January 14, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 57  

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McGuinty to consult on spending

By Anton Vidgen
Gazette Staff
Matt Prince/Gazette
HARD ON FOR ENGINEERING. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty sports his hard hat and looks through a lens at a job training facility in London yesterday.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty was in London yesterday speaking about the need for a strong economy based on a well-educated and skilled workforce, but refused to outline specific plans or where the funds would come from.

McGuinty said upcoming funding consultations across the province would allow participants to influence the government’s funding priorities. “We need your advice, your insight and your guidance,” he said. “We’re going to have to make some difficult choices — together.”

The consultations are needed to ensure the government is listening to the people and, according to McGuinty, critics who consider them a waste of taxpayers’ money are “elitist” and “cynical.”

But the premier avoided making any definite funding commitments, saying everything was “on the table,” including photo radar, highway tolls and other controversial revenue sources.

“It’s hard not to be cynical about the consultation process, especially after eight years of the previous government,” said Joel Duff, Ontario chairperson for the Canadian Federation of Students.

The province’s $5.6 billion deficit may end up being even larger, McGuinty said, if the government decides to pick up an additional $2.2 billion in debt incurred by provincial institutions, such as school boards and hospitals. When asked if absorbing the debt would encourage these government agencies to run deficit budgets, the premier said it would not be professional or fiscally prudent to do so. “They have a responsibility to live within the funding envelope,” he said.
“There’s just no more fat to trim out of the public sector,” Duff said, adding the government should be accountable for providing sufficient funding.

Also in attendance was London West member of provincial parliament and Minister of Labour Chris Bentley. “Education has long been [McGuinty’s] No. 1 priority,” he said.

The premier did not say whether elementary and secondary education had higher priority than post-secondary, saying it was “important we see education as a continuum.” He pointed to his government’s commitment to reducing the high school dropout rate by requiring students to stay in school until they are 18-years-old.

McGuinty made his comments at a London training facility, where he donned a hard hat to tour the various construction projects.

Business manager Jim MacKinnon said he was pleased the premier took time to see the workers learning skills that will enable them to compete in the economy. He also said he was happy with the premier’s commitment to training and education. “We can’t have a strong economy unless we have well-paying jobs.”



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