By Kevin Werner, News Staff
Cutting auto insurance premiums may not trigger a possible provincial election, but Premier Kathleen Wynne says it remains a priority for her Liberal government.
“I’ve made it clear it is a priority for me,” said Wynne, in an interview prior to speaking at the Flamborough Chamber of Commerce’s outstanding business achieve awards gala, March 2.
NDP leader Andrew Horwath said a day earlier she presented the premier with a package of policy ideas the Liberals should adopt in this year’s provincial budget, expected later this month to get her to sign on to back it and prevent a spring election.
Including a 15 per cent cut in insurance rate premiums, Horwath is also insisting on subsidized job training for youth, and the closing of corporate tax loopholes.
The Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak has already indicated his party will vote against the budget, leaving the Liberals to solicit NDP support for the budget or face an election less than two years from the October 2011 contest.
An election could cost taxpayers $92 million.
Wynne said she has spoken to Horwath about cutting insurance rate premiums further than what the Liberals have already done. In 2010 the party introduced a set of reforms that dropped premiums a modest 0.26 per cent.
“I don’t know exactly what percentage of reductions these (anti-fraud recommendations) can capture for us, but I certainly know we need to find ways to reduce the premiums for people in the province,” said Wynne. “The minister of finance is on this, as is my own staff. I’ve said to Andrea it is something I really want to look at.”
Wynne, who has also taking over the agriculture and food responsibilities, said people should expect in the Liberals’ 2013 budget the re-introduction of the local food act in order to support local farmers, and she is eager to help people with disabilities who are living in poverty to keep more money from the jobs they have.
“I’ve talked to the NDP, and the Tories should agree with this, that people with disabilities who get into the workforce and earn money we have to help them keep more of that money that they earn,” she said. “That for me is the kind of poverty reduction strategy that helps lift people up. It allows them to have a purpose, allows them to be more independent.”
Wynne, though, remains determined to implement the recommendations contained in the horse racing panel, created by former agricultural minister Ted McMeekin, who stood beside the premier during the interview. The panel, which released its recommendations last fall, agreed to the elimination of the $345 million slots at racetracks provincial funding, arguing it shouldn’t be continued. It is expected to be eliminated at the end of March. Instead, the industry has the potential to tap into $100 million in new revenue if allowed to introduce single sporting events betting, and by creating a lottery. In addition, the $50 million the province was introducing over a three-year period in transition funding for the industry is too little.
The Ontario government has signed agreements with Woodbine and Mohawk racetracks, leaving Flamboro Downs and Georgian Downs, owned by the Great Canadian Gaming Corp. as the only tracks without a contract. Woodbine cut about 100 people soon after signing the agreement.
“I will assure you,” Wynne told the people at the sold-out event at the Flamborough Golf and Country Club during her 10-minute address, “as your new premier I am paying very close attention to this issue.”
Wynne recognized she was in “horse racing country” and reached out to Flamborough and Hamilton residents, including Mayor Bob Bratina, and councillors Judi Partridge, and Robert Pasuta, to show her government was indeed listening to their concerns.
She acknowledged some of the decisions made on the horse racing industry “were probably not as well thought out, and my predecessor (former Premier Dalton McGuinity) knew that. We will pay very close attention to that panel’s (recommendations).”
Wynne said there will be a horse racing industry, but it will be smaller, and more sustainable.
“My hope is it will be stronger and more stable,” she said.
Overall, Wynne said Ontarians should expect a budget that focuses on improving the provincial economy, but not at the price of hurting people.
“We have to take care of family, we have to take care of friends, and neighbours too,” she said.
Wynne did stroll through the country club for about an hour meeting local people, and listening to their concerns. The Flamborough Chamber of Commerce’s scheduled was adjusted for her so Wynne could leave early to visit the Hamilton Health Sciences gala event in the downtown later in the evening.