Although the premier has made a series of bad financial decisions of late, he has a fresh mandate and a new opportunity to return to his pro-taxpayer roots. Photo credit: Twitter/Doug Ford
Premier Doug Ford is facing a moment of truth in the next budget. After years of runaway spending, will he finally embrace an agenda that puts taxpayers first?
When Ford was a key player on Toronto’s city council, he consistently advocated for smaller government. He played a crucial role in ending Toronto’s annual vehicle registration tax, outsourcing garbage collection to lower costs and reducing city councillors’ office budgets.
Ford’s small government message was much the same when he was running against former premier Kathleen Wynne.
“The party is over with taxpayers’ money,” declared Ford as he campaigned across the province.
But during his first term in office, Ford was anything but a penny pincher.
Ford’s defenders might argue that government spending spun out of control because of the pandemic. But that excuse simply doesn’t hold water.
During Ford’s first year in office, he increased government spending by $5 billion over and above what the Wynne government had planned to spend. And that was before, not after, the pandemic hit.
Once the pandemic did arrive, the Ford government ramped up government spending. Given that Ontario was confronting a pandemic, one could be forgiven for expecting to see most new government spending allocated to health care.
But that’s not what happened.
The Ford government increased spending during the first year of the pandemic by $16.5 billion. Yet, only $5.8 billion was earmarked for the health sector. Instead of targeting new spending toward health care, Ford allowed spending to balloon in virtually every ministry.
And while the Ford government did balance Ontario’s books last year for the first time in more than a decade, the surprise surplus was entirely due to increased government revenue. Revenue rose by no less than $20.2 billion in just a single year.
The fact that the Ford government only managed to eke out a $2.1 billion surplus despite all that new revenue shows just how undisciplined government spending has been under Ford’s watch.
Unfortunately, the party with taxpayer dollars has ramped up even further of late. Spending was up a whopping $15.8 billion in 2022, despite the pandemic fading in the rear-view mirror. Ontario also finds itself back in deficit territory. Ford’s decision to go even deeper into debt is a slap in the face to future generations who will have to pick up the tab.
All this new spending is even more problematic because government spending and borrowing is helping to fuel inflation. Queen’s Park is pouring more gasoline on the inflation fire.
Although Ford has made a series of bad financial decisions of late, he has a fresh mandate and a new opportunity to return to his pro-taxpayer roots.
There are three key things Ford could do in this winter’s budget that would dramatically impact Ontario’s finances for the better.
First, Ford could reverse a portion of the $15.8 billion increase in spending that his government has announced over the past year.
Second, Ford could stop giving taxpayer dollars to companies that don’t need our help. Last year, he handed Stellantis, a Fortune 500 company, half a billion dollars to retool a couple of its Ontario-based plants. It’s time to finally put corporate welfare on the chopping block.
Third, Ford could close the gap between what government employees make and what comparable workers in the private sector earn. That’s a common-sense reform that could save the province billions.
And, if Ford gets a little more careful with taxpayers’ dough, the government could also find some room to lower Ontarians’ heavy tax burden. Families need relief in the wake of soaring living costs.
When the government tables budget 2023, Ford would be well served to remember where he came from. He made a name for himself doggedly defending taxpayer interests at Toronto City Hall. Taxpayers desperately want to see the old Doug Ford finally show up at Queen’s Park.
Jay Goldberg is the Ontario Director at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. He previously served as a policy fellow at the Munk School of Public Policy and Global Affairs. Jay holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Toronto.