Ontario Budget 2018: A response for and from Kingston and The Islands

Actions speak louder than words. That’s true for individuals and organizations. In the case of government, it’s not enough to say nice things about policy. Policy has to be backed up with funding for programs.

In other words, “Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”

With that in mind, I want to consider how the Liberal’s pre-election spending will impact Kingston and The Islands, what is says about the government’s values and compare that to what Greens value and how Greens would budget.

The short answer is that the budget leaves our community with more social, environmental, economic and democratic debt. Debt we can’t afford or sustain. Debt that is unjust. Debt we must work to correct to support residents in our riding.

To start, many people in Kingston can’t afford a place to live.

The average rent for a one bedroom apartment is $975 — if you can find one. Our city that has the lowest vacancy rate in Ontario, 99 per cent of units are taken. And the average cost of a house is more than $350,000.

So it’s not surprising that renting and buying can be out of reach, especially for those living on social assistance. Ontario Works gives only $750 a month for all expenses! It’s only a bit better with The Ontario Disability Support Program, which gives $1,250 a month, again, for all expenses. No one can live on those amounts. I call it structural poverty. And it affects nearly seven per cent of the population or approximately 7,000 people in Kingston and The Islands.

Sadly, the Liberals turned their back on those in need.

The government could have implemented a basic income guarantee. Under BIG, anyone earning less than a set amount would have their income topped up to that threshold. This would streamline services and the bureaucracy that runs them. It would also put an end to the policing that happens under the current programs, where people have to apply for a variety of different subsidies. A BIG would ensure that people have the money they need to cover the basics (food, rent, transportation and a modest amount more for something like an after school activity).

But the government didn’t do that.

At very least, the government could have increased OW and ODSP by inflation. They could have made sure that residents living in poverty didn’t go deeper into poverty, year-after-year.

They didn’t do that.

The government could have also made developers put aside 20 per cent of new units for affordable housing.

They didn’t do that either.

Instead they set the limit at  five per cent, which is too low and below best practices. Simply put, the government is not addressing the housing crisis.

Only Greens are campaigning on a basic income guarantee and a massive market shift to affordable housing. These policies would profoundly lessen poverty, which, in turn strengthens families, communities and our economy.

We are all about social justice and helping residents get the what they need.

We’re also about environmental justice and protecting the places we love. We have lots of places to love here, especially natural spaces on the Islands and in the city.

I know lots of people in our riding like walking in the beautiful forests and strolling the long lakeshore of Lemoine Point. I do. I was even on the board for the conservation area for three years.

That’s one of the reasons I was so disappointed that the 2018 provincial budget allocated a mere $5 million for forests and wetlands over the next three years. To put that in perspective, that’s 1/100,000 of what the province spends or 0.00001 percent. It’s pitiful.

If the all Ontario government spending was summed up in a hundred dollar bill, and if we still had pennies, you’d have to cut a penny in half nine times (!) to show the small amount spent on these ecologically sensitive areas.

The lungs and liver of our planet mean that much — or I should say, that little — to the government. Thinking of the quote that opened this blog, it speaks for itself.

Our local economy is refreshing. You can stop by a local book store and head over to a coffee shop owned by your neighbours. We have brewers and farmers and nice, homegrown restaurants (the second highest number of restaurants per capita in the province).

Yet, there’s so much more we could do to support our companies.

For example, Greens have remained committed to lowering payroll taxes on small businesses. Small businesses created 77 per cent of jobs between 2002 and 2012, but they are faced with tight profit margins and new opportunities are expensive.

We want lessen the load for employers so they have more money, week-to-week and month- to-month, to reinvest in their employees by paying them a living wage. Living wages are calculated by region to reflect the actual cost of food, housing, etc.

Here we see how economic and social justice go hand-in-hand: the more we help our local job creators, the easier it is for them to help their staff. And employees with higher incomes can support the local economy through their increased buying power.

It’s a virtuous cycle that keeps people and profit sustainable, affordable, green.

Were lower payroll taxes and living wages in the budget? You guessed it: no!

I don’t have my own kids (not yet anyway). But my friends and their partners have adopted and made lots of babies in our community. The love and sacrifice they make for their children is amazing.

All the parents I know want to meet their kids’ needs today without harming what may come their way tomorrow.

That’s why it’s wrong that the government has passed a huge burden to the next generation. A $400 billion burden. Yes, if you’re counting, that’s 4 with eleven zeros.

Our debt-to-GDP ratio is up, servicing our debt is too and this is while interest rates are low.

In fact, the third largest expenditure in Ontario is — and will remain — interest payments on our debt (next only to health care and education). If we believe the quote that opened this blog, that means the government cares about paying big banks and private trust funds more than it does public childcare, seniors’ care, dental care, pharmacare, environmental protection and local business.

The provincial debt is irresponsible and unsustainable. We shouldn’t ask our kids to shoulder this tremendous financial liability.

Let’s be honest
To address the deep debt outlined above we need to be honest with how we can balance the books while still investing in programs for people and the planet. Here are four ways forward:

Let’s find efficiencies in the public service without cutting jobs (like merging Ontario’s four school boards).

Let’s increase revenues from resource royalties (we are essentially giving away our water and our minerals. Even Saskatchewan taxes resources at a higher rate than Ontario and the Saskatchewan economy relies more on extraction for profits than we do).

Let’s increase revenues by pricing pollution (yes, that means a carbon tax which is actually our best bet to save money on the impacts of climate change).

Let’s stop expensive plans to refurbish nuclear plants to get our electricity bills under control and  up stop making toxic waste (instead, we can invest in clean energy imports, conservation, renewables and regional energy production — together these can make up for the current share of the dirty energy).

Let’s require big corporations and multinationals like Walmart to pay a bit more (even 1 percent); they can afford it after all (and it could help pay for some of our programs like universal pharmacare and dental care).

These are Green policies and they show how we’d budget.

Our budget would start paying down debt and promote the four principles that I am campaigning on: social, environmental, economic and democratic justice.

A Green budget clearly shows that we value people, small business and the planet. Together.
In Kingston and The Islands and across Ontario.

Please feel free to email me your thoughts on this and anything else, robertkiley@gpo.ca.