Ontario Finance Minister Greg Sorbara (Glendon B.A. in Canadian Studies 1981) spoke to a packed hall at Glendon’s Senate Chamber on Monday, January 26th on the topic of “My Life After Glendon”. This presentation was, of course, a means of discussing the newly elected provincial Liberal government’s major issues and intentions. But it was also an opportunity for Mr. Sorbara to revisit his old school and his fond memories.
Sorbara returned to school at the age of 30 in order to finish his B.A., once he realized that there was no other way to fulfill his ambition of becoming a lawyer. He applied to Glendon, which he considered an elite Canadian university faculty, and was pleased to learn that he had been accepted.
“It changed my life”, said the new provincial Minister of Finance. “This was the place where I learned in an academic setting about Canada’s government and the underpinnings of this country.” It was an ideal place of learning for him, in an environment which enabled him to become functionally bilingual. “Glendon had and continues to have three major advantages”, declared Mr. Sorbara. “These are language learning, program excellence and its size”. Following his studies at Glendon, Greg Sorbara went on to Osgoode Hall, where he earned his law degree.
After providing a brief overview of his public career in fluent French as well as English, Sorbara stated that as Finance Minister his number one priority is education. The ensuing question period predictably embarked on the issues of rapidly rising tuition fees, the provincial deficit, the important election promises – concerning education, health care and the protection of the environment – and the difficulties faced by large urban centres, where the majority of Canada’s population now lives and works.
Sorbara deplored what he called “the war against teachers waged by the previous provincial government. It was unjust, unseemly, unnecessary”. He confirmed his government’s intention to repair the damage that was done and to inspire schools to function at their best.
The finance minister insisted that there are no simple answers to the complex issues at hand. He explained that a tax increase would not solve our problems for a number of reasons. First, this government has already increased taxes to a certain extent. Second, our taxation rates must remain competitive with the rates of the other provinces and the U.S. Otherwise, businesses and the best-qualified individuals will be tempted to leave for greener pastures. He pointed out that it is the Finance Minister’s difficult assignment to keep the balance between sufficient revenue for the government to do its work, and maintaining a reasonable level of taxation.
Similarly, in the issue of health care, money and good intentions are not sufficient for managing it successfully. There is a convergence of factors such as rising pharmaceutical costs, a large cohort of aging population, increasing longevity and decreasing public revenues.
Other major concerns, such as the new current value assessment on property or the inadequate and hugely under-funded public transit system, are equally complex issues That will take time and the government’s dedication to improve.
Sorbara stated that the provinces’ relationshipS with each other, as well as with the federal government, have taken a hopeful turn. The change began with the election of Quebec’s Liberal Premier, Jean Charest, a dedicated federalist. With the new Ontario Liberal government and the change of leadership in Ottawa, there is a demonstrated will to end the bickering and instead to collaborate in order to rebuild the cities and the country’s infrastructure.
Greg Sorbara’s public career began when he was elected MPP in York North in 1985, and was re-elected to the newly-created riding of York Centre in 1987 and 1990. He was appointed to cabinet in 1985 and held a number of portfolios in the Liberal governments of 1985-90, including Minister of Labour, Minister of Colleges and Universities, Minister Responsible for Women’s Issues and Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations. He became MPP for Vaughan-King-Aurora in 2001, and was appointed Minister of Finance when the Liberals returned to power in 2003. In 1999, Sorbara was elected president of the Ontario Liberal Party, a position he continues to hold. In 2003 he also served as the party’s campaign Chair. These experiences will stand him in good stead for the tasks he now confronts. His thoughtful approach and recognition of the complexities involved offer the hope that these major challenges will be addressed.
Glendon’s Principal, Kenneth McRoberts brought the session to its formal close with the comment that Provincial Finance Minister Greg Sorbara represents what is best in the Glendon ideal: a dedication to public office, command of Canada’s two official languages and the intention of improving the lives of the citizens while working towards preserving our environment.
Article submitted by Marika Kemeny, Glendon’s Public Relations and Communications Advisor