Anyone hoping for a nod from the province about plans to construct the Bradford bypass shouldn’t hold their breath.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who stopped in Newmarket today to speak with Huron Heights Secondary School students about tuition grants announced in this year’s budget, said the conversation about the connecting link between highways 400 and 404 continues, but the provincial government is more focused on getting people on transit to alleviate traffic congestion.
“I know the minister (of transportation) is still having conversations about it,” she said. “Our primary focus is to get that all-day, two-way GO service (between Barrie and Toronto) up and running.”
Earlier this morning, she announced the widening of Hwy. 401 in Mississauga from six to 12 lanes, but pointed out two of those lanes will be high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes to carry on with the public transit and carpooling push.
“Quite frankly, everywhere I go, people want more transit service,” Wynne said. “People want to use transit; they just need it to be more convenient. The times need to be more frequent and it needs to be faster.”
During a one-on-one interview, yorkregion.com also asked about care for the aging population.
Between 2011 and 2031, York Region’s senior citizen population will increase by 148 per cent and there are currently 24,000 seniors on waiting lists for long-term care beds.
Since 2003, the province has only created 700 new beds.
“We do have funding in our new budget for long-term care beds and (Newmarket-Aurora MPP) Chris Ballard has made it clear that as part of the scan across the province in terms of need, York Region needs to be part of that,” she said.
Although a specific date of when those beds will be created hasn’t been determined, the province is beginning to determine which areas are in most need of the beds to determine where to create them.
Recently, Aurora Councillor Tom Mrakas gained support from his fellow council members to lobby the province to make changes to the Ontario Municipal Board to give municipalities more say when it comes to making planning decisions about their own towns and cities.
His motion has gained support from other municipalities across the province.
OMB reform is coming in the near future, Wynne confirmed.
Some changes have already been made, including the definition of the types of cases that can be heard by the board, but more is coming.
“We know there are more changes that are possible,” she said. “At the end of the day, what I am looking for is good decision making at the right level.”
She confirmed the province isn’t interested in abolishing the OMB, but conversations with politicians, residents groups and developers need to be had to make the right changes.
“There are huge advocates of the OMB and then there are huge detractors of the OMB and somewhere in between those two opinions is the right answer,” Wynne said.
Grade 11 and 12 students also got a chance to ask questions when Wynne dropped by the school library to chat with them about the recently announced tuition grants aimed at making post-secondary education more affordable.
One student asked if the $3,000 contribution from the students would determine their eligibility for the grants, ranging from $2,000 to $7,000 per semester for a total of eight semesters.
“Students may contribute, but receiving a grant isn’t contingent on making it,” Wynne replied.
Another asked why the province doesn’t just lower tuition rates instead of giving out these grants, to which Wynne replied the grants are the best option.
“If we lower tuition, there is the worry that institutions will restrict access to programs, which would mean fewer students would be accepted into these programs,” she said. “We want more students to pursue post-secondary education.”
One passionate student questioned why the government is so focused on pushing 16- and 17-year-olds to make a life decision rather than giving them a fifth year of high school to figure it out.
That’s the reason the tuition grants don’t have to be used right after graduating high school, Wynne said.
“The reality is, even with five years of high school, people still change their minds,” she said. “I know 17-year-olds who know what they want to do and I know 30 somethings who haven’t figured it out yet.”
Huron student council president Riley Holloway said she was impressed the premier took the time to visit the school and felt it meant the government wants students voices to be heard.