BY SHANNON DUFF
ONTARIO – Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne checked in with local media last week following the end of the legislative session and the passing of the provincial budget.
“We’ve accomplished a lot, I believe, since I was sworn in just over four months ago,” she told The Banner during a conference call with media Thursday morning. “We brought the legislature back, we’ve made the minority government work. We did have the support of the NDP for our budget pass and we’ll be able now to work to introduce those changes that I think are really positive changes for people across the province.”
The premier reiterated what this means for Ontarians.
“It means an unprecedented investment in home and community care so that our grandparents and parents can get the help they need, it means a commitment to funding infrastructure across Ontario,” she said. “That’s about quality of life. It’s about making sure roads, bridges, transit are in place so that people can get home quickly and safely and get to their kids, get them to daycare and so on. It means a plan to create jobs for young people and to work to grow Ontario’s economy, and to do that by really celebrating ideas and talent and diversity of our work force and giving young people a place to have exposure to different industries and have real hands-on experience.”
Premier said she intends to accomplish this without what she calls reckless cuts or unconstrained spending.
“We’re just getting started. My team and I are going to continue to work hard for the people of the province,” said Wynne.
Wynne was quick to praise previous Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty, who recently announced his resignation as MPP.
“I want to thank him for his years of service to the province,” she said. “It was a real honour and a pleasure to work with him, and history will look back on his legacy and will see an education system that was rebuilt and improved so it is one of the best in the world, a health-care system that is more sustainable than it was a decade ago, and a reinvestment in infrastructure that was long overdue and put us on a solid footing to get through the economic downturn.”
Wynne said she’s not suggesting the work is done.
“There’s still lots to do,” she said. “The focus on growing the economy and jobs is number one for me.”
Wynne said she plans to visit various communities throughout the province this summer, meeting with the public and answering questions on the Liberal plan.
“Also to hear their local priorities,” she said. “I’m really focused on the future. I’m very optimistic about what’s possible for Ontario. I’m convinced we can accomplish an enormous amount.”
On the topic of local priorities, The Banner questioned Wynne on green energy and specifically, industrial wind turbine projects and restoring control to local municipalities in order to allow them to have some say over local proposals and developments.
“We’ve been working on putting a new process in place,” Wynne responded. “To make sure as we go forward, when there are these large energy infrastructure projects, that the municipality and the proponent work together before there are approvals in place from the province.”
Wynne said she understands there are still concerns surrounding projects that already have “their approvals.”
“I don’t know exactly where those projects are in the approval process, but we have to deal with the projects going forward. I was very clear when I spoke with folks around the province on this issue, that I recognize that municipalities needed a stronger voice and that’s the protocol that we’re putting in place.”
Wynne said she knows people would like to be able to turn back the clock on many of the green energy processes put in place by government in the past.
“I believe we didn’t do a good enough job putting the process in place in the first instance,” she said. “We’re doing everything we can to make sure going forward we have a better process. The [green energy projects] contracts are in different states of approval. Some of them will go forward, some of them won’t, and I don’t have complete control over that. I sure do have more control over what the process looks like going forward.”
The premier reiterated that as far as rural residents’ concerns versus those of industrial wind companies goes, municipalities needed a larger voice.
This is why a new process was needed.
“The reality is that there are some municipalities and jurisdictions that have embraced wind turbines,” she said. “The other reality is we are shutting down the coal-fired plants and air quality is improving as a result of that and will continue to improve.”
Wynne said the province will continue to implement green energy generation around the province.
“We’ve recognized there needs to be a better process and the proponents need to work much more closely with the municipalities to get the buy-in from communities before those approvals are in place.”
Wynne said she wants readers to know she’d heard their concerns and she is working to incorporate their concerns into our new process going forward.