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Budgets Preach Austerity and Cutbacks

Hudak: Ontario budget not tough enough; OPSEU members protest cuts

by Bill Bradley

Budgets Preach Austerity and Cutbacks

This week Greater Sudbury and northern Ontario residents faced fiscal austerity from both the provincial and federal governments on Tuesday and Thursday respectively.

Immediately at risk, locally and regionally from provincial cuts announced by Ontario Minister of Finance Dwight Duncan, are youth detention workers, MNR field station positions and the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission jobs (as the province moves to privatize the rail operation based in North Bay). Mining companies could also see a reduction in tax incentives introduced in past years which could affect their plans to hire more employees or retain those already on the payroll.

Affected unionists reacted negatively to the budget news.

"Two days after the release of a budget that will cut billions of dollars from public services, members in workplaces across the union came to work dressed in black and wearing Choose Public wristbands or stickers, " the Ontario Public Service Employees Union stated on their website.

"As public sector workers, we provide excellent services at a low cost. Our jobs provide economic stability in communities that couldn't survive without our spending power," the union website continued, while showing photos of workers protesting in Sudbury, Thunder Bay and Kemptville, communities where public service jobs and their spending power are critical to the local tax base and business sector the union asserted.

Federal cuts announced Thursday by federal Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty could mean more empty desks at the local CBC Radio One station as the public braodcaster contends with a $115 million plus budget slash over three years. However details at how budgets would be reduced was not available yet for any affected service, including the CBC. Other federal employee jobs could be on the chopping block locally and regionally as the federal Tories move to cut over 19,000 public sector jobs. Media analysts contend though the Ottawa area will bear the brunt of federal cutbacks.

Of the two levels of government, the province seems to be worse off, its own advisors claimed.

"Both the Conference Board of Canada and the Commission on the Reform of Ontario's Public Service released projections suggesting that if no action was taken to control growth in provincial expenses, Ontario's deficit would continue to grow," an Ontario Ministry of Finance website backgrounder stated. By 2017-18 the former projected the Ontario deficit to be in the $ 16 billion realm while the later's estimate was in the $30 billion range.

This prompted Ontario Minister of Finance to comment on his website that " regardeless of the difference in projections" it is "clear that Ontario is facing a serious deficit problem," and "the status quo is not an option" and " the annual cost of servicing the provincial debt is the third largest expense behind health care and education"

Some measures include:

-an extension of pay freezes for executives at hospitals, universities, colleges, school boards and government agencies

-corporate taxes frozen at 11.5 percent until the province's budget is balanced

-a freeze on salaries of doctors, teachers and bureacrats for a saving of $6 billion over three years

-change public service pensions from a model where the employer pays the bulk of contributions to a model with a 50:50 contribution ratio

"In today's budget our government took strong action to eliminate the deficit," Sudbury Liberal MPP Rick Bartolucci said on his Facebook page. "We are leading by example by extending the MPP pay freeze two more years for a total of five years."

Yet, the Liberals did not follow the advice of the Don Drummond report, released recently, which urged scrapping Liberal election promises such as the all day kindergarten program or a 30 percent cut in tuition fees for some undergraduate students.

Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak claimed the Ontario budget was not tough enough, stating his party would not support it. "This is the time for tough and responsible fiscal management," he said on his website after the budget. "Yet today's budget is a weak and disappointing response to Ontario's jobs and spending crisis," Hudak noted. In particular, Hudak cited cancellation of business tax cuts "at just the time we need to be making Ontario more competitive and restoring business confidence," he said on his website.

Provincial NDP leader Andrea Horwath claimed those very corporate tax cuts, introduced by the Liberals, had caused "billions of dollars to be blown already" she said on her website.

Furthermore," the government seems to be admitting that no-strings attached corporate tax give-aways aren't creating jobs," Horwath trumpeted.

Locally, Progressive Conservative Party past candidate Gerry Labelle complained the Liberal budget was savaging northern Ontario services.

" To say I'm disappointed in the budget would be an understatement," he emailed the Sudbury Media Co-operative.

" Why are we closing Ontario Northland rail service and only now trying to sell it to the private sector?" he asked. "While we may not agree with the Subsidy per passenger we know it is a lifeline for the northern people. This is a government which will spend billions on Toronto infrastructure but refuses to acknowledge the need for transportation. Aren't we going to return to some form of rail service in the future? The governement should find a business model to make ONR work for everyone. Not throw in the towel and leave people stranded."

Nickel Belt MPP FRance Gelinas disagreed too with the privatization of Ontario Northland but liked the freeze on business tax cuts. However, she told Sudbury media sources this week she was concerned about local hospital funding caps. She said she wanted to hear from local residents about asking their reaction to the Ontario budget, asking them to call 1-877-280-9990, email her at fgelinas-co@ndp.on.ca or visit  www.francegelinas.ca.

Bill Bradley is a Sudbury freelance reporter and writer with a website at
www.northernpecan.ca.


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