The Canadian Taxpayers Federation is cautiously optimistic about the provincial budget recently tabled by Ontario Minister of Finance Vic Fedeli. The budget includes a plan to achieve a balanced budget by 2023, which is one year after the next provincial election. The current deficit is $11.7 billion, down from $15 billion when the government took office.
“Today makes it clear that balancing the budget is a core goal of this government,” said CTF Ontario Director, Christine Van Geyn. “We are concerned that the commitment will not be fulfilled within this government’s first term, but the government is moving in the right direction without imposing any new or higher taxes. While more restraint should have been shown in the first year, overall, the plan looks good for taxpayers.”
Ontario Place looks like the set of some futurist film about an apocalyptic wasteland. The pods sit empty, the small children’s village has been shut down for 17 years, and the winter light offerings are more meagre than an average suburban street at Christmas. Tumbleweeds might as well be rolling down the unoccupied paths on the west island.
The problem is that governments make bad landlords. For proof, consider the Auditor General’s report that found the government spent $19 million in 2016-17 to maintain over 800 empty buildings. Ontario Place is just one of many neglected government properties. It received an over $2 million operating grant from Ontario taxpayers in 2016, the most recent numbers available. And operating expenses increased by more than $1 million between 2016 and 2015.
The famous marshmallow experiment at Stanford University studied the lives of children who were offered a choice between one marshmallow immediately, or two marshmallows if they could wait for 15 minutes. The children who could wait tended to do better in life, as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment and even body mass index.
The lesson of delayed gratification is one that the new Ford government should keep in mind going into its first budget on April 11. The previous Liberal government’s failure to learn to put the long term ahead of the short term resulted in the province’s $13.5 billion deficit and $324 billion provincial debt.
The problem with calling on sacred cows is that the result is often a load of bull. That’s what taxpayers got with the NDP’s not-so-bombshell release of leaked draft health-care legislation in Ontario.
On Jan. 31, NDP leader Andrea Horwath released draft health-care legislation her party had obtained through a leak from an Ontario bureaucrat. Horwath held a press conference where she outlined what she called the Progressive Conservatives’ secret plan to privatize health care.
It’s precisely these kinds of claims that make improving healthcare in Canada so challenging.
Government entitlement programs are a bit like tattoos: if they turn out badly, it’s hard to get rid of them. That’s what happened with Ontario’s short-lived and failed experiment with so-called free tuition (or, more accurately, taxpayer funded tuition).
Once an entitlement is granted, recipients view it as a right and it becomes someone else’s obligation to pay for it. Rolling that entitlement back is a huge challenge, even if it has proved ineffective and unsustainable.
The auditor general just gave the premier a thoughtful Christmas gift: a 1,000-page to-do list.
For the past few years, the Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk’s annual report has been more like a gift for the opposition and a lump of coal for the government.
This year, the government has the convenient excuse of blaming everything in the report on the previous government. After all, the programs and spending reviewed were related to decisions by the previous government. But that doesn’t get Premier Doug Ford off the hook for what comes next. The auditor general has essentially handed his government a to-do list of immediate changes that need to be made, especially if the government is serious about tackling the $14.5-billion deficit.
Ontario is starting down the long and difficult road of improving the province’s finances, and, like kids in the backseat on a family vacation, taxpayers will be demanding to know “when will we be there?”
Based on the recent fall economic statement, unfortunately, the answer is: no time soon.
The provincial deficit stands at a staggering $14.5 billion. This is down $500 million since Aug. 30, when the Independent Financial Commission of Inquiry issued its report.
This is a start, albeit a slow one.
Premier Doug Ford’s announcement that he was cancelling a scheduled tax increase on beer is good news.
The cancelled tax increase would have hiked the tax on beer by three cents a litre, and would have been the fourth provincial tax increase on beer in as many years, and the fourteenth beer tax increase in Ontario since 2004. These tax increases are all in addition to the federal tax on beer, which now increases automatically every year, and has been dubbed the “escalator tax” by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
Something needs to be done to repair the breach of trust between Ontario’s citizens and our political leaders. The new Ford government should take tangible steps early in their mandate to restore public trust. Accountability reforms are best made in the early days of a government, when idealism is high, and self-interest low (or at least lower).