By Jenn Watt
Rural affairs minister and regional minister for eastern Ontario MPP Jeff Leal was promoting his government’s budget last week asserting that many of its measures would be particularly useful for this region.
The MPP representing Peterborough said he had spoken with representatives from Haliburton County at a recent Good Roads conference and heard that infrastructure was one of the main concerns.
The $200 million added to the Community Infrastructure Fund will help with the older infrastructure in eastern Ontario he said.
“This investment along with our Connecting Links funding increase will really help a lot of rural communities in Ontario. Reminding that the economy whether it’s in Haliburton County where the tourism activity is a huge contributor or for our farm community to get their products to the market infrastructure is key to their success” he said in an interview with the Echo last week.
Connecting Links is a fund that assists municipalities in paying for construction on roads that connect to provincial highways.
On the health care front Leal highlighted the one per cent increase to hospital operating budgets as well as the shingles vaccine program which will allow Ontarians between the ages of 65 and 70 to receive the vaccine for free.
“We’re increasing hospital budgets by $345 million. This will be the first increase for budgets in five years” he said.
The province’s announcement that tuition to postsecondary institutions would be free for students whose family income is $50000 or less was another item Leal raised calling it one of the most significant “game changers” in the province’s history.
Fleming College has some 5600 students at all of its area campuses including Peterborough Lindsay and Haliburton Loyalist has less than 20 in Bancroft Seneca has about 150 and Trent has 5800 in Peterborough. In a press release Fleming College said 80 per cent of its students access the Ontario Student Assistance Program.
In addressing issues raised by Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MPP Laurie Scott about the increasing cost of gas which is supposed to rise by more than four cents a litre Leal said sacrifices had to be made to fight climate change.
He pointed out that Haliburton County is reliant on the tourism sector and that global warming could affect that.
“The other thing that’s so important through the $300 million green investment fund is individuals can make changes at their individual homes to become much more energy efficient and reduce energy consumption which is crucial” he said.
He also tackled Scott’s criticism of the province’s looming debt repayment of which is the third largest budget item.
The budget would be balanced by 2017-2018 he said and on the debt question said the Liberals were refinancing the long-term debt.
“We’ve been refinancing a lot of our long-term debt because interest rates right now are next to zero so we’re taking the appropriate fiscal approach” he said.