by Jennifer Bieman, St Thomas Times- Journal
What happens in Queen’s Park doesn’t stay in Queen’s Park. And with the 2015 Ontario provincial budget tabled on Thursday, it’s got St. Thomas and Elgin County residents asking “what’s in it for me?”
And if you ask Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek, he’d say ‘not much’.
“There’s quite a bit of re-announcements in this budget, there’s nothing that’s really new that hasn’t been announced in the last few months or actually previous years,” said Yurek.
Thursday’s budget has struck a sour note with the two-term Progressive Conservative MPP, who was hoping it would address two key issues for his constituents – energy prices and healthcare.
“The main concern I am taking out of this budget that affects everyone in Elgin-St. Thomas is there’s no plan to deal with our rising energy rates,” stressed Yurek, who noted prices would be increasing for peak times on May 1.
“The way the government is heading with regards to the energy sector, our rates are only going to continue to increase,” he said.
Yurek also identified healthcare funding as a major concern in this year’s provincial budget.
“The amount of spending on healthcare has only increased 1.9%, whereas our spending on interest on our debt has gone up 5.7%. So money that used to go to healthcare has now gone to servicing the debt,” he pointed out.
Among many other policy initiatives, the budget outlined a $130 billion infrastructure spending plan for the next decade.
St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital’s Emergency, Ambulatory and Mental Health Redevelopment Project was named in the budget as one of the funding beneficiaries.
The hospital redevelopment project has been approved for nearly two years and is now in the tendering process, according to Paul Collins, president and CEO of STEGH.
“We’ll be putting a shovel in the ground probably by November,” he said.
Though Collins recognizes the nominal increase in healthcare spending in the 2015 budget is challenging for hospital administrators, he applauds the government’s investment in primary care programs like homecare and community care access centres.
“It’s important as healthcare is evolving that we recognize that there can be much more done in the homecare sector to keep people out of hospitals in the first place,” he said.