Ontario wants more foreign students
TheStar.com – Ontario – Throne speech to unveil ambitious five-year plan to lure foreign students, ‘unleash’ Crown agencies and export expertise in clean-water technology
Published On Mon Mar 08 201. Robert Benzie, Queen’s Park Bureau Chief
Premier Dalton McGuinty wants to transform Ontario into a beacon for foreign students, allow Crown corporations to compete globally, and sell clean-water expertise to a thirsty world.
In a Speech from the Throne on Monday that McGuinty hopes can propel his Liberals to victory in the October 2011 election, the premier will unveil an ambitious agenda for governing – despite a record $24.7 billion budget deficit.
“Open Ontario,” detailed in the speech to be read by Lieutenant-Governor David Onley in the Legislature, is a five-year plan that promises to improve access to colleges and universities for Ontarians by subsidizing them with fees from international students.
“There will be more opportunities to help Ontarians get post-secondary education and also an expanded interest in bringing more foreign students here,” a senior government official said Sunday.
Critics are warning voters to be skeptical of McGuinty’s lofty goals.
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak pointed to “a number of promises he made in his last throne speech (in 2007) that he has still not kept, including hiring more nurses and delivering more health care in Ontario while we’ve seen the number of patients going across the border into the (U.S.) is up some 450 per cent.”
The premier insists he’s serious about changes to education.
“Australia’s third-largest industry is international education – it creates jobs, so why don’t we get serious about competing for international students,” McGuinty said recently.
“We could use the funds this generates to help expand our schools for our kids and create jobs,” McGuinty said. Another Liberal insider said McGuinty hopes “to make Ontario more like Massachusetts and less like Arkansas.”
There is no official date yet for the provincial budget, but it is likely to be March 25.
Open Ontario will also signal a change in public-service delivery by demonstrating Queen’s Park is open to privatization – even though no asset sales will be disclosed Monday.
The government is actively considering the creation a “super corporation” of Ontario Power Generation (OPG), Hydro One, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. (OLG) and the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO).
That publicly held “Ontario Inc.” mega-agency – while still in the discussion stages – would be worth between $50 billion and $60 billion. A minority share of the corporation could then be sold to private investors, reaping as much as $25 billion for the treasury and jolting the economy.
With the threat of such radical change looming, McGuinty in the meantime wants the Crown agencies “unleashed to compete globally,” a source said.
The LCBO, which runs 610 stores in Ontario, could buy liquor retailers in other jurisdictions, OLG might run lotteries overseas, and OPG may operate nuclear or gas-fired power plants around the world.
“We are calling our plan Open Ontario because we understand growing our economy, growing stronger, requires that Ontario be open to change, open to opportunities, open to our new world,” the premier said recently.
As health-care costs continue to rise faster than inflation, McGuinty will also herald a new funding model for hospitals with a “patient-based payment” system expected to save 10 to 20 per cent of the $18 billion a year now going into that sector – or $1.8 billion to $3.6 billion.
Hospitals would be forced to compete for their funding by doing acute care in-patient surgeries and treatments like hip replacements more cheaply than rivals. This would result in “centres of excellence” rather than traditional general hospitals and the savings would come from reduced duplication and better health outcomes.
However, patients would likely have to travel farther and rural hospitals might suffer under this change.
There is an urgency to being creative because the Liberals are saddled with a record $24.7 billion budget deficit and do not want to slash services.
That’s why Open Ontario does not mean reopening lucrative public-sector labour contracts, nor will there be any “Dalton Days,” unpaid furloughs for civil servants.
“This is about the economy, not open season on public servants,” said a senior party member, noting the Liberals have enough battles to fight with the 13 per cent harmonized sales tax that takes effect on July 1.
The business-friendly HST, combined with cuts to corporate and personal income tax rates, is popular on Bay Street, but it remains to be seen how Main Street will respond once consumers start paying higher levies on gasoline, home heating fuels, tobacco, haircuts, legal fees and other professional services.
New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath, deriding the HST and other tax changes as sops to big business, expects the “same old out-of-touch policies that offer no help for people.
“We want to see the government create jobs, protect our health-care system, and make life more affordable and secure for families – not focus on corporate tax giveaways,” she said.
Hudak noted the “HST tax grab was nowhere near his last throne speech, so who knows exactly what Dalton McGuinty will put in his throne speech.
“I don’t think it’s going to be worth the paper it’s printed on based on his track record,” Hudak said on the weekend at the Tories’ annual general meeting in Ottawa.
Buoyed by the success of last year’s Green Energy Act, which could spark 50,000 jobs in the fast-growing clean-energy field, the premier wants Ontario to make a splash in water technology.
The Conference Board of Canada estimates the global water market to be worth $450 billion, growing annually at 15 per cent.
To dive into that pool, a strategy to conserve, manage and protect Ontario’s huge fresh water supply will be announced in the throne speech.
A water sustainability act will be introduced this spring and – with the 10th anniversary in May of the 2000 Walkerton tainted-water tragedy that killed seven people and left thousands ill – the Liberals plan to create jobs by repairing the province’s aging pipe infrastructure.
With files from Rob Ferguson
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