Prescription for a Healthy Economy

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Good afternoon everyone.

I want to thank you for being here – and thank you to the Economic Club of Canada for hosting me today.

I’m here today to present what I’m calling my “Prescription for a Healthy Economy.”

And that isn’t just an opportunity to remind everyone that I am a doctor.

It is a prescription rooted in the fundamental belief that has motivated me throughout my career – whether that has been practicing medicine here in Ontario, or the many years I spent in some of the world’s most dangerous areas where the needs were at times overwhelming.  It is a belief that got me into politics in the first place, and it’s why I have decided to run for leader of our party.

As some of you may know, after finishing my medical studies at McMaster University, I spent nearly a decade as a doctor in war-torn regions throughout the world.

Together, with my wife, Dr. Samantha Nutt, we founded the international charity War Child Canada, which helps thousands of children in war-affected regions around the globe.

My fundamental belief is this: people are healthy when their society is healthy. They thrive when their economy is growing. They only succeed with adequate housing, reliable  transit, and strong social services. They can only build a better future for their children when they are financially secure – when they have hope and opportunity.

And that applies to all people, including Ontarians. The health of our families and our communities is inextricably linked to a sustainable, healthy, growing economy.

My prescription for a healthy economy is a prescription for Ontario. They are one and the same. It is what we need.  It is my vision for what we can accomplish together if I am elected premier.

As premier, I will implement a five-point plan to shape Ontario’s economy.

I will do that by:

  1. Transforming health care;
  2. Investing in transportation infrastructure;
  3. Creating jobs;
  4. Respecting rural and northern Ontario; and
  5. Tackling poverty.

[Reduce Deficit and Sustain Healthcare]

Let me start first by making a clear commitment. I will eliminate our deficit by 2017-2018.

We need to ensure that we meet these targets so that our economy keeps growing; so that our social services, our health care, and our education system – services our families depend on – are sustainable.

But the question is how? The solution is not simply to cut services or raise taxes.

We, as government, must fundamentally change the way we do business. We must innovate. We must be more efficient.

Let’s start with what is by far the government’s largest expense – healthcare.

As a public health specialist and medical doctor who has practiced in Ontario for many years, health care is an issue I understand like no other candidate who is running to lead the Ontario Liberal Party.

My policy and my position on healthcare are based on experience inside and outside of government within the policy arena and on the front lines of health care in this province.

Health care is nearly half the budget.

Think about it!

That means one out of every two dollars government spends goes to health care.

We need to transform healthcare to ensure our healthcare services are sustainable.

I am committed to universal health care.

I will reduce the cost of expensive hospital-based care by investing in preventative as well as long-term and home-care services. This approach includes shifting away from fee-for-service payments.

Better care for fewer dollars!

Just look at the latest Ontario Medical Association deal – doctors will be doing more house calls, so that our seniors will not have to come into hospital when they need care.

Under the deal, doctors have also committed to other innovative ways to cut costs, including doing more evidence-based drug prescribing and eliminating unnecessary testing.

Better care for fewer dollars.

I also support an income-tested drug plan, and I will speak about that in more detail later.

As well, I support enhanced home care. That means helping seniors stay in their homes longer. And that saves money.

The same goes for technological improvements that will allow patients to communicate with health care providers from home through email and tele-medicine, rather than having to go to their family doctor.

This is a fundamental change in how our health care system operates. It will ensure our health care system is sustainable in the future.

But transforming the health care system is only one way that we can deliver better care for less money.  Across the social services sector, we need to improve our accountability measures to make sure that we’re getting value for the money we spend.

We give funding to agencies year after year without the rigorous accountability needed to ensure they’re delivering the outcomes we expect.

As someone who spent more than a decade in the non-profit sector as the head of a multi-million dollar charity, I understand the value of money. I understand what it means to be a transparent and accountable steward of public money.

Everyday we did more with less, stretching every dollar to improve the lives of the people we served. As well, we had to publicly show where the money went.

Government would do well to take a lesson from our dynamic not-for-profit and charitable sector, as well as the business sector.

We also need to shine a light on how much money from our provincial treasury is spent on tax credits and benefits – and it’s time to ask whether they are having the right effect, particularly in this time of fiscal restraint.

Take the Children’s Activity Tax Credit – for families that send their kids to swimming lessons, wealthy families don’t need the fifty bucks. It’s a nice-to-have, not a need-to-have.

So what do we do about it? It’s time to start income-testing these tax credits and benefits.

As premier, I will commit to a full review of the tax credits and benefits currently on the books because those who don’t need them should not be eligible.

[Investing in Infrastructure]

But even in a time of fiscal restraint, we cannot stop investing, which brings me to my second point. We need to invest in the transportation infrastructure that keeps our economy running strong.

NOW is the time to invest in our infrastructure.

Interest rates are extremely low; we have an available pool of labour that needs work; we can create jobs by undertaking the projects we need to ensure Ontario remains competitive.

I am committed to creating the healthy economic conditions in which job creation can thrive.

As someone who lives in Toronto, I’ve watched the debates over the past year between city councillors and the mayor.  I watched with interest, and with growing frustration.

We need to move forward with investment in transportation infrastructure, and we need to do it in a way that is separated from political bickering.  We need subways, and we need light rail.  We need buses, and we need commuter rail. We need to get you home faster.

And I will lead the way.

As premier, I will create a 20-year transportation plan that will make Metrolinx’s Big Move strategy a reality – ensuring a modern and reliable transportation system for future growth.

To do this, we must ensure that planning for transit expansion goes beyond our four-year political cycles – not just at the provincial level, but at the municipal level as well.

We must ensure long-term access to funding and a dedicated income stream that is immune from partisan bickering.

My commitment to the Big Move does that!

I will ensure that planning and investment in transit is done at a regional level – through a new Metrolinx – while directing local transit agencies like the TTC to focus on operations and improving customer service.

That regional transportation authority must also have new revenue streams at its disposal to bring investment in transportation infrastructure outside of the annual political budgeting process.

And those new revenue streams have to be a combination of public and private sector initiatives.  Experts are telling us that they could include parking charges, tolls and congestion charges to pay for the expansion.

Bottom line:  Everything is on the table.

And, as premier, I will work with municipalities and our private sector partners to determine the right mix of revenue streams.

But we need to get it done.

Transportation infrastructure is too important, and the need is too great, to continue to allow it to be held hostage to partisan politics.

Take the Gardiner Expressway here in Toronto.  You can’t focus on a 20-year infrastructure plan at the municipal level when there’s concrete falling from the sky.

But transportation is not only an issue important to the GTA and the Golden Horseshoe region.

Our rural communities need more investment in transportation infrastructure too – like roads and bridges.

I am already on record to give rural municipalities their fair share of gas tax revenues – so they can invest in the transportation infrastructure they need to move people and goods, create jobs and grow their economies.

[Job Creation]

However, investing in transportation infrastructure is only one of the conditions that will support job creation in a healthy economy.

To drive economic growth today and tomorrow, we need to innovate. We need to support research and development. But more than that – we need to put more of our focus on commercializing that research.

That means creating centres of innovation, not just in the high-tech and IT industry, but in areas like biomedical research, sustainable agriculture, and water technology – the so-called Blue Economy, which Ontario can lead given that we are blessed with so many freshwater resources.

But innovation comes not just from new ideas; it comes from new workers.

We need to integrate new skilled immigrants into our workforce much quicker. We’re letting innovation go un-tapped with many unnecessary “Canadian experience” requirements for professionals who have immigrated to Ontario.

But when it comes to job creation we run the risk of creating an economic lost generation. We have a crisis with our future – our youth.

I think everybody in this room would agree with me that young people face an appalling lack of opportunity on the job front.

There is a crisis in youth unemployment across Ontario; especially in rural areas and in some of our urban neighbourhoods.

At nearly 20 per cent, youth unemployment is more than double the provincial and national unemployment rate.

Aside from the obvious economic and social reasons, we have a moral obligation to address it.

As premier, I would focus on youth employment with a series of targeted programs.

Through the Youth Action Plan I spearheaded when I was Minister of Children and Youth Services, we are already expanding employment programs for young people so that they go beyond the summer and into part-time jobs during the school year. As premier, I will expand it further.

But we also need to ensure that young people can enter the skilled trades, where we have a shortage of prospective employees – and that means working with our partners in the private sector and in labour organizations to support youth hiring as part of any major infrastructure project.

Finally, I would also create a volunteer program for youth coming out of college or university.

This would allow students to work off part of their OSAP loans through community service in Canada or internationally. They would gain valuable experience, reduce their debt burden and help the community. Young entrepreneurs could also get a deferral on the payback of their loan.

This is by no means a cure-all here. These are steps, steps that must be taken, and taken together if we are to start reducing youth unemployment.

But the provinces can’t act alone. In fact, Ottawa needs to lead the charge on this crisis and develop a national strategy for youth employment. I would work with the federal government on this.

[Respect for Rural and Northern Ontario]

I would like now to talk to you about another issue that’s very important to me because it’s a part of who I am.

I grew up in a small town, in Simcoe, in southwestern Ontario. I was the youngest of five kids.  I went to the local public schools, and I learned the value of hard work – farming apples, cherries and peaches during the summers.

And I have spent much of this leadership campaign in small-town Ontario, visiting with Ontarians, listening to their concerns, their hopes for themselves, their families, their children.

One thing has become very apparent to me in my travels.  Ontario’s revitalization is not being felt equally in all parts of this province, including rural and northern Ontario.

Small towns have lost their local plant … rural youth face an even more daunting crisis of unemployment … rural communities lack the infrastructure to connect with today’s economy.

It is not enough to congratulate ourselves on the progress we’ve made as a province – especially when it masks the fact that there are so many Ontarians who are at risk of being left behind.

That’s why my first policy announcement was entitled “Respect for Rural Ontario.”

It is a plan for:

A stronger rural voice;

Stronger rural communities;

And a stronger rural economy.

We cannot thrive and our businesses cannot grow in the 21st century economy when they do not have access to a fast and reliable Internet connection.

I am committed to a strategy that will bring high-speed Internet to communities all across this province.

We also need to support rural economic development more broadly by giving small business and entrepreneurs access to economic development funds, tax incentives for hiring rural workers, and supports to provide on-the-job training to new youth hires.

My rural platform is important to me – not just because I was born and raised in rural Ontario.  It’s important because in a healthy economy and a healthy Ontario, we leave no one behind.

[Poverty]

And that brings me to my final point today: my plan to tackle poverty.

As I’ve made clear, a healthy economy leaves no one behind.

We cannot stay silent while the most vulnerable among us, especially children, continue to live in poverty;

While men and women on Ontario Works or the Ontario Disability Support Program, better known as ODSP, continue to rely on those benefits with no hope of employment;

Too many Ontario families are living below the poverty line.

We can – and must – do something about it.

We must begin with our children, because that is how we will break the cycle of poverty.  Our government’s Poverty Reduction Strategy showed that good policy makes a difference – and it has lifted tens of thousands of children out of poverty.

But there’s so much more to do.

As premier, I would build on the work that has been done.

I would implement the key recommendations of the Social Assistance Review, headed by Frances Lankin and Munir Sheikh.

In particular, I would consolidate benefits giving Ontarians on social assistance a one-stop shop, because navigating a complicated bureaucracy should be the last thing they have to deal with.

I will also put into place what I believe is their most important recommendation –providing people on social assistance with a path to employment.

The Social Assistance Review, along with an impressive group of private-sector partners, has provided a blueprint. We need to follow it.

As well, I would continue to increase the Ontario Child Benefit providing tangible relief to families in need.

To further help people get off social assistance, we must eliminate other roadblocks.

As I said earlier, as premier, I would take steps towards implementing an income-tested prescription drug plan.

There are too many people stuck on social assistance because they can’t afford to lose their drug coverage.  By income testing our drug plan, we could ensure that those who cannot afford their prescriptions get the support they need – whether they’re working or receiving social assistance.

An income-tested drug plan would help get people off social assistance without costing them their benefits and would assist the working poor who can’t afford medication for their children.

Finally, let me address the minimum wage.

I am committed to increasing the minimum wage over the course of my mandate to ensure that no adult working full time lives below the poverty line.

Ontario’s economy will never be healthy while poverty abounds. The choice is not between supporting job creation and economic growth, or supporting anti-poverty programs.  The two go hand- in-hand.  You cannot have one without the other.

Conclusion

There you have it – a plan to transform healthcare … a 20-year investment in transportation infrastructure… job creation… respect for rural and northern Ontario… and immediate actions to tackle poverty.

This is my prescription for a healthy economy; this is my plan to transform Ontario for the future.

But as a doctor, I know that it’s not enough to simply write a prescription and send your patient on their way.

Delivering on the promise of a healthy economy will take work – hard work – and some difficult decisions.

But I have never been one to shy away from tough decisions or hard work – even in the most difficult circumstances.

My experience working inside and outside of politics, here in Ontario and around the world has taught me a very important lesson.

When there’s a job to be done… we roll up our sleeves…  and we get to work.