Now that the dust has settled from the recent provincial election, Lambton-Kent Middlesex MPP Monte McNaughton spoke with The Voice about his appointment as Infrastructure Minister and his government’s plans to keep promises made.
The announcement three weeks after the new government members were sworn in regarding the cancellation of the Otter Creek Wind Farm project north of Wallaceburg was one that made the people fighting hard to stop the project very happy, and McNaughton said he was pleased to be able to spread that news.
“This is ensuring we fulfill every campaign promise that we laid out during the campaign and the decision to cancel the Otter Creek project is one example,” McNaughton said. “The announcement came that our government was cancelling 758 energy projects across the province and shortly after that the whole list came out and Otter Creek was on it. I immediately started calling many of the volunteers of the Wallaceburg and Area Wind Concerns who fought for years to stop that project. There were literally tears of joy from those people.”
The announcement coming so quickly after Premier Doug Ford and his cabinet were sworn in had area residents hopeful the new government will keep its word.
“We hit the ground running. The message is, ‘We made a promise and we’re going to keep that promise,’ and on the Otter Creek project and the other 758, that was a major step in reducing hydro bills by 12 per cent which we committed to in the campaign,” McNaughton noted. “That’s a saving of $800 million; that’s $800 million out of the system from a cost perspective so that’s one of the components to reducing hydro bills.”
The MPP said it’s not just seniors on fixed income and young families it helps, but businesses large and small impacted by hydro rates.
“The fact we’ve lost over 100,000 manufacturing jobs in southwestern Ontario, we need lower hydro bills to make us a better place to do business, and for businesses to grow,” he noted. “I remember back a few years ago being in a small grocery store in Chatham-Kent that the town depends upon, they were paying $10,000 a month in hydro bills.”
Another issue during the campaign was a request from area residents to construct concrete barriers on Highway 401 between Chatham and Tilbury to prevent head-on collisions. When asked about that, McNaughton said he and fellow ministers are currently looking at all the requests.
“It’s certainly a focus. The Minister of Transportation and myself are reviewing all the requests for infrastructure and transportation projects. I know that section of the 401 is a top priority for our government, and the minister will have more to say about that in the time ahead.”
An important issue for residents on wells in the Dover and Chatham townships area is the repeated call for a health hazard investigation into the safety of the water contaminated with black shale that is known to carry toxins such as lead, mercury, uranium and arsenic.
During the campaign, Ford signed a letter to the Water Wells First group, promising to call for a health hazard investigation into the safety of drinking the contaminated well water, which well owners said started after construction began on the two wind farm projects in the area. McNaughton said his government intends to keep its promise.
“Our first step was to cancel the Otter Creek project and that was a promise made, promise kept, and to the people of Chatham-Kent, we are going to keep our promises and in the future, we will be dealing with that issue and the water safety,” McNaughton said. “I certainly have been very vocal about that for a number of years, and there are 20 families that can’t drink water from their well and they are a priority for us.”
McNaughton also was asked by Ford to sit on the Treasury Board so he is part of the Commission of Inquiry into former government spending in a line-by-line audit headed by former B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell.
“The purpose is make public exactly what the state of the finances are in Ontario because there was a discrepancy between the former Wynne government and what the auditor general said – there was a big difference,” McNaughton said. “At the end of August, the Commission of Inquiry is going to report back to the people of Ontario to say exactly where the finances are of the province. I think that’s important to restore trust in the government again and restore accountability for the people.”
After that, he said, will be the task of finding efficiencies and cutting waste and returning to a balanced budget because “we committed that by the next election; Ontario’s books would be balanced.” For some opposition, however, the word “efficiencies” had been translated into cuts.
“Ontario spends about $150 billion a year. I view this task of balancing Ontario’s budget very similar to how people manage their household income or how small businesses manage their finances. Government has to live within their means; they can’t spend more money than they take in,” McNaughton noted.
He said the last auditor general report reviewed 14 government programs and $1 billion was found that could have been saved with zero job losses in the public sector.
“And that was just 14 of thousands of programs. It’s about setting priorities and rooting out waste and respecting people’s money and that’s what we are going to do. Quite frankly, we were given a very substantial mandate to do that and one of the things I heard most was about finding out exactly where the Ontario government’s finances are,” he noted.