steady job affords every individual the confidence and freedom that no other government program or policy could ever deliver. That’s why every close call, every tough decision, every argument must get resolved on the basis of what it does to grow our economy, to create jobs.
Businesses in today’s economy will choose to locate where costs are lower, approvals happen faster and they have the confidence to hire. I have a plan to put our province at the top of the list.
It starts by reducing Ontario’s 300,000 regulations by at least a third. Government shouldn’t make rules just because it can or to keep bureaucrats busy. One more government rule, one more useless form to fill out means one less business deal closed and one less job created.
In a global market, where capitol is mobile, demand is constantly shifting. The ability of businesses to turn on a dime in response to a new opportunity or a tough competitor is crucial. Job creators want to hire in a province with competitive labour laws – and that’s what we’ll give them.
We will modernize our labour laws so that no worker will be forced to join a union as a condition for taking a job. And no business will be forced to hire a company solely because it has a unionized workforce.
We also need to take a sensible approach to energy in our province. It is one of the biggest costs of doing business. Instead of expensive subsidies for wind and solar projects that fail basic economic sense, we will focus on the reliable, affordable sources that have traditionally powered our system like hydro, nuclear and natural gas.
We will reduce the tax burden on our job creators to encourage them to invest in new equipment and technology, creating new product lines and in so doing hiring more people. More people working in good jobs means more revenue coming into the treasury.
After all, it’s better to have a smaller piece of a pie that is growing than a bigger piece of a pie that is stagnant or shrinking.
Our plan will make Ontario the first choice for investors and job creators.
But let’s be clear: All of this means nothing if we are unable to do one simple thing: Get Ontario and Toronto moving again.
Families and businesses in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area suffer through the longest commute times in North America – costing us jobs, investment and precious time with family.
There’s no shortage of politicians talking about how important this issue is, but what matters is who will take action and get the job done. I’m prepared to do what it takes.
I start from a very different place than my counterparts. They believe the solution is simply for Ontarians to hand over more money. I believe Ontarians are already giving a lot. They are doing their part.
It’s time for the government to do ours.
Right now, everyone’s in charge – TTC, MTO, Metrolinx, City, Region – and when everyone’s in charge, it means no one’s in charge. There are too many backseat drivers. It’s time the province seized the wheel.
Rail is the backbone of our transit system, but this backbone is currently severed. We will upload TTC subways and LRT and integrate them with GO rail under the leadership of the province. We will also bring in the regional highways – Don Valley, Gardiner, 400 series – because it only makes sense that one body thinks about both highways and transit, instead of pitting one against the other.
The second part of our plan is to expand on a regional basis.
We believe in building underground, not ripping up existing streets. That’s why we will invest in new subways– north to Richmond Hill, East to Scarborough – and new highways – extending the 427 North.
To protect taxpayers and promote customer service, we will leverage public-private partnerships to design, finance, build and operate the systems.
Will these projects cost a lot of money? Of course they will.
Where there is a gap in financing new projects we will look at the options and advice put forward by Metrolinx, Civic Action, the Toronto Region Board of Trade and other cities.
But the worst thing we can do is throw more money at a wasteful system that spends it on wage increases, paid advertisements and failed fare card experiments.
We will root out the waste and give taxpayers confidence the dollars they already send are being used properly.
We will do what it takes to ensure families, commuters and businesses in Ontario are not held hostage by unyielding unions, a fractured system or misspent funds.
We’ll get people moving again. We’ll grow the economy.
But we can’t build a strong Ontario on a foundation of debt. We face both a jobs crisis and debt crisis – and we cannot solve one without solving the other.
Right now we’re spending too much money without getting results.
Our biggest budget item is health care – as it should be. We put $48 billion per year into health care. But can we honestly say our health care system is prepared for the predictable trends it is about to encounter?
We can do a lot better for our loved ones.
We are spending $8.5 billion more since 2003 on education, and yet there are 250,000 fewer students in our schools. A lot more money for fewer students, yet test scores are declining in crucial areas like math and science.
We can do a lot better for our children.
A better Ontario requires a public service that operates just as you do every day – setting goals, measuring outcomes and rewarding those who help achieve them.
If a nurse applies the latest training to get a patient back on his feet faster than anyone else thought possible…or a teacher performs minor miracles helping a child who always struggled to read learn the joy of reading a book…
We should reward them based on performance – not solely on seniority.
But balancing the budget won’t be easy. In Ontario, just over half of the entire budget each year is spent on salaries, benefits and pensions for government employees. So if someone tells you that they can eliminate $12 billion deficit without reducing this cost – they’re either naïve or they think you are.
To start, we will freeze wages for all government workers for a minimum of two years, giving us time to reduce the size and cost of government.
Government pensions are a ticking time bomb to the tune of a hundred billion dollar unfunded liability. We will move new government employees from expensive gold- standard pension plans to more affordable retirement savings programs like those common in the private sector.
We also need to eliminate programs that we simply cannot afford. We will assess every government program on this basis: If a government program works and is necessary – you keep it. If it is broken, you fix it. But if it can no longer justify its value to the taxpayers who pay the bills –you have to shut it down.
We have a responsibility to taxpayers to reduce costs across government.
We must seek out the best deal on every project – based on merit, cost and quality, not political allegiance. We will open up all contracts for competitive bidding. Because if someone can do a better job at a better price, don’t they deserve that contract? Of course they do.
So here we stand, at a moment of truth for our province: It is a time of challenge but also a time of promise. A time of crisis, but a time of hope.
We have hope because we have a choice. A choice that is not about left or right, but a choice of new solutions or more problems, a choice of progress or further decline.
I will not ask the people of this province to vote against the other leaders and their parties, but to vote for a plan for a better Ontario.
If you believe Ontario is on the right track, the good news is you have two parties to choose from. But if, like me, you believe Ontario can and will do better then there is only one choice.
The Ontario PC plan is based on the vision for a strong, confident, prosperous province I have outlined here tonight.
It won’t be easy. It’s going to take a lot of work. A lot of volunteers and donations and help to get the message out. That’s where I need your help.
I thank all of you here tonight for your generosity and ask that you continue to stand with me as we move towards a better Ontario.
Until then, I say to the business owner who is struggling to hang on, hang on a little longer.
To those who have packed up and moved away from Ontario, come back home.
To the moms and dads working two jobs each struggling to make ends meet, hope is on the way.
To the investors looking at other states or provinces, take a second look at the Ontario we will build.
Because our comeback is about to start.
We’ve done it before. We’ve stood up, dusted ourselves off and ushered in a new era of prosperity.
The path to prosperity is clear. And now, all Ontario needs is leadership and the courage of our convictions.
So I ask you here tonight to join me. Let’s stop waiting for better and let’s make better happen.
Leader, Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario