Hydro One, Catholic school funding most popular online Ontario budget ideas

Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa, pictured January 23, 2015, is encouraging people to submit ideas for the upcoming budget.
Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa, pictured January 23, 2015, is encouraging people to submit ideas for the upcoming budget. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

TORONTO – Ontario’s finance minister is encouraging people to submit ideas for the upcoming budget – he just won’t consider the most popular ones.

The ministry launched its “Budget Talks” website last month as a venue for people who can’t attend the in-person, pre-budget consultations that began Tuesday to send in their ideas and vote on the submissions.

The online consultation goes until the end of the month, but so far the most popular ideas are to either merge the public and Catholic school boards or to stop funding the Catholic system entirely, and to stop the province’s partial sale of Hydro One.

The Liberal government has staunchly defended the sale of 60 per cent of the utility as a way to generate money for infrastructure and Finance Minister Charles Sousa repeated those lines Tuesday before holding the first in-person consultation.

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On Catholic schools: “that debate has been had.”

Sousa said he is hearing that people want the government to invest in infrastructure and lessen gridlock.

But the highest infrastructure-related idea online so far is the 17th most popular idea, behind four separate Catholic school board-related pitches and two pleas for lower hydro rates.

The most popular idea is to amalgamate the public and Catholic school boards to save money. The poster wrote that, ideally, the government would stop funding Catholic education as “religious education should be private,” but conceded that’s probably a long shot.

“I assumed (maybe incorrectly) that getting rid of the Catholic school board would be a much longer, complicated process than merging,” the poster wrote. “I would much rather something be done than nothing at all.”

Approximately 900 ideas have been submitted and dozens mention eliminating Catholic school funding and lowering hydro bills, as well as general pleas to cut spending.

Sousa said Tuesday he encourages Ontarians to make submissions on the website, “no matter how you feel that they are far-fetched.”

“It’s important for us to look at what those ideas may be and how we could implement some of them,” Sousa said.

Some of the least popular ideas include: mandatory marriage classes, subsidized domestic air travel and a tax credit for sex toys.

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There are clearly far-fetched ideas, such as defunding police services, giving loans to all students – not just ones who can demonstrate financial need, eliminate voice mail and landlines, a mandatory six-hour work day, having Toronto separate from the province, dissolving the Ontario government, and mandating that all elected officials wear name tags when out in public.

Calls for Premier Kathleen Wynne to go are in many of the submissions. One demands simply: “Fire Wynne.”

Others shared the sentiment but were not quite as confident: “Kathleen Wynne needs to Resign?”

The vast majority of the submissions are clearly made in earnest, no matter how seemingly “far-fetched,” but at least one was clearly a joke.

“Hire Donald Trump as Ontario’s diversity officer,” wrote someone with the username Funbostings.

“His experience will make Ontario great again!”