Frank Klees

Frankly Speaking

Article published in The Auroran
By Frank Klees, MPP
January 3, 2012

The Year for Positive Headlines ?

As another year comes to a close, we can't help but look back over the past twelve months and remember certain events that affected either our own lives or we saw their impact in the lives of family, friends or colleagues. Many of those events were captured in the headlines of the day.

300,000 Manufacturing Jobs Lost , Stocks Plunge on Revelations of Greek Debt Crisis, Pensions Eroded as Investment Returns Tank,  Health Care System in Crisis, and an endless list of  political and corporate scandals...... the headline writers were never at a loss for attention-grabbing content. It begs the question:

Can 2012 be the year of positive headlines for Ontario?

On the eve of a New Year, I thought I would invite you to join me in imagining an Ontario where these headlines found their way to the front page or were the lead story on the six o'clock news:

Ontario Legislature Reaches All-Party Agreement on Economic Plan

In an historical demonstration of non-partisan cooperation, the three Ontario political parties voted unanimously to support a budget that will restore the province as the economic engine of the country. All three Party Leaders attributed the uncommon solidarity to the fact that for the first time ever, budget consultations were more than the typical road show the public has come to expect. Input from business groups, labour and social service organizations was taken seriously. Their recommendations were incorporated into what critics are calling a "Solomon Budget" that incorporates an aggressive jobs strategy, a sustainable health and social services plan with an emphasis on Ontario's aging population and a conservation- focused environmental strategy. 

A New Era in Labour Relations

Today, the leaders of  Ontario's public service unions joined Ontario's three political Party leaders to announce that they had reached an agreement on a 10 Year Sustainable Public Service Plan. Key elements of the plan include a voluntary freeze on all public wages until the Ontario budget is balanced, and agreement that all future contracts during the 10 years of the plan will be arbitrated based on the province's ability to pay given the prevailing economic conditions. This signals a turning point in labour relations in the province.

Seamless, Reliable Public Transit Guaranteed for the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area 

The provincial government passed legislation today that will make public transit a reliable option for commuters throughout the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. The GTHA Transportation Governance Act ends the fragmented network of regional public transit systems and will require that all transit systems in the GTHA, including the TTC, are operated under a single provincial transit authority by 2014.  Commuters will be able to access the system through a leading edge open payment system using their cell phones,   debit or credit cards. The new legislation also declares the integrated public transit system an essential service, ensuring that the prolonged service disruptions experienced in York Region will not be repeated.

MPPs Empowered by Democratic Renewal Legislation

The role of MPPs will take on new meaning following changes to the procedural orders of the Ontario legislature.

Question Period will be re-named 'Answer Period' where the Speaker will be able to enforce a new Standing Order that requires Ministers to actually answer questions posed by MPPs.

Private Member's Bills will now have to be taken seriously by the government of the day rather than be viewed as an inconvenience to be ignored.  Every Private Member's Bill that has been passed at Second Reading and Committee, must be now be scheduled for a final vote, ending the practice by governments of all political stripes to simply let them die on the Order Paper.

Ontario Legislature Guarantees Children With Autism Equal Education Opportunity

The Equal Opportunity for All Act was passed unanimously today by the Ontario legislature.  The legislation ensures that all children with special needs, including children with autism will receive timely assessments of their ability to learn and will be provided with an education plan that meets their specific needs. Gone are the days when parents have to mortgage their homes so that their children can be taught even basic life skills.

Ontario's Legal System to be Transformed into a Justice System

Sweeping legislation was supported by all three political Parties today that will make access to justice for all Ontarians a reality. The practice of repeated adjournments of cases that runs up the costs of even the most simple of cases will end. Resources will be allocated to the court system to ensure that cases will be heard in a reasonable time-frame and a new accountability framework for lawyers will be put in place under the direction of the Attorney General.

So, what do you think ? Are headlines like these possible in the Ontario of 2012 ?

One of the reasons I continue to do what I do, is that I'm optimistic that headlines like these are actually in the realm of possibility. But after sixteen years in elected office, I've also learned a thing or two about the  limitations we place on ourselves that make it difficult to find the common ground where these things can be achieved. It's a place where partisan and self-interest would have to give way to the public interest.

 Here's hoping that we can do some of that in the year ahead.

I want to thank The Auroran for the opportunity to share the latest news from Queen's Park in this column that has served as a bi-weekly report to my constituents.

I thank my good friend Ron Wallace, who as publisher and editor made these regular columns possible. Perhaps it was because of Ron's own experience in elected office that made him aware of how important it is to stay in touch with the people who elected you that prompted him to make this space available. Or maybe, it was because he could always count on something controversial to roll off this page and he needed some spice to go with his Poor Ronnie editorial. Whatever the reason, I'm thankful for the opportunity and I wish him well as he pursues a well-deserved retirement with his wife Patricia.

I also want to thank the Auroran's new owner, Ray Stanton and editor Brock Weir for the opportunity to continue my Frankly Speaking column in its regular bi-weekly rotation. In today's cluttered news cycles it's a challenge to bring a local perspective to the issues of the day. That's what this column allows me to do, and I'm grateful for that opportunity.

To all, a Merry Christmas and the very best for 2012.