We may live in a democracy, but when it comes to the nitty-gritty of government policy, it’s rare for citizens to vote on how they’d like to see things change.
But for the 2016 provincial budget, which is being tabled on Thursday, the government asked Ontarians to chime in about what they’d like to see addressed. In a Reddit-style consultation, citizens were invited to submit suggestions and could also upvote, downvote or comment on the suggestions of others.
The response wasn’t overwhelming — in total, people submitted 1,732 ideas — but it generated lots of discussion. Here are the top four subjects on Ontarians’ budget wish list, and the heated commentary they generated:
Amalgamate the Catholic and public school boards
“Time and time research and reports have shown that amalgamation of the school boards seeks to save a couple of billion dollars in costs. It's time for a change and to create a more efficient school board system,” said the most controversial suggestion, by far.
More than 1,600 people voted on the idea — 548 in favour, 1,055 against — and 1,363 people left comments.
“Agree. We can't claim to be a secular democracy if we continue to fund religious education with public money,” wrote one commenter.
“I work in a Catholic school and the majority of our students are NON-Catholic. We have Anglican, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Christian and other faiths that are welcome here and that have gladly chosen this school because of the element of faith and Christian values that are a part of our school culture,” wrote another.
The debate sparked a heated argument over the fairness of the current funding system. Some believed that defunding Catholic schools would save the province billions, while others asserted funding is based on a per-student basis.
“The Government of Ontario must fully fund the demand for medical care in Ontario to meet the needs of our growing and aging population,” one respondent wrote. The suggestion generated 69 comments, 566 votes in favour and 53 votes against.
While the writer lamented cuts to physicians’ services, others responded that perhaps the government could fund the growing health needs of an aging population by introducing small copays.
“A great idea!!! Even something like $2 to 5$ would make a lot of people think twice about useless consultations. Given the fact that 30% of the population accounts for 90% of all health care spending...” wrote one commenter
Stop the sale of Hydro One
“Do not sell any part of Hydro One,” wrote one person.
“Simple idea...Premier Wynne did NOT run on the idea of selling off a majority of Hydro One, so it was not part of her mandate.”
Unsurprisingly, given opinion polls, the pitch was quite popular.
“Please explain to me why we are selling this valuable part of our Canadian infrastructure. If the Ombudsman's report makes strong recommendations to address issues of mismanagement then why don't you do that?!!?” wrote one commenter.
“This is the most important one. Ontarians have the most to lose right here with Hydro one! The ombudsman report. We need better answers as-well!” said another.
Taxes and spending were high on people’s priority lists.
“How do you justify raising our hydro rates and over-charging the people of Ontario $37 billion for hydro over 8 years, tolling our roads that our taxes are supposed to pay for, raising land transfer and death taxes and selling our hydro off to pay down debt,” wrote one commenter. “Then travelling to California, and then China, then Paris and India in the New Year.”
Another person wrote:
“All this talk about making Ontario stronger. If you want a stronger Ontario, stop stealing from us, put more money in peoples pockets instead of taxing and overcharging the hell out of everything we need to live. When people have money, they spend it on products and services which in turn flows to the government in taxes.”