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Ontario's environment minister talks 'prudent' budget, Lake Simcoe

Barrie-Innisfil MPP also discussed the cost of living, housing targets and emergency planning in omnibus-style one-on-one interview from Queen's Park
Barrie-Innisfil MPP Andrea Khanjin.

Budget talk? You could say that’s Andrea Khanjin’s natural environment.

Calling from Queen’s Park Thursday morning, the Barrie-Innisfil MPP and environment, parks and conservation minister answered questions from InnisfilToday on a number of pressing issues, including the recently tabled provincial budget. Here’s some of what was discussed:

InnisfilToday: Many advocates and Opposition MPPs were calling for funding for the Lake Simcoe watershed in the budget. So, what’s in it to address that issue?

Khanjin: The budget does mention Lake Simcoe a few times. The budget echoes our $50-million investment and partnership with the federal government for the phosphorus treatment plant … Ontario has already invested $24 million toward the plant. Overall, since 2018, our government’s committed $27.3 million (to) Lake Simcoe. Every step of the way, we’ve committed funding. What’s new in the budget for Lake Simcoe, I would say, is a program that’s going to be $3 million over three years for farmers and growers so they could upgrade their technologies for water quality for fruit and vegetable washing.

InnisfilToday: What about road salt entering the watershed?

Khanjin: I’ve already been proactive on that front. When I was the parliamentary assistant for the environment, I did a lot of roundtables and consultation on best-management practices. A few weeks into being the minister, we … announced some more funding for Lake Simcoe projects; a few of them targeted Smart About Salt campaigns with the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority. The money we announced for this year, I announced before the budget — that money was already out the door, and stay tuned; more money is going to be coming … outside of the budget process.

InnisfilToday: Inflation is outpacing income growth for many people. What is in the budget to help those who are struggling right now?

Khanjin: We’re extending our gas and fuel tax cuts till the end of 2024 … Ontarians, on average, will save $320 over two-and-a-half years. We’re not the party that’s ever going to put in a carbon tax. We’ve looked at … the things that could affect every Ontarian equally. This builds on some of the things we’ve done in previous budgets. (And) we’ve looked at the Ontario Guaranteed Annual Income (System) for low-income seniors and we increased that so we have more support for those seniors who really need it. They’re on a fixed income; they can’t just go out and get a third or fourth job.

InnisfilToday: What about an increase in Ontario Works, which hasn’t seen a significant bump in quite a while?

Khanjin: In terms of ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program) and other programs, our approach is we’re putting a lot of investment into training workers. We’re pivoting to giving Ontarians the tools they need to skill up and get a really good paycheque. We’re doing a lot more skills training to set people up for long-term success.

InnisfilToday: We heard a lot about how governments were left scrambling early in the COVID-19 pandemic due to a lack of emergency planning. Is the government doing anything to prepare for the potential of another one down the road?

Khanjin: Our government, even before the budget (was) tabled earlier this week, has been steadfast on an emergency management approach to go over the lessons learned and how we can better prepare the province for any future emergencies.

InnisfilToday: Barrie recently received a big cheque for meeting its housing goals. Innisfil beat Barrie on its targets. Can we expect something soon?

Khanjin: Stay tuned on that. There will be an announcement coming. It’s going to be happening within the next few weeks. Congrats to Innisfil.

InnisfilToday: Is there anything you really wanted to emphasize from the budget?

Khanjin: Our government’s been consistent in every budget — we’re never going to raise taxes and we’re never going to increase fees. Because of our government’s prudent fiscal management, we’ve been able to stay steady and invest in core infrastructure we’re going to have for generations to come. It’s a long-term investment.

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Chris Simon

About the Author: Chris Simon

Chris Simon is an award-winning journalist who has written for publications throughout Simcoe County and York Region. He is the current Editor of BradfordToday and InnisfilToday and has about two decades of experience in the sector
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