Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips on GO trains and other regional budget concerns

Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips was in Elmira on Wednesday to hold budget consultations. After hearing from 37 people, he spoke with CBC Kitchener-Waterloo about what he heard.

Phillips says Waterloo region is ‘a community that works well together’

Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips held budget consultations in Elmira on Wednesday. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips was in Elmira on Wednesday for budget consultations.

Local groups, organizations and politicians were invited to speak and they were given three minutes to lay out their hopes for the upcoming provincial spring budget.

After hearing from 37 people, Phillips spoke with CBC Kitchener-Waterloo reporter Kate Bueckert about what he heard and what he'll now do with that information.

Reporter: What did you hear today?

Minister Phillips: I think we heard from across Waterloo region about the importance of the infrastructure like Highway 7, the importance of transit infrastructure, all-day two-way GO, I think we heard about a number of the spending priorities, particularly I'd say in the health sector broadly speaking.

We heard some great ideas about how to do things more effectively and smartly. And I think we heard a community that works well together and wants its government to make sure it's supporting the priorities. 

I think [Cambridge MPP] Belinda [Karahalios] and [Kitchener-Conestoga MPP] Mike [Harris] and I got some great input for the 2020 budget.

Reporter: A lot of mentions of two-way, all-day GO. Brought some smiles and giggles, but where does that stand? What can you tell us about the updates on that?

Phillips: Well, as a government we've said we are making sure we look at the integrated transit priorities, so we've made announcements, for instance, a record announcement of $27 billion in terms of the Toronto component of making sure that we we break the gridlock there. 

It's great to have people come into the city. If they get stuck once they get there, then that doesn't help.

And Minister [Caroline] Mulroney, minister of transportation, has been working very directly with communities about what the next steps will be, whether it's along the Lakeshore routes or the routes out to K-W. 

We've already seen a 35 percent increase in GO trains by our deals with working with CN and CP. That's a good start but we know that we need to do more. 

You know, it is one of the challenges we face. I talked at the outset about the financial situation we were left in you know with over $350 billion in debt, which is more than any other state or province in the world. 

You know a lot of people say to me, as someone said to me the other day and in Brockville, if we had the biggest debt in the world, but we had the transportation networks that we needed, if we had all the investments in hospitals we needed, if we had all the investments people talked about today done, then we might not be a problem having that big debt.

So we'd have to balance that as well. But I heard very reasonable proposals from a lot of people, we'll take that back and and do our best to put this budget together with a mind to, there's many years to to solve these problems, and I think I heard a lot of positive feedback today about how to do that.

Reporter: And you only get about three minutes for each person. That's not a ton of time. How difficult is that to parse out and say OK, yeah, this is something we want to prioritize?

Phillips: I walk out of here, I think I have 14 pages of notes. You get good at paying attention to people.

[During budget consultations Phillips has heard from] close to 1,000 people in that format. And, of course, they do online submissions as well. And many of these issues are issues that we've heard about from people in the past. 

I think there is something about sitting face to face and listening to people. I think the presenters  - you'd have to ask them - but I think they find it a format where they get a chance to see the reaction and for me you can see the passion people feel about these items.

So many people do such hard work, some as volunteers, some as professionals. Frankly I think as public servants, they deserve for us to listen and hear them. 

It doesn't mean we can do everything. We've got a difficult balancing act.

I take two notes: so I have my notes I take and then I have a separate notepad and it's usually when I hear a phrase or a comment from somebody that I just think is noteworthy, in addition to kind of keeping track of the presentation, you get some impact you wouldn't get.

And it's amazing what people can say in three minutes.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Listen to the interview below:


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