By Pauline Kerr
It’s no coincidence MPP Lisa Thompson and MPP Bill Walker chose a small, privately-owned business to issue a challenge to municipalities, boards of education and other provincial partners to find four cents’ savings on every dollar in their budgets. The goal is to protect front-line services. The owner of Cravings Family Restaurant in Hanover, Krystal Albrecht, is the kind of person such savings will help, said Thompson. Finding savings in provincial, municipal, education and healthcare budgets will save jobs, so people will continue supporting local businesses like the restaurant. At the same time, it will help the province get its financial house in order, leaving taxpayers with more money in their pockets. Thompson, MPP for Huron-Bruce, and Walker, MPP for Bruce-GreyOwen Sound, said $7.35 million is being provided to large urban municipalities and district school boards interested in conducting line-by-line reviews to identify potential savings while maintaining vital front-line services through the Audit and Accountability Fund. “Our government was elected to fix 15 years of Liberal mismanagement, put the province on a path to balance and protect services like health care and education,” said Walker. “We campaigned on finding four cents for every provincial dollar spent and we are asking our partners in Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound and across Ontario to do the same.” Rural and northern municipalities were issued with the challenge earlier in the spring. Recently, large urban municipalities were added. “We’re finally turning the corner (toward balancing the books) but the province is still at risk,” Walker said, noting a billion dollars per month goes to servicing the province’s debt. That’s just the interest. “We were given a clear mandate to fix that.” Thompson said, “We need our partners to share responsibility in finding efficiencies – four cents on every dollar.” She noted that in Ontario, more than 90 per cent of provincial spending goes towards funding school boards, hospitals, municipalities and other outside organizations. By providing resources through the Audit and Accountability Fund, the government is lending a hand to empower municipalities and school boards to work towards the shared goal of returning the province to fiscal balance, while making sure vital programs and services are maintained. “We’re looking to school boards as well as municipalities,” Thompson said. “We share the same goal as our partners of protecting what matters most to the people of Huron-Bruce,” said Thompson. “We want to encourage everyone to look for savings to make sure we can provide sustainable public services for our children and grandchildren.” She added, “I know we can do this by working together.” She strongly urged school boards to take advantage of the opportunity to examine their own books. Municipal and other partners will have access to $150,000 each to audit themselves in the search for efficiencies. She further urged them not to make “premature prognostications.” She said recall notices for some of the teachers who had earlier received layoff letters were sent out earlier this month. Walker noted the four per cent savings is what the government did for itself. “We led by example,” he said, and “we put some money on the table to help (our partners) find efficiencies.”
Walker described some of the efficiencies that were found by the province, everything from cancelling unused phone lines to selling an unused OPP station that cost a lot of money to maintain. “Locally, we want to do the same thing.” For him, the bottom line is the provincial debt. “We have the highest debt in the world; we should be worried about that… if interest rates go up a couple of points, we’re in trouble.” The Province of Ontario’s debt is currently in excess of $347 billion. Interest on the debt costs the province’s taxpayers more than $1 billion a month, or $36 million a day.