Thursday, June 21, 2012

No Southwestern Ontario Development Fund ... for now, anyway

The Ontario legislature has adjourned for the summer and the bill that would have created the Southwestern Ontario Development Fund (SWODF) got all the way to third reading debate but no further. [UPDATE: When the MPPs returned early to Queen's Park to prevent a teachers' strike, they also concluded third reading debate on Bill 11 and passed it on August 28.]

Just a few weeks ago, things seemed to be looking pretty good for Bill 11—the Attracting Investment and Creating Jobs Act, 2012 ("Path looks clear for the Southwestern Ontario Development Fund", May 2).

It had made it through committee with the addition of some amendments from the NDP (which they were proud of—London-Fanshawe MPP Teresa Armstrong called it "the first government bill in a generation that has been substantially rewritten in committee"). The governing Liberals and NDP had reached an agreement—or so it seemed—to pass the budget, and that appeared to leave plenty of time for third reading of Bill 11 before the summer adjournment.

It didn't work out that way. The budget ended up going down to the wire and was only passed on Wednesday. Third reading debate on Bill 11 began on May 2 and continued on May 10, but didn't resume until June 11. And then time ran out.

So, for now, there is still no Southwestern Ontario Development Fund, and it's unlikely that any funds will flow in 2012, even if the bill makes it through the legislature in the fall. A corporation would still need to be created to administer the fund and its board of directors appointed, along with an advisory committee—all before funds could be disbursed. The structure and criteria for the fund still need to be determined as well.

Since the bill never passed, we never got to the contentious issue of the geographic boundaries of the fund. You may have seen boundaries reported in several news stories, but those reports were inaccurate. The boundaries were to be part of the regulations, not the bill, and we never got that far.

The government's estimates for the current fiscal year—tabled two months ago—only included payments of $4 million for the proposed $20 million-a-year fund. Apparently, they never expected to be paying out a lot of cash under the SWODF program this year.

In third reading debate, the bill had the support of the Liberals and NDP. The official opposition PCs were opposed, with critic Monte McNaughton (also my MPP) saying it would be spending money the government didn't have and calling the regional development funds "corporate welfare."

Back to it in the fall ...

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