I want our kids to have access to the best possible public education. I want them to be happy and safe. And I want to provide them with the tools they need to succeed.
Unfortunately, our education system is under threat. Ontario has had an education crisis under successive NDP, PC and Liberal governments. We're still feeling the effects of the Liberals' decision last fall to undermine the democratic bargaining rights of teachers, and the Liberals' rapid implementation of full-day kindergarten is still proving to be problematic.
It's a given that Ontario is in a tough economic spot. With a deficit of $12 billion, our services are under pressure. We can't afford to waste money, yet the legacy parties at Queen's Park refuse to address the unnecessary and costly duplication in our education system.
When businesses are in financial trouble, they find ways to innovate, reduce costs, and come out more competitive than they were before the trouble started. Can we apply that thinking to Ontario's Education system? Can we be innovative, eliminate costly duplication, and create a better school system in the process?
You bet we can. Have we? No. Instead, the Liberals have attacked teachers and refused to talk about merging the separate and public school systems.
Ontario has four school systems, covering public English, public French, Catholic English and Catholic French. Ending this duplication could save between $1.3 and $1.6 billion every year. By merging the best of the Catholic and public school boards, we'll find immediate and ongoing savings that we can reinvest in the classroom and provide great education for our kids.
And we shouldn't stop there.
Ontario must remove bureaucratic silos and allow schools to become community hubs. We can get the most out of our assets by expanding the use of school buildings outside regular hours to create learning centres that benefit everyone. And instead of closing schools, we must develop a rural school strategy that recognizes the important role that schools play in small towns.
Without a doubt, the education system in Ontario needs change. We'll need to make some tough calls in today's tough fiscal environment. Given that our fundamental goal should be to ensure the best, brightest future for our kids, we need to put all the options on the table -- including merging the school boards and fully utilizing our schools as community hubs.
The 2012 Ontario budget freezes pay for doctors, and extends a pay freeze for health care executives. The province will begin means-testing seniors' prescription drugs, paid for under the Ontario Drug Benefit Plan, effectively meaning that the 5 per cent wealthiest seniors covered by the plan will have to pay more into the plan. Seniors with incomes over $100,000 and senior couples with combined incomes above $160,000 will be affected. Increases in health care spending will be capped at 2.1 per cent per year.
The budget freezes pay for teachers. A pay freeze for educational executives, already in place, will be extended. School boards in low-population areas will be amalgamated, and "under-utilized" schools will be shut. Student transportation will be cut by $34 million.
The province will begin means-testing seniors' prescription drugs, paid for under the Ontario Drug Benefit Plan, effectively meaning that the 5 per cent wealthiest seniors covered by the plan will have to pay more into the plan. Seniors with incomes over $100,000 and senior couples with combined incomes above $160,000 will be affected.
Welfare rates will be frozen and planned increases to the Ontario Child Benefit will be delayed.
There are no tax hikes in the 2012 Ontario budget, but it does freeze the corporate tax rate at 11.5 per cent, foregoing planned reductions in the tax rate to 10 per cent. The freeze is expected to save $1.5 billion over three years.
Ontario will cap the 10 per cent hydro bill rebate at 3,000 kilowatt-hours, a limit high enough that most homes won't be affected, but businesses could be. Reducing the tax credit will save $470 million over three years.
On top of the four jails the province already plans to close, the budget adds two more to the closure list -- one in Brantford and one in Chatham. Overtime for jail guards and the Ontario Provincial Police will be reduced.
Ontario plans to reduce spending on business support programs by $250 million by merging a number of different programs.
The province aims to increase revenue by increasing the number of gambling facilities. [Details to come]
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