Premier Kathleen Wynne Grilled at Brampton Town Hall
They weren’t openly hostile or brandishing pitchforks at one of the more unpopular provincial premiers in Canada, but nonetheless it was a somewhat lively affair when Brampton and Peel Region residents peppered Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne with questions at a town hall this past Wednesday at the Century Gardens Recreation Centre.
The town hall was hosted by former Rogers TV host Nav Nanwa and featured a number of questions from residents, ranging from healthcare, auto insurance rates, affordable housing, and other important matters as Ontarians get ready to head to the polls for an election expected in June.
A number of local and provincial politicians were in attendance as well, including members of Brampton City Council, some former city councillors, a few MPPs from Wynne’s Liberals and some other people with an obvious vested interest.
You can view the entire town hall on the Ontario Premier’s YouTube channel, but if you’re looking for a shorter and sweeter update on what Wynne revealed at the event, read on.
Provincial deficit and debt revealed as not high priority
Former Rogers TV commentator Gary Collins asked if the provincial budget is actually balanced. In the last provincial budget released this past spring, the Ontario government said the budget was balanced. However, the provincial Financial Accountability Office (FAO) came back with findings and suggested there was actually going to be a $4 billion deficit in 2017-18.
Wynne’s answer was “yes” — her government did balance the books, and this was an accountability dispute between the FAO and her government, specifically on pension assets. She said the government used the advice from the expert panel and she was confident the books are balanced. Near the end of the town hall, another resident asked how she was going to pay down the $311 billion debt, which translated to around $22,000 for every person.
But in all honesty, these were the only two questions on the deficit / debt pertaining to fiscal matters. Most of the people there were asking about why services were being cut or to restore services. But it should be noted that Collins was a staffer to former Ontario cabinet minister, now federal Conservative MP, Tony Clement, so there may be political bias behind his line of questioning.
Brampton councillor sought fair representation at Peel Region
A question more for municipal political junkies came from Wards 7-8 Councillor Gael Miles, speaking on behalf of Brampton City Council. Miles asked Wynne to intervene and give Brampton fair representation on Peel Regional Council before the 2018 elections. Brampton Council’s position is that they should have all their members sitting at Regional Council just like Mississauga, while Mississauga councillors are more inclined to leave the Region altogether. You can read more on the topic of regional representation from this article I penned some time ago.
Wynne responded saying that changes at this time could only be made after the 2018 elections, but there is a legislative mechanism that would allow the Minister of Municipal Affairs to implement a change to regional representation if the municipality cannot figure out a formula. The province can impose changes on how municipalities are governed; look how they imposed that the Peel Regional Chair become an elected position in time for the 2018 municipal vote.
But there was a solution that Mississauga councillors offered that was based on representation by population: take seats from Caledon and give them to Brampton. Miles did not mention this during her remarks to the Premier. It looks like this internal Regional political squabble will have to settle after 2018, but clearly this was not an important issue on the minds of average Bramptonians.
This following issue, however, was clearly important…
Auto insurance rates shouldn’t be based on geography
No surprise that questions about auto insurance reforms came up, as Brampton residents pay some of the highest premiums in Ontario. Wynne replied that there are currently expenses in the auto insurance system, such as fraud, overbilling, over-treating and over-assessing people’s injuries, leading to disproportionate premium rates.
The Premier also said that she is looking to take those costs out of the system in rebuilding it, and asking the agency that has carriage of auto insurance to look into the geographical factor, to look at how they can have a fair system that doesn’t take the geographic factor and make it such an important predictor of auto insurance. Wynne quipped that, when you look at the whole province, there has been an overall reduction in auto insurance premiums.
This is just my take, but how about just not factoring in the geographic factor and just looking at each individual’s driving record and history? One can argue that there are very careful drivers in the busiest cities in Ontario, and some rather dangerous ones out in the rural areas. Geography cannot compensate for human behaviour.
Health care services need a revamp in Brampton
Brampton has had numerous challenges with providing health care services, as documented by the recent shortage of hospital beds at Brampton Civic Hospital. There were questions about getting Brampton a new hospital, and one woman had some very specific requests to restore a clinic that was moved from William Osler to Peel Memorial Hospital.
Wynne reiterated that her government has announced the funding for Peel Memorial hospital, and that at the core of the system is fairness, stressing that her government has increased funding for healthcare every year and will continue to do so considering the aging and growing population. It’s not perfect, says the Premier, which is why investments will continue.
Marijuana legalization — legalizing it might monopolize it
One question from a resident concerned the new marijuana regime coming in next year. The Ontario government recently announced the marijuana sales would come through the LCBO, and his concern was that would benefit the producers and not the consumers. Basically, the question was why Wynne allowed the LCBO to have another monopoly over marijuana instead of allowing the private sector to flourish in that area.
Wynne said she felt it was important to deliver marijuana through a mechanism that was safe and reliable while undermining the black market, such as the LCBO. The Premier reiterated that the sales would not be in LCBO stores itself, but in a separate entity on their own.
But in all honesty, this is going to be another monpoly and it will squeeze out the marijuana distributors who have been operating for years. In my opinion, the government should have just put in clear regulations for all distributors, whether they be with the LCBO or not, in order to have a fair framework for them to work with.
Public services should be kept in public hands
A gentleman named Ram Selvarajah, representing a group called We Own It, asked Wynne that she keep public services in public hands, calling for an end to public-private partnerships. He cited the recent Auditor General reports saying that P3s cost more money than traditional public funding mechanisms.
Ram also said that while it was great the Premier was in town listening to their concerns, he fears it’s all just window dressing, considering how 80 per cent of people were against the sale of Hydro One yet her government went on to do the sale anyway. How can the people of Ontario trust Wynne on her word to keep services public?
Wynne said that the Hydro One sale was needed for financing the building of infrastructure, such as roads, bridges and hospitals, and said that 40 per cent of Hydro One was still kept in public hands. She said on recent trips to China and Vietnam, there is a large appetite to figuring out how to build large scale infrastructure projects but that in Ontario they were being kept as public assets.
There were other questions, such as one from a man whose has a daughter in college during the recent strike who also tore his quadricep muscle complaining about tax breaks on vacant properties, a woman asking about pharmacare, to a retired detective who drove all the way down from Bracebridge to attend the town hall and ask Wynne about reforming the WSIB.
Suffice it to say, the Premier talked a lot about fairness in many of her answers. The fairness concept does fit into her political profile and the way she has governed since she assumed office in 2013. Her recent policy on hiking the minimum wage to $15 by 2019 is the most contentious policy to date that reflects that desire for fairness.
We will see in a few months whether her belief in fairness will earn her another term as Ontario premier, or will Brampton and Ontario voters finally say it’s time for a change in 2018.
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