Government: Canada's Provincial Governments

By David Nickle

David Nickle is a city hall reporter for the Toronto Community News (Mirror/Guardian) newspapers. He has also published books and stories in Canada and the US.

When the government of Canada was formed in 1867, it was based on the British system in many ways. The country had an elected parliament that answered to the English king or queen just like England did.

But Canada is much larger than Great Britain and one government was not enough to both look after the country, and to let Canadians who lived far apart and had different needs to have their say in how they lived. So Canadians have another level of government. The country is divided into 10 provinces - each of which has a parliament (which is also called a legislature) and looks after its own region.
The provincial governments provide the services that Canadians use most often, funding schools, hospitals, roads and transportation, part of the police services and the court and prison system and the welfare system.

Toronto is the capital of Ontario, the largest province in Canada with more than 12 million people or 38 percent of the whole country. Ontario also has the biggest economy in the country, producing 40 per cent of the country's wealth.
With all those people and all that business going on, it is not a surprise that Ontario's government is very large. This year, the Ontario government will spend nearly $80 billion, which it raises through a number of different taxes and fees. Ontarians pay tax on the money they earn (income tax), on the sale of property (land transfer tax), on the things that they buy (sales tax) and even more taxes on cigarettes, liquor and gasoline for their cars. Corporations pay taxes, and employees now help pay for the health system.

And Ontarians also pay all sorts of fees to their government. This year, the government will bring in $986 million by collecting money to renew driver's licences and vehicle permits. The government also controls all liquor sales through the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, or LCBO. So in addition to the tax, the province makes more than a billion dollars a year selling liquor. The province also runs lotteries and casinos which bring in more than $2 billion a year. The province also gets about $510 million from the sale of power and receives money from the federal government, to support social services and health care, affordable housing and infrastructure like roads and sewers.

The provincial government itself runs like the federal government. Ontarians elect MPPs, or Members of Provincial Parliament, in 108 ridings.

In the past 20 years, all three major political parties have managed to win elections. The Liberals governed Ontario until 1990, when the left-wing New Democratic Party took power. In 1995, the right-wing Progressive Conservative party won the first of two elections by promising to cut taxes and make government smaller.

In last year's election, the Liberals, under Dalton McGuinty, defeated the Progressive Conservatives.

When McGuinty formed a government, the first thing he had to do was select a cabinet from his MPPs. McGuinty appointed 22 ministers, each of whom is responsible for one or more parts of the Ontario government.

First in line was Greg Sorbara, who became the new Finance Minister - the most powerful position in a cabinet next to Premier McGuinty himself. The Finance Minister puts an annual budget together that tells each ministry what they will do that year and how much money they have to do it.

Here's who is in charge of other ministries that newcomers are most likely to deal with.

Dr. Marie Bountrogianni is Minister of Citizenship and Immigration - which helps newcomers settle in Ontario - and also the Minister of Children and Youth Services, which makes sure that young people are looked after. John Gerretsen, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing oversees cities and towns, as well as affordable housing. Sandra Pupatello, the Minister of Community and Social Services, looks after the welfare system and other services for people out of work. Gerard Kennedy, the Minister of Education, is in charge of all the public schools in Ontario. Mary Anne Chambers, the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, watches over the province's colleges and universities.

The McGuinty government is having a hard time right now, because they have been unable to keep many of the promises they made in the last election. For example, McGuinty promised not to raise taxes, yet did so with a new health care premium in the spring. This has made many voters angry. But there will not likely be another election for four years so it makes sense to get to know this government. It will be with us for awhile.

CNM