Business leaders from Niagara and across the province Thursday heard conflicting opinions regarding the provincial government’s efforts to bolster the economy.
Shortly after Treasury Board of Ontario president Peter Bethlenfalvy told his audience at a Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce luncheon that the province is making it easier for companies to do business with government, Ontario’s official opposition leader, Andrea Horwath, told hundreds of delegates at the Ontario Economic Summit that the abrupt decisions are eroding the trust industries have in the province.
Bethlenfalvy, MPP for Pickering-Uxbridge, said since the Progressive Conservatives took office in June they have been working to bolster the economy by reducing red tape for businesses, embracing technology to tackle Ontario’s soaring debt, and eliminating the “regressive job-killing carbon tax.”
“We’re now at $338 billion … We’re at a third of a trillion on our way to half a trillion dollars of debt. There are staggering, sobering numbers that the world will start taking notice of if we don’t start taking action very quickly,” he said, adding Ontario is the largest sub-national borrower in the world.
Bethlenfalvy said the government was given several recommendations on ways to save money by consultant Ernst and Young after a line-by-line review of the previous Liberal government’s spending.
For instance, he said, British Columbia has adopted a modernization approach to reduce costs, “and that’s what we’re going to do.”
“We are going to modernize and apply a productivity and a value for money lens to everything we do, modernizing government services.”
For instance, he said, rather than expecting people to wait in line to renew their health card or driver’s licence, it’s 60 per cent less expensive to allow people to do that online.
“We can save a ton of money by digitizing the experience, and at the same time probably provide a higher quality experience. I don’t think anyone wants to spend three hours in a line.”
And despite eliminating the carbon tax, Bethlenfalvy said the government fully supports efforts to address climate change and will be coming out with an alternative plan to accomplish that goal.
“We didn’t think the way to do it was to take money out of your pockets and put it in that black hole in Queen’s Park where you don’t know where your dollars are going,” he told his audience at Royal Niagara Golf Club.
Speaking at the Ontario Chamber of Commerce economic summit at White Oaks Conference Centre, also in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Horwath said the provincial government’s abrupt cancellation of three “extremely important facilities” at universities in Milton, Markham and Brampton is an example of the impact government decisions are having on businesses.
“Business should be able to trust that contracts will be upheld by our province. You should be able to plan ahead with some certainty for the next year or five years. Investors should be able to rely on a stable business climate in the province of Ontario,” the NDP leader said.
“When you’ve already encouraged a partnership … with a private company to do the work, the company’s made the investment, they’ve done their training, the workers are ready to go, everything’s ready to move, and then suddenly that gets pulled back, these are the kinds of things that create uncertainty and then make investors and companies less willing to take risks next time around.”
The province, she added, should instead be seizing opportunities to expand Ontario’s capacity for research, innovation and excellence.”
Although the province’s debt needs to be addressed, Horwath said “the province can’t grow without investment.”
“If we want business investment and we want economic growth, the government has to be at the table. Whether it’s on transit, whether it’s on universities and colleges … we have to work together.”