Critics say cutting French language and environment commissioners and child advocate a blow to the north

Critics say cost-cutting measures announced by the Ford government will have a resounding effect on northern Ontario residents. The government announced in its fall fiscal update that it has cut the provincial deficit by $500 million to $14.5 billion for 2018-2019, in part by closing three government watchdog offices.

Province also terminating further development of a French university in Toronto

Vic Fedeli, Ontario Minister of Finance tables the government's Fall Economic Statement for 2018-2019 at Queen's Park in Toronto on Thursday, November 15, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Critics say cost-cutting measures announced by the Ford government will have a resounding effect on northern Ontario residents.

The government announced in its fall fiscal update that it has cut the provincial deficit by $500 million to $14.5 billion for 2018-2019, in part by closing three government watchdog offices.

They include the environmental commissioner, the child and youth advocate and the French language services commissioner positions.  

The province says the mandates of the three watchdogs will now be folded into other departments. The attorney general's office and the Ontario ombudsman's office will be granted expanded mandates and more resources to carry them out.
The Ford government has announced it will close the office of Francois Boileau, the French Language Services Commissioner of Ontario, (Radio-Canada / Claudine Brulé)

Also cancelled is further work on a French university in Toronto, set to open in 2020.

That news came as a surprise to the NDP MPP for Nickel Belt, France Gelinas, who was a key organizer.

"Young people that have worked so hard to show that if we want to be an economy based on knowledge and skill, you have to have access to post-secondary education," she said. "And after decades of work, they finally had hope, and now those hopes are squashed." 

Gelinas says the project had all-party approval last year and the money had already started to flow for the temporary campus.

She says a board had been selected and work on designing courses had already started.

She lamented the money wasted in the effort but also thinks the project will re-surface when the Progressive Conservatives leave office.
Ontario's Environmental Commissioner Dianne Saxe released a report critical of the Ford government's cuts to environmental programming this week. Her position was targeted in the fall fiscal update for closure. (CBC)

As for the loss of a dedicated environmental commissioner, the director of the Living with Lakes Centre, John Gunn, said that will be a loss for Sudbury in particular.

Gunn is also with Laurentian University's Biology department and a Canada Research Chair.

"Not having a check and balance system in place and a way to judge the effectiveness of environmental policies in Ontario is a great loss."

Gunn said for the government to "go back to business as usual" regarding environmental oversight, and cuts to programming in general, is naive.

"It really diminishes Ontario's opportunities to be leaders in the world. We really, had, and do have talented companies and industries that can evolve under these directions but when government steps back and removes the opportunities for these clean-tech companies or environmentally driven companies to compete globally, we are all losers."

The Environmental Commissioner's office issued a statement which said it was consulting with the Speaker to understand any changes to the Environmental Bill of Rights legislation that may be proposed,

"As we have for 24 years, we continue to champion Ontarians' environmental rights and provide people with the information they need about government decisions that significantly affect the environment in their neighbourhoods and across the province," the statement read.
Ontario's children and youth advocate, Irwin Elman, created a searchable database of all inquest results in the province that deal with the deaths of children. (CBC)

Child advocate Irwin Elman sent out a spirited response to the axing of his position.

He has spent his time championing the interests of children in care, with a focus on Indigenous children and advocating for their fostering in culturally appropriate homes.

"Our independence from government has been critical, and the detailed systemic reviews and investigations that we have conducted have repeatedly shone a light on systemic gaps and failures in the system that have put vulnerable children and youth at significant risk," he wrote in a statement.

A tweet from Timmins-James Bay MP Charlie Angus sent out after the announcement read, "in the world of Doug Ford, Indigenous kids don't matter, kids in foster care don't matter."

The government's outlook, entitled A Plan for the People, also promises development of the Ring of Fire chromite deposit, and a pledge to work with First Nations partners.

There's also a tax break for low income earners, and the elimination of rent controls on new apartments and newly signed leases.

with files from Kirthana Sasitharan