Building a Strong Ontario

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March 31, 2023 Building a Strong Ontario
Date of Publication
31 Mar 2023
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March 2023
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March 31, 2023

The Empire Club of Canada Presents

Building a Strong Ontario

Chairman: Sal Rabbani, President, Board of Directors, Empire Club of Canada

Distinguished Guest Speakers
James Scongack, Chief Development Officer & Executive Vice-President, Operational Services, Bruce Power
The Honourable Peter Bethlenfalvy, Minister of Finance of Ontario
David Lebeter, President & CEO, Hydro One

Head Table Guests
Paula Cruickshank, Senior Vice-President, Ontario, BDC
Joanne De Laurentiis, Chair, Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Ontario
Jenna Donelson, 3rd Vice-President, Empire Club of Canada
Jake Lawrence, CEO & Group Head, Global Banking and Markets, Scotiabank
Paul Lehmann, Head, Enterprise Public Affairs and Communications, BMO Financial Group
Victoria Mancinelli, Director, Public Relations, Marketing, Strategic Partnerships, LiUNA
Paschal McCloskey
Sal Rabbani, President of the Board of Directors, Empire Club of Canada

It is a great honour for me to be here at the Empire Club of Canada today, which is arguably the most famous and historically relevant speaker’s podium to have ever existed in Canada. It has offered its podium to such international luminaries as Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan, Audrey Hepburn, the Dalai Lama, Indira Gandhi, and closer to home, from Pierre Trudeau to Justin Trudeau; literally generations of our great nation's leaders, alongside with those of the world's top international diplomats, heads of state, and business and thought leaders.

It is a real honour and distinct privilege to be invited to speak to the Empire Club of Canada, which has been welcoming international diplomats, leaders in business, and in science, and in politics. When they stand at that podium, they speak not only to the entire country, but they can speak to the entire world.

Welcome Address by Sal Rabbani, President, Board of Directors, Empire Club of Canada
Welcome to the 119th season of the Empire Club of Canada. To our in-person attendees joining us at the Arcadian court in Toronto, I'm delighted to be here with you today; and to our virtual audience joining in live or on demand, thank you for your participation and support. The Empire Club has been a leading voice in Canada's public discourse for over a century; providing a platform for some of the most influential thinkers, leaders, and innovators, to share their ideas and insights. Because of your commitment to fostering dialogue and promoting intellectual discourse on issues that matter to Canadians, the club has been at the forefront of shaping public opinion and positively influencing our institutions. Welcome. My name is Sal Rabbani, and I'm the President of the Board of Directors of the Empire Club of Canada.

To formally begin this afternoon, I want to acknowledge that we're gathering on the traditional and treaty lands of the Mississaugas of the Credit, and the homelands of the Anishinaabe, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wyandot Peoples. We encourage everyone to learn more about the traditional territory on which you work and live.

This season, the Empire Club strives to bring you divergent and thought-provoking perspectives on politics, healthcare, technology, business, arts, and culture. Today, we have the honour of hearing from Ontario's Minister of Finance, who will share with us his vision for the future of Ontario, insights on current fiscal situation, and strategies for building a prosperous and equitable province. As we know, the provincial budget plays a crucial role in shaping Ontario's social, economic, and cultural fabric. It is a vital tool that helps us navigate the challenges and opportunities of our times. I encourage you to engage actively in today's discussion and share your perspectives. Let's take advantage of this opportunity to learn from one another and build strong connections that will serve us well in the future.

Turning to today's program, I want to recognize the Empire Club’s distinguished past Presidents, Board of Directors, staff, and volunteers. Thank you for making this event a success. We also have several special guests in attendance. And I'd like to acknowledge the Honourable Stan Cho, Associate Minister of Transportation for the Government of Ontario; the Honourable George Pirie, Minister of Mines for the Government of Ontario; the Honourable Prabmeet Singh Sarkaria, President of the Treasury Board; and Bonnie Crombie, Mayor of Mississauga.

The Empire Club of Canada is a not-for-profit organization, and we'd like to recognize our sponsors who generously support the club and make these events possible and complementary for our online viewers to attend. Thank you to our lead event sponsors, Bruce Power and Hydro One; thank you to our VIP reception sponsor, LiUNA; and thank you to our supporting sponsors, BMO, Colleges of Ontario, Enbridge, Fidelity Investments, FP Canada, the Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario, Mortgage Professionals Canada, the Ontario Real Estate Association, and Primerica. Thank you, also, to our season sponsors, Bruce Power, Hydro One, and TELUS.

For those joining us online, if you require technical assistance, please start a conversation with our team using the chat button on the right-hand side of your screen. We're accepting questions from the audience for our speakers. And you can undertake to scan that QR code, for those of you in the room, and submit your questions there. And online, there's a Q&A under the video player.

It is now my pleasure to invite James Scongack, Chief Development Officer and Executive Vice-President, Operational Services at Bruce Power, to introduce to our guest speakers. James, welcome. Twice in a week.

Introduction by James Scongack, Chief Development Officer & Executive Vice-President, Operational Services, Bruce Power
Thanks very much. So, when the Empire Club invited me to introduce the minister, they said as the sponsor, you can say whatever you want, so, I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. Look, everybody in the room here, you know the minister, you know his background. So, what I thought I'd do today is flag the three things that I think are most impressive about the Ontario budget, as items that we're certainly proud of in our organization, and I'm sure the minister is proud as well.

The first thing is, is that we're here in Toronto and able to celebrate no smog days in Southern Ontario, and clean, reliable, and affordable electricity. We can't build an economy without that energy and my friend David from Hydro One. The budget was all about continuing to support our nuclear fleet, a reliable transmission system, a clean electricity system. And that's really important to Ontario; you can't build an economy without a strong foundation. So, thank you, Minister, for the continued support of our nuclear industry and our broader electricity sector.

The second—absolutely let's give that a round of applause. You know, when I was in grade 10, it was the time when I did my, had my first course in high school about—I can’t remember what, but it was in business. And one of the first projects you have to do in grade 10 is you have to go put together a budget. And my daughter, she's many years off grade 10—God, she's, you know, sounds like she's a teenager now; she still has a number of years to go—but when you look at that first-year class in high school, putting a budget together, the rule of a budget is your revenue has to equal your expenditures. Does that not sound very basic? We know there are circumstances where we can't do that, so I'm not—whether it's a pandemic or recession, we get that—but we are on track for a balanced budget in Ontario. And that's something we don't talk about enough, and we need to. So, that's second highlight of the budget for me is we're on track to have a balanced budget; revenue equals expenditures.

And the third area is—we have our friends from LiUNA sponsoring here, but you know—one of the things that's great about my job every day at Bruce Power, I have the privilege of working and leading our Bruce B Nuclear Generating Station every day. And every day I go into the plant, and I always say, it's not the equipment that runs the plant, it's the people. It's our nuclear operators, it's our folks that wear hard hats every day—many of them have LiUNA stickers on them—Power Workers Union, they build our infrastructure, they run our plants. We can't do anything that's in the budget without those people. And so, the investment and training to not only get this work done, but get this work done safely. When we're building infrastructure, making sure workers health and safety is protected, but having enough workers to realize the promise of Ontario is so important.

So, Minister, those are my three favorite highlights about the budget: energy, it's balanced, and we're investing in people. So, with that, I'd like to welcome to the podium Ontario's Minister of Finance, the Honourable Peter Bethlenfalvy. Minister.

The Honourable Peter Bethlenfalvy, Minister of Finance of Ontario
Hey, James, that was awesome, that was really awesome. And listen, I can't believe—they told me no one goes to work on Fridays. I think you folks proved them wrong. You know, thank you for being here. And I love that story, those three things, and particularly, your daughter. What a great, great story. And you know—but one thing, a lot has changed in the last year. You know, the world, to be frank, is a more unsettled place. And I do want to, before I actually get going, I do want to acknowledge my colleagues. The minister who is actually—I came up from New York in 2008, I lived there for almost 20 years. And you know, I had my Metro Pass, and I could go anywhere in the Tri-State area with my Metro Pass. And I come to Toronto, and you gotta put in a little token, that's how you get around is a token. The guy who's integrating fares in the GTA, Stan Cho; and I know Stanley's going to get it done, for sure. But I also want to acknowledge my great colleague George Pirie, who is leading the charge to build the Ring of Fire and get critical minerals out of the ground, George Pirie. I think I saw—did I see my, the Deputy Minister of Finance here? Are you here? Greg Orencsak, the great Deputy Minister of Finance. Say hello, Greg. Folks, you have to understand, he's the guy who tells me, “Minister, revenues minus expenditures,” so, it continues on past grade school, James. I also want to acknowledge some other people. Steve Orsini, you're here—I always give you a shout out—former Secretary of Cabinet, Steve Orsini. You know, those two gentlemen, great public servants. Gadi Mayman from the OFA, you probably didn't think I was going to give you a shout out, the Ontario Financing Authority. I do want to also acknowledge Bonnie Crombie. Where are you, Bonnie? There you are, wearing blue. You know, we were doing a press conference two days ago and she had a nice blue suit on, and I thought, that looks great, except I was wearing a red tie. Go figure. And I also had to acknowledge my former colleague, the great Finance Minister, Rod Phillips, who's here today. A great friend who's given his career to helping people, so, great to see you, Rod.

Now, I started saying that this world is an unsettled place. Ontario, like most of the world, continues to face ongoing economic uncertainty. And our province is not immune from these global forces, including geopolitical attention provoked by the Russian aggression against Ukraine, the reopening of China's economy, the energy transition, and policies such as the United States Inflation Reduction Act. You know, these supply chains have become disrupted after years of COVID—or strained—families and workers are feeling the pinch every day, the pinch of inflation on their wallets. And today we announced the, another increase, over 16 dollars, now, for the minimum wage, because we're here for everybody.

And at the same time, Ontario's population is growing. Over 440,000 people came to this province just last year. We now have, on average, about 275,000 people coming to this province every single year. And folks, this is good news. But it also means we have to build the infrastructure, the economy, and build our communities to support that growth. Now, while much has changed in the world, economic circumstances of the past year have confirmed our plan was, and continues to be, I believe, the right one.

Last week, it was my honour to introduce Ontario's 2023 budget, Building a Strong Ontario. It's a plan to build a strong economy now and for the future, by attracting investments and good-paying jobs. It's a plan to build highways, it's a plan to build roads, to build transit, to build hospitals, to build schools. It's a plan to train workers for better jobs—and, yes, bigger paychecks. It's a plan to build a strong healthcare system that connects people to the right care, when and where you need it the most. It's a plan to make life more affordable and protect you and your family. And while returning Ontario to a balanced budget, we're doing all this by returning and including returning Ontario—as James mentioned—to a balanced budget. Right, deputy? Revenues and expenditures, got to get that right.

And folks, this is three years earlier than projected in the 2022 budget, thanks to robust revenue growth, prudence, disciplined planning, and clear priorities. In 2023, we plan to reduce the deficit to 1.3 billion dollars, and by next year, we will return Ontario to the black with a surplus of 200 million dollars. I feel like the hand of Jim Flaherty and Michael Wilson are patting me on the back right now.

A return to balanced budgets would not have happened, frankly, under the Liberals or the NDP. But it is happening under our government, it is happening under our premier. Imagine the consequences if another party was in power and they chose a different path, a more reckless path, the path that didn't lead to a balanced budget—first of all, we'd fail James's daughter’s exam, that would be the start—the path would rack up more deficits and more debt, and it wouldn't include a plan to pay the bills. And the result would be higher taxes, a lower quality of life, less productivity, fewer jobs, and a weaker economy. That is the legacy of governments that don't balance the budget. So, we have chosen a different path. The responsible and targeted approach we are taking to balance the budget means that future generations, our children, and our grandchildren, will inherit a strong Ontario. So, we're creating a province that is building a healthy balance sheet, while at the same time building a strong Ontario for future generations. And they will continue to help us invest in stronger communities, social services, health and education, all while building a world-class economy.

And our work to build that Ontario has just started. Just look at the North. The Ring of Fire is one of the most promising mineral deposits in the world, where you can find the critical minerals that are essential to electric vehicles and other clean tech. Reducing our dependency on unstable or unfriendly foreign regimes is critical. Our government is continuing to make progress on building the All-Seasons Road to the Ring of Fire, and we are developing a comprehensive approach to accelerate the safe development of mines in the North, and we have committed one billion dollars to unlock those critical minerals. But getting the minerals out of the ground is only part of the plan. We are connecting these critical minerals to our world, to classic, classy manufacturing, which is the heart of our economy in Southern Ontario.

Now, folks, some of you may have heard my budget speech, so, bear with me. But if you haven't—or even if you have, pretend that you haven't—I'm gonna take you on a little road trip. So, if you will, imagine if we had it out back, and we jumped into a car, perhaps an electric vehicle—and in a few years, that'll be the only choice, an electric vehicle, or an electric vehicle—and you know what we do? We'd hop on the DVP—we'd be stuck in traffic for a little bit, I acknowledge that—and we'd be heading north to hit the 401. And then we’d go eastbound, which we have, when we hit Pickering, we have a plan to start widening the 401, starting at Brock Road. And when we drive into Durham Region, we'll maybe pick up a coffee in the great City of Pickering—happens to be my riding, just in case you didn’t know that—but we’d keep going. We’d keep going to Oshawa, which is benefiting from part of GM's more than two billion dollars of investment and bringing back 1800 jobs. Now, think about that for a second. GM once had thousands of jobs at the plant, and it went to zero, it got all the way to zero. Now, jobs are coming back to Oshawa, and they're coming back to all of Ontario.

We might then double back a little bit. We’d turn north, on the toll-free Highway 412—I'm gonna say that again, the toll-free Highway 412, anyone who lives in Durham gets how important that is—and we're going to hop on Highway 7. And we're going to take a trip to Richmond Hill, where Tesla is manufacturing the equipment to help make the batteries of the future.

Now, we're going to keep going on this road trip. Our next stop is Brampton. And today, we'll make our way towards the 410, but soon, we'll be able to cut across on the new Highway 413, to where Magna is opening a 265-million-dollar EV battery facility in Brampton as part of their 471-million-dollar investment in Ontario.

But wait, there's more. We're going to continue down the 403 and pass through Oakville, where Ford is making a 1.8-billion-dollar investment to produce electric vehicles. But let's keep going. We're gonna, we're gonna drive west on Highway 8, and then connect up back on the 401 until we get to Woodstock, where Toyota has invested 1.4 billion dollars to make vehicles, including hybrids.

And hear me out, we're going to keep going west on the 401. We're going to keep going, we're going to hit Ingersoll, where GM has built Canada's first full-scale EV manufacturing plant. And we'd cap off an amazing road trip in Windsor, where Stellantis and LG Energy Solutions are investing more than five billion—did you hear that—five billion dollars, to build Ontario's first ever large-scale EV battery manufacturing plant, with 2500 new jobs. And guess what, folks? We're not done yet. We're not there yet. We're going to, on our way back to Toronto, we're going to take a little detour to a town called St. Thomas, the future home of Volkswagen's first-ever overseas battery cell plant, a trip—yep, I heard one clap. You know, I'm so excited. I don't drink coffee anymore. And that trip is so exciting, I'll tell you, you wouldn't ask me once if we were there yet. Well, I'll tell you folks, we can all agree, Ontario’s now the heartland of Canada's electric vehicle revolution. And we're not stopping.

We must continue to find ways to boost Ontario's competitiveness and bring back manufacturing to the province. This is why our government is working with partners to have shovel-ready industrial sites available for new manufacturing projects and to help the supply chain. Last week, we introduced the Ontario-Made Investment Tax Credit, a 10 percent tax credit to help more Canadian-controlled private corporations expand, innovate, and become more competitive—and yes, create more jobs and bigger paychecks.

To build a strong economy, though, we need the infrastructure to support it. And it's no secret that Ontario inherited a significant infrastructure deficit. That is why we're continuing to deliver on the most ambitious capital plan in Ontario's history, and I think, one of the most ambitious infrastructure plans in all of North America. We are building new highways, new roads, new subways, we're building new hospitals, new long-term care homes, new schools, and new childcare spaces, and renovating all other types of infrastructure across this great province.

But folks, you know, what you need to build all that infrastructure? Anyone know? You need workers. We need workers, we need construction workers, we need healthcare workers, we need skilled trades, and so much more. Our government continues to invest in the skilled trades, and through the Skills Development Fund, we are training workers with the skills they need so they can have stable careers in the skilled trades. We have retrained almost 400,000 workers through the fund for the jobs of tomorrow. 400,000. I met one, Courtney, who was a bartender; and the bar was, the restaurant was shut down during COVID. She got retrained through the Skills Development Fund to become a steam pipefitter, and now she's got a good paying job, a bigger paycheck, and is helping to build Ontario.

We're working with private sector unions—and when was the last time you heard conservatives said, we're working with unions? Folks, we are working with unions and other partners to upgrade training facilities, so that workers can get the best possible training from the experts on the ground. And our government will continue to work with labour unions, business groups, and colleges and universities, right across this province.

We're doing all of this through a responsible, targeted approach. An approach that is delivering on our plan to build. An approach that is supporting families, and workers, and businesses. An approach that includes a clear path to balance the budget next year. And while I see a brighter future in front of us, success is neither automatic nor guaranteed. We all have, we all have to work for it. We have to be willing to do the hard work. But folks, I think this is the plan. It's the right plan, we have the right premier, we have the right team, and most of all, we have the best people in the world right here in Ontario. Together, we are building a strong Ontario that we can all be proud of, not only for today, but for future generations. Thank you very much.

Sal Rabbani
That was excellent, thank you. We'll kick it off with a quick conversation. Minister, you said yourself that these are rather uncertain and turbulent times, we're seeing heightened geopolitical tensions, economic uncertainty. So, in the face of these things, and, you know, that are beyond kind of our borders. What makes you so confident that your 2023 budget is the right approach for the province?

The Hon. Peter Bethlenfalvy
Well, you know, I just think the people of Ontario. I just came from a funeral for Helen Vari. And I think, you know, she and her husband George, they came to this country with absolutely nothing in their pockets. My parents, also, from World War Two, came to this country with absolutely nothing in their pockets. They actually gave you five dollars when you landed in Montreal through Halifax, and many people went through Montreal and went to different places. Five bucks. And Helen and her husband George, they built a construction empire in five continents. You know, they then were successful, they gave back to universities, to colleges, to our veterans. They did so many, so many things. They were visionary, they were leaders, they were builders, they were philanthropists. But you know what they said they said? They always said, we came to Canada with nothing, and Canada gave us everything.

So, why I think that our plan is the right plan is because it's relying on the great people that we have in this province; people that have been here for a long time, people that want to come here. We're an oasis of stability and freedom in this province, in this country. And so, it's, so I think our plan—which I highlighted, again, in my remarks and in the budget—I just think it's, ultimately, it's the workers, it's the, the people, it's the families, it's the community that builds Ontario. So, that's why I have so much confidence.

Sal Rabbani
Thank you. We've seen a lot of success here in Ontario on some landmark investments—and you referenced it, the Volkswagen’s first overseas battery cell plant, you know. But we look at the horizon, some of the economic forecasters are predicting a bit of a slowdown. So, you know, what are you doing to kind of prepare for that possibility, and what do you see as the biggest economic challenges for Ontario?

The Hon. Peter Bethlenfalvy
By the way, did you like my road trip?

Sal Rabbani
Yeah. It was fantastic.

The Hon. Peter Bethlenfalvy
I didn't see you saying, are we there yet? You know. And we're not there yet, we're going to keep going. You know, I think some of—yeah, they're, there’s stormy seas out there. So, I think that's why it's so important to always have a plan, you know. Look, last year, when I tabled the budget last year, that's the plan that we went to the electorate on. And we said, here's our campaign platform: it's a budget—I think it was 246 pages—that's transparency. That's telling people this is, if you elect us, this is what we'll do. And that plan was a plan to rebuild our economy after COVID, to build that infrastructure, to accommodate the growth in our population, and catch up for lack of investment in the past. But it's also planned to invest in people and workers in this province.

We got elected—by the way, we got a bigger majority. And I don't know if you know this, the last premier to actually get a bigger majority the second time—there’s some premiers that got a second majority but fewer seats—first one since Howard Ferguson in 1929; that's how hard it is to get a bigger majority. But we got a bigger majority. That validated, I think, to keep going on that plan. And I think our plan now, every time I'm out there, I'm out there for the fall economic statement, and then the budget, and every quarter. And by the way, think about that, you know—I do want to digress for a second. The previous government—and you know, I admire anyone who does public service, but—one thing they didn't do is they didn't go out every 90 days and tell the people of Ontario how they're doing with their money. Now, just imagine, if you’re a bank, you didn't go out and tell your shareholders what you were doing with their money every quarter, and how you were doing. I believe that we have to continue to be transparent and accountable to the people of Ontario on how we're doing on that plan.

I'll also say one other thing. I've built in prudence and contingencies in every budget, every year, as did Rod before me, as did Vic Fedeli before me. We wouldn't be doing our jobs as finance ministers if we didn't have some prudence built in, some contingencies built in. Because we don't know what's around the corner. And let me take you back to March of 2020, when the premier asked us to spare no expense. And I'm glad I wasn't the guy who said, “sorry. Premier, we have no contingencies, we don't have any reserves,” because he wanted to spare no expense through COVID. So, these times are uncertain. I think we can balance the budget, clearly—which is a priority for us—invest in Ontario, and also have some prudence built in so that we can tackle any uncertainties that will face us. And I'm very confident, and I feel optimistic that regardless of what the world throws our way, Ontario will prosper.

Sal Rabbani
Thank you. We're on this theme of plans. You know, you've got really ambitious capital plans, and infrastructure has been a real focal point for you. But the current skilled labour shortage is kind of keeping everyone up at night and making it difficult for construction. We’ve spent time with Victoria as well. You know, I heard from Joseph Mancinelli on Monday, “we’ve put 25,000 people to work.” What are you doing to kind of address the kind of labour shortages the government?

The Hon. Peter Bethlenfalvy
Yeah, the labour shortage, folks, is I think our number one challenge. Not just here in Ontario, but any developed country in the world where you've got an aging population. We've got so many skilled trades that are retiring, you know, from crane operators, to glazers, to welders. And we can't build this province if—we can have a plan. But if we don't have those workers—and LiUNA has been fantastic, I mean, they've shown such great leadership and been such great partners—again, unions, working hand-in-hand with government, working hand-in-hand with the private sector. You know, that's a model we've seen in Germany and other places around the world.

You know, we are doing things like the Skills Development Fund that I mentioned, you know. Giving people, working with the unions in the training centres, to actually give them the skills, the glazers, the painters, the welders, the boilermakers—I think about 140-odd skilled trades. We're also starting very young; we're giving our kids a shot in high school. If they want to be a skilled trade, destigmatize it. But not only that now, in grade 11 and 12, you can leave high school. Leave high school and go into an apprenticeship program. And if you finish that program, not only do you have a great job waiting for you that pays well, that uses technology, that helps build Ontario, but you get your high school degree. That's never been done before. That's just an example.

Sal Rabbani
Absolutely. Touch on the fall economic update. And Ontario's deficit is projected to be a lot lower, and you're planning to balance the budget three years earlier. So, how did you manage to do this, do you mind sharing?

The Hon. Peter Bethlenfalvy
Well, someone taught me a long time ago that you've got to look at your revenues and your expenditures. Look, I grew up in Montréal and I moved to Toronto, and I moved to, my family moved to Etobicoke. And I went up and volunteered to support someone’s campaign in the 80s in Etobicoke Centre. And it just happened to be Michael Wilson. And he took me on and said, “yeah, I could do some help.” And so, I volunteered, knocked on doors, and you know, I learned very early on the importance of having a plan, having integrity, and following that plan. And you know, I believe that it's so important.

Our legacy, you know, our children, our grandchildren, they're relying on us to get it right, right now. Climate change is real. You know, governments sometimes have the instinct to kick the can down the road and let someone else worry about this aging population, and worry about the lack of infrastructure, and worry about not having enough workers. I think it's our obligation today to do the things, which includes being financially responsible. Because if you kick a lot of debt down the road, if you kick these chronic deficits—we've had 20 years, I think we only had a surplus two times in the last 20 years, and I did one of them. And I'm about to do two more, if we can hit our numbers. I think this is really important.

Climate change—that's not the question but let me tell you about this. So, I was with the premier yesterday, and we did a press conference. And you know, we get asked questions about climate change all the time, “what are you doing for climate change?” Folks, we're doing, I think we're hitting the ball out of the park in terms of climate change. And let me just explain that a little bit. You know, James talked about nuclear. When I was in Germany just a few months ago, they are obviously, their gas supplies from Russia are being cut off, right? And we've got a little bit of gas. And they say, “we'll take any gas you have.” And we have a tiny little bit of gas, and we're on our way to having zero gas, and all carbon-free—Ontario's footprint is now over 90 percent carbon-free electricity grid. And the Germans look at us and go, “man, that's good.” And because, you know, what they have to do to fire up to the electricity in Germany, they have to fire up coal. And you go to Japan; great network, great manufacturing, great transit system, 24 percent coal. You go down into the States; a number of states, their number one energy source? Coal. Zero here.

Not only that, but we're converting in the private sector—in partnership with the federal government and private sector—converting steel furnaces from coal-fired to electricity at Dofasco in Hamilton, and Algoma Steel in Sault Ste. Marie. We've issued 15 billion dollars—right, Prabmeet?—15 billion dollars of green bonds. We're updating our sustainability framework. And by the way, those green bonds, we get a pricing concession; they're actually, we get a break on the rate because people want green bonds. We've done 15 billion, 28 projects. No other province, if you added up all the other provinces—and Canada, by the way, we're way, way out of the gate before them, they've only started—we've done 28 green projects. And by the way, we have more green—every time you do a transit plan, you know, build subways, take cars off the road, you can fund that with green bonds.

So, I'll put up Ontario against any jurisdiction in North America. We've got a clean grid; we're investing with the private sector to make their grid a little bit cleaner. And guess why, Volkswagen, part of the reason they came here was because of the environmental social governance model that Ontario has. They came here because of workers, our great education system, our great quality of life, the supply chain, the access to the US market, but they came here, also, because our climate change focus. And by the way, yesterday—was it yesterday? —it was two days ago, did a press conference with Todd Smith. We’d just announced the budget—and I'm sure no one’s, you know, following it as closely as I am, I can guarantee you that—a clean energy registry. Which is allowing now companies to go into that registry, get credits in those—we'll get revenue out of that, we're going to have a Clean Energy Fund—and be able to tell their shareholders around the world, look at how we're producing our manufacturing in Ontario with clean energy. It's a little thing—no one writes about it—it's a huge thing for Ontario. And we're leading in North America in this regard.

Sal Rabbani
Thank you. I want to turn to healthcare.

The Hon. Peter Bethlenfalvy
I like that one.

Sal Rabbani
The healthcare system has been front and centre. And we've been counting for all your past budgets as Minister of Finance, and you recently had a plan that you released. How does this budget build off that plan?

The Hon. Peter Bethlenfalvy
Well like, you know, the infrastructure—I've been, I'm from the private sector, so you know, not only is important to have a plan and a vision and then tell people how you're executing that plan, and to deal with the environment that you're in. So, I think that COVID, you know, for everybody, that was a very, very difficult time for all of us to go through. And what it really highlighted is that we have to keep building the infrastructure, we have to keep building healthcare, you know, build hospitals, long-term care, there weren't enough beds. You know, two-thirds of the people that go to a long-term care have Dementia, Alzheimer’s, they, they, they, they can't be cared for at home anymore or in another facility. And we had such a shortage. And my riding—and Rod would know this—and Ajax and Pickering, zero beds were built over the seven years before we took power. Zero. Our wait list, 40,000 people, are, you know—and you don't have much time at that level. Think about the stress on the families. So, you know, that, we're going to continue through the cycle. We're going to continue building the infrastructure, making sure it's there. We're going to continue to invest in workers and work with unions to make sure that we train everybody, either re-train, re-skill, attract, and then retain. It's so critical, re-train. We're not an island here in Ontario; you know, Alberta wants our people, Nova Scotia wants our people, the US wants our people. So, we just have to be a few steps ahead of the rest of the jurisdiction and make sure that we've got the infrastructure.

And I can see Tim Hudak smiling—I'm thinking of houses, he says, “don't forget housing, and we, we've got to build houses in this province.” And, you know what? Along with municipalities like Mississauga, Bonnie Crombie and her team announced that they've got their targets, they're there to work with us; Toronto, I just saw John Tory this morning did a great, great job while he was mayor. Things like, though, you can't forget homelessness. You know, this is a challenge across the province, and mental health and addiction. In our budget, we put in another record amount of investments to support our communities with homelessness and with mental health and addiction. We're talking hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars. And we're going to keep going because you can't have a healthy economy without healthy people.

Sal Rabbani
Thank you. One of the things that we talked about is collaboration, among other things, and it came up in, in various conversations today. And this has been a busy week; lots of budgets, there was a federal budget that was tabled. Do you have some thoughts you want to share on....?

The Hon. Peter Bethlenfalvy
We're balancing the budget. Look, we've got, the premier and I work very closely with Dominic LeBlanc and Chrystia Freeland, he’s said that many times before. And we'll continue to work very closely with them. I was very pleased with the support for, the response to Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act. I mean, those are, there's a sea of protectionism that's happening in the US. And we're not an island, again, here in Canada; and we need—we've done a ton of investments. I took you on the road trip. We’ve put in money in all those downs to attract advanced manufacturing and good jobs back to Ontario. But really, the federal government has the fiscal levers to be able to respond across Canada. So, I was pleased with that.

You know, the Ring of Fire was not mentioned once in 250 pages. You know, you got the president up one week and you tout critical minerals, and the biggest deposits of critical minerals—you know, we don't wanna call China or the Congo for Cobalt, or China, who have a lot of those critical minerals when we’ve got them right here. So, we got to continue to work together on the Ring of Fire. Do you want me to talk about Toronto?

Sal Rabbani

The Hon. Peter Bethlenfalvy
Okay. Yeah, yeah. Some of you are from Toronto. Look, I think, you know, the, there's a lot of press on, you know, the province and the federal government, they went 0 for 2. But let me tell you this: we worked very closely with the city under John Tory, and whoever's elected mayor in the next election we’ll work very closely with them. And last year, they asked for over two hundred million dollars to support transit, and we wrote a check. And from what I understand, the federal government in the election committed to match that and hasn't matched that yet. The number one ask for Toronto was supportive housing—something John had worked on, and he was passionate about—and we worked on that together, homelessness. And we’ve got more to do. But an extra, they asked for 48 million, and we gave them 48 million for supportive housing and the Homelessness Prevention Program.

We're building a new hospital rehab centre for Runnymede for first responders, up at Dundas and Runnymede. As I mentioned earlier, integrating the fares—what a concept, thank you, Stan. Working with the city, working with Mississauga and MiWay, and Brampton Transit, and Durham Transit, so you don't have to keep paying every time you go from the regional transit to the GO system, and now the TTC. So, we're working with municipalities like Toronto. And I said this yesterday, I’ll say it again; you know, there's 23 elected Liberal MPs from Toronto—two, there were two, but they got kicked out, otherwise they'd be 25 for 25. You know, don't go up the road to Queen’s Park, go up, go rent a minivan, go up the 401 and go to Parliament Hill, go to Ottawa. And in fact, one of those MPs on that bus would be Chrystia Freeland. And I really think, you know, we will continue to work closely with them. I have a great relationship with Chrystia, as does the premier, and Dominic LeBlanc. And one thing I do know is we will work together, I'm confident that they'll step up and we'll get it done.

Sal Rabbani
Thank you. My phone is blowing up, the questions are coming in. And I'm also getting the time call. So, before I let you go, I just, maybe you could offer some final thoughts on the 2023 budget. Anything that you want to share?

The Hon. Peter Bethlenfalvy
Well, I think, you know, we have, we're just going to keep going. You know, we've got a balanced budget, we've got a lot of challenges; the economic environment that we're in. We saw the minimum wage today increase to over 16 dollars, we announced today; we're supporting workers, a fair wage. We are building that infrastructure—we're not doing it alone; we're doing it with the great workers of this province. We're rebuilding the economy. And we're putting in healthcare, you know, again, not just building hospitals and healthcare, but having the people. Innovative ways to do health and human resources, to make sure we've got the people in the mental health and addiction space, in the home and community care space, in the long-term care, in acute care, the continuing care.

Sal Rabbani
Thank you. Thank you for spending the time with us today.

The Hon. Peter Bethlenfalvy
Oh, is that it? I want to keep going.

Sal Rabbani
Yeah, unfortunately.

The Hon. Peter Bethlenfalvy
Thank you, everyone present. Thank you very much.

Sal Rabbani
Thank you very much to the Honourable Peter Bethlenfalvy. I'd now like to invite David Lebeter, President and CEO of Hydro One, to deliver the appreciation remarks.

Note of Appreciation by David Lebeter, President & CEO, Hydro One
Minister, what an amazing speech. And the energy and passion with which you speak, and the way you execute your plan, is just something to be envied by all. I'm not going to say a lot of words because I know everybody wants to get on with their afternoon, but I do have a few important things I would like to point out. The budget you released last week, for me, really exemplified the private sector and government working together.

And let me give you a couple of examples—really quick examples—over the last year, your government harmonized the environmental process, environmental assessment process, with the federal process. And through your budget, you committed to continuing to cut red tape. To us, that was red tape, and to every other infrastructure developer and business in Ontario, that was red tape. By harmonizing that process, you took costs out of the system, you took uncertainty, environment regulatory risk out of the system, and you're allowing infrastructure companies, energy companies, Hydro One and everybody else, to get shovels in the ground sooner. Which means people go to work, and that infrastructure that is so important for attracting investment gets built sooner and at a lower cost. So, you check a couple of boxes there: affordability and open for business.

You took us on an amazing road trip around Ontario. And being new to Ontario three-and-a-bit years ago, I really enjoyed that road trip. So, thank you for that. The thing that jumped out at me is, why are industries coming to Ontario? I'll tell you why. Because our grid, electric grid, is 92 percent green. And that is a very attractive thing for companies that are getting into manufacturing. They're also coming here because Ontario is open for business. They know if they invest in this province, private industry, along with the government, will make sure that the infrastructure is there for them. Whether it's roads, whether it's generation, or whether it's a transmission and distribution network that has to connect them. So, as James pointed out—and everybody else from the energy sector in this room and myself—we're working alongside government to ensure, when these industries start looking at Ontario, they want to come here because we have a green grid, we're open for business, and the infrastructure is there for them to develop. That is really unique in many countries; we're special in the province of Ontario.

And there's other things that are going on that are attracting businesses here. You're about, you talk about getting a balanced budget next year. That is fantastic, I was so happy to hear we're gonna be there three years sooner. Because anyone who—we all run our own finances, we all have to balance the budget, we know what happens if you don't. And the commitment this government has shown to balancing revenues and expenditures, is enviable. And at Hydro One, since we IPOd in 2015, we've taken almost 1.5 billion dollars out of expenses. That's money that sits in Ontarians’ pockets, that's money they didn't have to spend. That's also money that industries that are being attracted to this province don't have to spend when they come here on their electricity bill. So, on behalf of everyone in the room today, the Empire Club of Canada, and Hydro One, I'd like to thank you for your budget, thank you for the support you've shown industry and the leadership you've shown, and especially, for your remarks today. Thank you very much.

Concluding Remarks by Sal Rabbani
Thanks, David, and thanks again to Bruce Power, Hydro One, and all our sponsors for their support; and to the Honourable Peter Bethlenfalvy, the Minister of Finance, and everyone joining us today in person or online. As a club of record, all Empire Club of Canada events are available to watch and listen to on demand. The recording of this event will be available shortly, and everyone registered with the link will receive an e-mail. Thank you for joining us today. We invite you to stay for continued networking. Have a great afternoon. This meeting is now adjourned.

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Building a Strong Ontario

March 31, 2023 Building a Strong Ontario