Budget shuts out the north, critics say

Reaction to the Ontario budget is rolling in from across the northeast, and the reviews are mixed.

Ontario's austerity budget may not get opposition party support and may spark an election

Reaction to Tuesday’s Ontario budget is rolling in from across the northeast, and the reviews are mixed.

Northern opposition MPPs said the new provincial budget lacks a vision for northern Ontario.

Timmins-James Bay New Democrat Gilles Bisson said the budget is problematic and doesn't mention job creation for the region.

"We have a huge opportunity with the Ring of Fire … to do some processing of natural resources," Bisson said. "There's no strategy about how you can make that happen and about how you can do refining and smelting in Ontario. There's no plan."

Bisson said the sale of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission could negatively impact the development of the Ring of Fire.

Vic Fedeli, Conservative MPP for Nipissing. (CBC)

Meanwhile, Vic Fedeli, the Conservative MPP for Nipissing said it's a mistake to cancel the business tax cuts that were scheduled. He said the move will create economic instability not only in the north, but across the province.

"The business community [does] not like uncertainty and they like tax hikes even worse," Fedeli said.

Fedeli said there is nothing in the budget he liked — and added it did nothing to address the province's deficit.

However Bisson said he applauds the Liberals for trying to balance the province's books over the next three to four years.

Changes loom for education

There are changes to education prescribed in the new provincial budget.

Among them are proposals to freeze teacher salaries and end the so-called victory lap — a program that allows students to return to high school for extra credit after graduating.

Francine LeBlanc-Lebel, the president of the Ontario Teachers Federation, said there are some positive aspects to the budget for the education sector.

"The government has said that they would keep the fully implemented full-day kindergarten and senior kindergarten would be implemented by September 2014," LeBlanc-Lebel said. "That is a good sign."

Ontario's new budget will force school boards to close underused schools. (Getty Images)

The budget also mentions amalgamating some neighbouring school boards — but not merging Catholic and public boards.

LeBlanc-Lebel said she's hopeful there will be consultation with the different school boards before any decisions are made.

Underused schools to be closed

Ontario's new budget will force school boards to close underused schools.

Most boards in the northeast have been closing schools in recent years, including the Rainbow District board, which just declared a one-year moratorium on school reviews.

Chair Doreen Dewar said she thinks her board is ahead of the curve when it comes to excess school buildings.

"We have already done this, we've been doing it in the past," Dewar said. "We have our reviews and we've made some very difficult decisions."

Dewar said she was surprised to see talk of merging some neighboring school boards in the budget.

She said that will be difficult in northern Ontario, where board staff are already spread out over large areas.

Pay freeze for doctors

Joe Pilon, chief operating officer of Health Sciences North.

The chief operating officer of Health Sciences North in Sudbury said Tuesday’s provincial budget didn't contain any surprises.

Joe Pilon said he knew it would be a tough budget and said the health care sector will have to do its share to help balance the province's books.

The budget calls for a pay freeze for doctors — something that has left Pilon wondering how that will be achieved.

"Because of the fee for service [model through which] physicians are paid," he said. "I don't really understand what that will mean at this point and how that will impact it."

Pilon said the hospital's budget comes from three separate funding applications — so until the specifics are known, he said it will be hard to determine the exact impact on Sudbury.

Other health aspects of the budget included extending a wage freeze for hospital executives.

Back to the polls? 

It's unclear whether the Ontario budget will spark another election. The Liberals need the support from one of the opposition parties for the budget to pass.

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak said Tuesday he plans to vote against the budget tabled by the minority Liberals.

Andrea Horwath, leader of the NDP, said she plans to consult with voters about the budget over the next week before making a decision.

"Once I get the feedback from Ontarians and Ontario families, then I'll decide how to proceed," Horwath said. "Do they like the budget? Do they not like the budget? What do they like? What don't they like? Are they prepared to consider going to an election over this budget?"

Horwath added she will also likely be discussing proposed changes to the budget with the McGuinty government.