Welcome to my community newsletter. Winter is here and legislators are currently in their ridings until February 20, 2024.
Need help? See my website to plan your visit: Contact-MPP Ted Hsu.
Here’s what you can find in this month’s issue:
- Across Ontario
- Happy New Year
- New Regulations
- OEB Decision
- Service Ontario
- $10-a-day Childcare
- Electrification and Energy Transition Panel
- Local Issues
- License and License Plat Renewals
- Winter Readiness
- Queen’s University
- International Student Caps
- Primary Care Funding Letter
- In Our Community
- Office Services
- Bhavana Varma
- Providence Manor
- Kingston Symphony
- Ice Fishing and Snowmobile Safety
Here are some of the big stories from Ontario over the last month.
Happy New Year!
Happy New Year everyone! After a busy year of travelling the province, I’m glad that I was able to ring in the new year at home surrounded by familiar faces. I was fortunate to be able to co-host the New Years Levee alongside my Kingston counterparts Mayor Bryan Paterson and MP Mark Gerretsen. We have unprecedented housing, healthcare, mental health and addictions, education and affordability crises right now – people are hurting. I will continue to push the current provincial government to use its power to tackle all of these.
New provincial regulations have come into effect as of January 1, 2024. The changes cover a variety of areas, from childcare and building schools, to towing and invasive species. New regulations include: Requiring all child-care operators to develop safe arrival policies when a child does not arrive or is not picked up at the correct time Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner being allowed to fine individuals that inappropriately share patients’ personal health information. The province taking over tow-trucking licensing from municipalities; people will also have new rights about being asked to consent to have their car towed and where it will be towed. More information on the regulations can be found in the Ontario Newsroom.
In late December, the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) decided, in response to an Enbridge Gas rate application, that the cost of installing new natural gas connections must be paid upfront, instead of on bills over a 40-year period. The OEB’s mandate includes consumer protection, and its decision comes in an era when fossil fuels will be phased out and electrification will be on the rise for the next few decades. The Energy Minister claimed that the OEB decision will make new homes more expensive, citing a figure from the OEB, that their decision would add an average of $4,412 to the upfront cost of a new home. Most people have mortgages though, so the cost would be spread out over the mortgage. Currently, the cost of natural gas connections is paid over time by the homeowner on their gas bill. The Minister of Energy says he will introduce legislation to overrule the OEB decision.
I think that moving the connection cost from the gas bill to the mortgage won’t affect new house prices very much. The advocacy group, Environmental Defence, noted that the connection cost applies only if the builder chooses natural gas. The OEB decision would remove an incentive for homebuilders to install natural gas lines over more climate-friendly options like heat pumps – something that is urgently needed and even less expensive, especially in southern Ontario. In response to the decision, Enbridge has filed a notice of appeal in Ontario’s Divisional Court, saying the OEB failed to set rates that are “just and reasonable” as required by law.
Some Service Ontario locations will be closing soon, and in their place will be kiosks in select Staples Canada and Walmart stores. So far, 11 locations will make the move, with two of them being destined for Walmart, but the government says this is merely the pilot for wider changes. Unfortunately, the Government has not made a business case to explain how this change will reduce costs and/or improve service for Ontarians. Moreover, it has not explained why it is footing the bill for retrofitting the new locations. The Ontario Government says that this will streamline operations while making Service Ontario more accessible and cost-effective. According to a spokesperson in the Premier’s Office, factors under consideration include the size of the store, parking, and willingness to participate. Opposition politicians have expressed concerns about lack of transparency and lack of competitive bidding, big-box retailers benefiting at the expense of local businesses, privatization of public services and security of personal information.
Childcare operators are calling on the government to re-evaluate the compensation formula for funding $10-a-day daycare. Since the program began in 2022, the cost of childcare has shifted from families to operators like the YMCA, but government reimbursements are not enough to compensate for operators increased costs. The current formula uses figures that have been frozen – some since as far back as 2020 – just before several years of higher inflation. On January 17, I called for the government to reassess the formula and consider significant inflation. My statement can be viewed here.
Electrification and Energy Transition Panel
The Electrification and Energy Transition Panel has come out with a report listing recommendations that the province should undertake moving forward. The final report is entitled Ontario’s Clean Energy Opportunity. I’m glad the panel recommended figuring out the future role of natural gas, maximizing energy efficiency, upgrading building codes, and exploring renewable gas and hydrogen, as we transition away from fossil fuels in the long term. The panel has warned that the cost to transition to clean energy will put pressure on the provincial government’s subsidy program which totals over $6.5 billion annually. The panel also said that the Ontario Energy Rebate program disproportionately benefits wealthier people because most of the subsidies go to those who live in larger homes.
If you want more frequent updates about provincial news, subscribe to my Weekly Wrap where I cover five of the top news stories of the week.
License and License Plate Renewals
Police say they are dealing with an “overwhelming” number of unregistered license plates. For almost two years now, the fee to renew license plates has been scrapped which leads people to forget. However, Ontario residents still need to renew their license plates near their birthdays. Failure to renew your license plate could result in a fine between $60 to $1000.
Ontario winters can be unpredictable. Especially right now, with our weather fluctuating between mild and cold temperatures, it’s important to be prepared. The Ontario Government has launched their Winter Readiness Campaign for this year to make sure that Ontario households are ready for anything, from power outages to ice storms. For more information on how you can prepare this winter, go to www.ontario.ca/beprepared.
Queen’s University Cuts
Queen’s, like many universities across Ontario, is facing financial hardships. Between funding cuts from the provincial government over the last five years and difficulty attracting international students (and the tuition revenue they bring), the university’s budget is being stretched thin. Parts of the Arts and Science Faculty is facing streamlining. If we want our post-secondary sector to be healthy and better supporting our society, the government needs to listen to its own Blue-Ribbon Panel’s recommendations. The panel was mandated to give fiscally responsible and affordable recommendations, and under that mandate still recommended a 10% plus inflation bump in per-student funding, as well as unfreezing tuition revenue, while compensating vulnerable students.
International Student Caps
In addition to the ongoing financial difficulties in the post-secondary sector, I’ve also been in communication with some people at St. Lawrence College and Queen’s University about the recently announced international student cap. The number of permits granted to international students in Ontario will be reduced by half, from 240,000 to 120,000. This decision will impact both local institutions and require serious attention from the current provincial government, as international students make up one-sixth of the total enrollment in Ontario’s undergraduate programs. Further discussions will be necessary to determine the way forward.
Primary Care Funding Letter
I recently wrote a letter to the Minister of Health asking about new funding for primary care initiatives in the Kingston region. The Minister replied saying that, “details around funding decisions will be shared with applicants shortly.” I hope the Minister will choose to fund local primary care initiatives of which there are several in our region. I’m thankful to Kingston City Council for spearheading efforts to attract more physicians to the community. Councillors have voted to add $1 million to the city’s 2024 budget for doctor recruitment which I hope will allow more residents to access the primary care they need.
In Our Community
This is a friendly reminder that our office offers many services! Open from 9:00am to 1:00pm, and 2:00pm to 4:00pm, Monday through Friday, we can help with all your Ontario government matters, whether it’s something personal or political, like petitions, advocacy efforts, and more. Our staff are ready to assist you.
Bhavana Varma – Order of Ontario
Congratulations to Bhavana Varma for being one of the twenty-five 2023 Order of Ontario Appointees! Varma is the former president and chief executive of the United Way of Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox, and Addington. As many in our community know, Varma broke down silos to address homelessness and challenges facing youth and worked tirelessly over the years to better our community. This honour is very well-deserved.
The Minister of Long Term Care broke ground on a new long-term care facility in Kingston, a new Providence Manor. The evidence is, especially during the pandemic, that not-for-profit Long Term Care (LTC) facilities, like Providence Manor, had better outcomes than for-profit LTC facilities. I want to extend a special thank you to the Sisters of Providence for their long, long dedication to the service, and for their generous donations to Providence Village and Long-Term Care, affordable housing, and support for the poor. Providence Care will be your healthcare legacy.
This month, I met with the Kingston Symphony to discuss funding for the arts. The Kingston Symphony offers the region a dynamic music scene, and continually proves why arts funding is so important. I will continue to advocate for arts funding for Kingston and Ontario.
Ice Fishing and Snowmobile Safety
Ice fishing is a popular pastime for many Ontarians, but with warmer temperatures, it’s important to take certain precautions. Make sure to check ice thickness, fish with a buddy, stay away from unstable ice, and always let people know where you’re going. Anglers are reminded to review the 2024 Recreational Fishing Regulations Summary.
Ontario Provincial Police are also reminding snowmobilers to stay off Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs Trails. In the past decade, 158 snowmobilers did not make it home. Snowmobile accidents can be preventable: common reasons for accidents include driving too fast for the conditions, alcohol/drug consumption, and riding on unsafe frozen waterways. Stay safe out there!