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Rinaldi will contemplate political future in 2017

By Valerie MacDonald, Northumberland Today

Lou Rinaldi

Lou Rinaldi

NORTHUMBERLAND - 

While some may say 2017 is a year of challenge for the Ontario Liberal Government with a June 2018 election looming, Northumberland-Quinte West MPP Lou Rinaldi says it's a time of opportunities.

This coming spring, the longtime MPP said he will decide whether he will run for re-election or not, but before that decision is made, however, this area is going to be the location of one of a series of public consultations on a basic income pilot project. It takes place Wednesday at the Cobourg Community Centre (but requires pre-registration, as previously reported).

There are many other government plans going forward affecting this riding, Rinaldi also said during an interview.

The basic-income proposal is to create a test pilot project and an area for it to take place by late summer or this fall, Rinaldi said.

“I'm really looking forward to seeing...the specifics, said the man who was one of the people on the former premier's poverty committee dating back to 2007.

A recent report out of Washington indicates basic-income programs are not effective, but Rinaldi said there are far different social and economic drivers in the United States than here, and what might not work in one area may work in another.

On another economic front, a five-year review of the Rural Economic Development program (RED) is being undertaken shortly in the eastern end of the riding to make sure it is working as a job creator, Rinaldi said.

Cam Tran in Colborne is just one of the riding businesses that have benefitted from this support through the Eastern Ontario Development Fund and a new industry to open soon in Cobourg (which he would not identify at this time) will create more than 50 new jobs with that same economic assistance, the MPP said.

Asked whether the riding has ensured the money is actually used to create jobs and to provide an example, Rinaldi said Millwork (a cabinet maker in Trenton) did not meet its job-creation target and had to return funds.

The government programs are doing a good job in job-creation, Rinaldi said pointing to the employment rate recently announced for Ontario and for this area in particular.

But the NDP economic development and employment critic, Catherine Fife, doesn't agree.

“From December 2015 to December 2016, 74,000 of the 81,000 jobs created in Ontario were part-time jobs,” Fife said in a release. “Families in Ontario are struggling. Trying to piece together a decent income from precarious part-time work is only going to make things worse.”

As it relates to the cost of hydro which is another complaint constantly raised by the opposition parties and hydro users, Rinaldi reiterated Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne's commitment to do more.

“Hopefully this year we find other ways to make hydro somewhat more affordable,” he said, adding a reminder about the Liberal party's decision to cut 8% from all residential electrical bills and a further 12% for about 350,000 households in rural and northern Ontario. (The exact locations have not been released, but Ontario Hydro says it is in areas with scattered users.) This took place Jan. 1. There are also programs that small business can tap into now, he added.

Rinaldi said the anticipated Nov. 1, 2016 hydro increase was “taken away” but he thought the next one was upcoming in April.

The government, however, is now working on a new energy plan, he added, and there will be changes from this.

The Ontario Cap and Trade program also came into effect Jan. 1 and for the average motorists, the impact at the pumps will be about $150 yearly in extra tax, economists predict. This will also affect fossil fuel heating sources, transportation, etc.

To the contrary of what opposition parties are saying, the anticipated $8.5-billion in revenue over the next four to five years will be reinvested to help industry become cleaner and householders to undertake green retrofits, Rinaldi said.

The monies go into a special account, not general revenues, and it is to be audited, Rinaldi said.

“Ninety per cent of Canadians are now under some kind of climate change initiative,” Rinaldi said, and the Federal Government is committed to ensuring if the provinces do not “pull up their socks” it will impose a carbon tax “that is more expensive.”

Ontarians have a good standard of living compared to other parts of the world and there is a cost to that, the MPP continued. “People have high expectations and it pushes us to do better. It is the government's job to manage those expectations and deal with deficits.”

The Liberals have a plan to balance the budget by 2017/18 and also make “huge investments in infrastructure” and that is on target, he said.

“We're sticking to those promises.”

As it relates to health care, though each of the three hospitals in this riding have challenges, they now have “somewhat stable funding,” Rinaldi said.

Discussions for next year's funding are underway, he said, after extra funds were announced for Northumberland Hills Hospital just before Christmas which the hospital's CAO said would allow it to balance last year's budget.

To operate one emergency bed in a hospital it costs $1-million annually, the MPP said.

Some additional funding went into Community Care in the area and for respite beds but the Conservatives maintain not enough is being done to address long-term care waiting lists.

After mandate letters went out to Liberal ministers in the new year, a PC media release was issued.

“Issuing the new marching orders was the Liberal government’s chance to breathe new life into their agenda by focusing on eliminating long-term care bed wait lists and education accessibility standards,” MPP Bill Walker said. “I was disappointed these commitments remain absent from their agenda despite repeated promises to treat them as priorities.

“Health and Long-Term Care PA John Fraser’s responsibilities did not include a single reference to the significant work needed to clear the shamefully long wait-times for long-term care beds in Ontario.”

Challenges are being faced not only by health care providers, businesses and residents, but other sectors, and working to find solutions is the government's job, Rinaldi said.

With a year-and-a-half mandate left, Rinaldi said while he's not a “spring chicken any more,” he has his health and family support to do the job of the MPP now and into the future.

“There's lots of time” to decide about the election and whether to run or not, he summed up.

vmacdonald@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/NT_vmacdonald