As viewers will know, there isn't as much of a crackle in the air about Bill 2 as there was when the House was called back earlier; there's not much in the way of electricity in the air, maybe because this bill was introduced nearly 10 months ago and we're only now getting around to third reading. Project overrun, I guess; it happens.
It's hard to find skilled tradespeople when they keep leaving the province for opportunity in other jurisdictions. In any event, here we are again debating the healthy homes renovation tax credit, a bill that proposes to allow seniors to claim a refundable tax credit of up to $1,500 for expenses related to permanent modifications to their homes: the kind of changes that would make it easier to live in their place; the kind of changes, if I understand the legislation correctly, that would improve their home without adding value to it; the kind of changes that presumably the next homeowners won't see as a value added; the kind of features they might even pay a contra to remove.
I understand that this kind of behaviour is intended to avoid government subsidizing things like hot tubs, saunas and pools, but the wording still strikes me as a little strange. To recap, Bill 2 would offer a 15% rebate on home renovations up to $10,000. You would still have to pay the HST, of course, and you would have to wait until the tax cycle to recover your credit. But you would be in line to receive anywhere from $1 on a $50 home renovation, to $200 on a $10,000 home renovation.
Like many members on this side of the House, I have my doubts about the number of seniors with a spare $10,000 kicking around to take advantage of an offer like this. In my constituency office, seniors aren't calling up, asking why the government won't make it easier for them to install grip bars in their bathroom; they're coming in and calling around with much more pressing and serious concerns. They often end up at the end of their rope, and when they call up their elected representative, it is because they are at their last resort. These are people who are discouraged, distraught and desperate, people struggling to retain their dignity as they plead for help.
What does Bill 2 do for them? How does it help them live a better life in the house they chose to spend their golden years in? It really doesn't. We're now seeing seniors forced by cruel circumstances into working long into what are supposed to be the retirement years. People joke about Freedom 75, but nobody is really laughing. They're choking back tears and anger.
The vast majority of seniors can't afford a $10,000 renovation, and those that can don't need the modest tax credit that this bill is offering. It's smoke and mirrors. The truth is, really, that most Ontarian seniors are making choices between which bills get paid this month. They're scrambling to pay monstrous hydro bills and struggling to understand why their heating bill has doubled since 2003. They're justifiably shocked to hear about the gold-plated FIT energy rates. They're simply appalled at the $190-million bill for the cancellation of the Mississauga power plant. They are connecting the dots.
They're wrestling with medical expenses and pharmacy costs. If the government really wanted to help Ontario's seniors and had the political will to strap together a $60-million short-term money allocation, we could do much better than Bill 2.
Some three quarters of the seniors in this province see their hydro bills as unaffordable, so I don't quite understand how those same seniors can dig under the couch cushions to find money for a substantial home renovation. Where are you going to find the $10,000 that you have to borrow? Where is the sense in expecting people to borrow $10,000 to foot the cost of a home renovation when those same people can barely pay their bills?
Most people look at Bill 2 and are saddened by the sobering reality that after helping to raise this province to greatness, mind you, they are left in a situation where they are unable to spend $10,000 on their home. They simply don't have that type of disposable income. It boils down to this: Wealthier seniors will do renovations whether we incent them or not. Poor ones have more pressing concerns than walk-in tubs or chair lifts.
This is a very modest, very slender bill that benefits at best a sliver of the population. We've heard about 380,000 people aged 65-plus that this bill is supposedly going to help, but this government's own stats show around 1.89 million Ontarians aged 65 or over, so 80% of seniors are being left out in the cold with this bill.
Bill 2 was the chalk outline of a good intention, so on the whole, I'm not really sure how much merit to attach to it. This is mainly a window-dressing bill for the Liberals. Like the tuition reduction for post-secondary students, it speaks to a personality tic, a well-documented history of picking and choosing small-target demographics for political reasons.
I'm not really sure what the government is up to by bringing it forward, especially the way that it has. This has gone to committee and returned for third reading. Then, rather than promptly put it to a vote, they decide to make it a bit player in the by-election drama. It has been taking up space on the stage here so that the minority government can avoid the business at hand, the responsibility of the minority government of seriously working with the members of this side of the House, using our best ideas to improve this province.
This is another piece of legislation that is constructed not out of caring but out of calculation. It's designed to do a great deal of good for the optics and interests of the Liberals. This isn't about helping seniors live in their homes longer; it is about doing what helps to make the party opposite hold on to that side of the House a while longer.
What I'm hearing from Ontarians is that there is indeed a growing appetite for renovation. We've heard the government say that the program costs for the tax credit would be offset in other areas, and when we hear that the costs for this initiative will be carried by others, what we're hearing is the story of the opportunity costs.
What would we be able to do with our time here as legislators, with our resources as provincial government, if we weren't dealing with this foot-dragging filibuster? What if we actually addressed the kind of pocketbook concerns that have a real, immediate, cumulative and ongoing effect on the health, welfare and quality of life of seniors in Ontario?
What if, instead of the PR-centric Bill 2, this government had sped Bill 4 through committee and back to third reading? If the government considered seniors' concerns to be truly a priority, it could see Bill 4, the HST rebate for home heating, stickhandled through the House and into law by Thanksgiving. They could sort out the committees, sending it back out into the House for third reading, and do some good for Ontario seniors before the sub-zero temperatures set in.
We have already had some cold nights this week, and furnaces will come on again. The radiators will be warming up here at Queen's Park, and the hydro bills in Ontario mailboxes will send chills down spines. Instead, that bill will probably celebrate its first anniversary, its first birthday, stalled out in committee, yet it was introduced the same day as Bill 2.
We should really be debating and approving a plan that would acknowledge the 600,000 men and women who are unemployed in this province and adopt measures that would create the kind of environment in which jobs would flourish, the kind of Ontario where there is work for all who want to work, the kind of Ontario that has opportunities for all Ontarians in an Ontario that delivers on its promises.
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