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Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Ontario Finance Minister Meets With People In Owen Sound

Owen Sound | by Claire McCormack  

Finance Minister Rod Phillips took input from stakeholders in Grey Bruce on the 2020 budget.

Mayor Dwight Burley, Minister Phillips, MPP Walker  

Ontario's Finance Minister Rod Phillips was in Owen Sound Tuesday to hear community input on the 2020 budget.

A consultation session was held at the Legion, where community stakeholders each had three minutes to tell the finance minister and Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound MPP Bill Walker what they wanted to see in the upcoming Ontario budget.

Mayors and staff from around Grey and Bruce Counties as well as healthcare providers, farmers and businesspeople from both counties spoke to the minister.

At the end of some 15 presentations, Minister Rod Phillips had seven pages of notes to review, "What they can put into a three-minute presentation is always very impressive," says Phillips.

Many of those who presented had common requests, one of which was to have guaranteed funding, or formula-based funding rather than application-based funding from the Province. Grey County CAO Kim Wingrove, Owen Sound Mayor Ian Boddy and Hanover Mayor Sue Paterson all highlighted the view that it makes it much easier for local governments to plan projects and programs if they know what kind of money is coming to them.

In response, Minister Phillips highlights the Ontario Municipal Partnership fund which he says included $500 million this year and will do the same next year "I want to make sure that money, which is the most important transfer we do for rural municipalities is getting to the right communities."

Phillips says places like Owen Sound count on that money "They should know about that as early as they can."

Other requests during the consultation include money for high speed internet, affordable housing, roads and bridges, and healthcare.  

In the healthcare sector, requests were made for non-targeted funding for hospitals, funding for community care, wait lists, homecare funding and Paramedic Services.

The local nursing shortage was highlighted and Grey County CAO Kim Wingrove suggested to the minister there be a 'health human resources strategy.'

Bruce County Warden Mitch Twolan said there is a need for funding to address climate change impacts on infrastructure like harbours.

Some unique comments included a request from Grey County Warden Paul McQueen for funding to expand Highway 6 to four lanes.

Hanover Mayor Sue Paterson said money is needed for policing, something most local communities have been struggling to afford and have been wrestling with switching or amalgamating police services.

A local grain farmer asked for the province to create a 'Trade War Fund' to help Ontario farmers who are struggling because of the United States' trade war with China, something Phillips says he's hearing about often.

Another farm rep wants funding to encourage new farmers and money for low-input, low-emission farming practices.

The Wiarton Chamber of Commerce asked for grants, subsidies or incentives to encourage businesses to open in rural Ontario year round.  

Money to maintain roads was a common ask, with agriculture reps noting trucks carrying goods out of farms take their toll on the roads.

Bruce County Warden Mitch Twolan also noted municipalities are stuck with the bill for road repairs when online shopping companies are driving their heavy trucks on local roads. He wants to see the government tax those companies for it.

Looking ahead, Minister Phillips will continue to do about 30 consultations around the province talking to around 1,000 people. His office will also take in online comments during the process.

"Our government will present its budget in March that will outline our priorities going forward, how we balance affordability with the needs to make investments, with the needs to make sure we balance the budget by 2023," says Philips. 

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