Ford to blame for Ontario’s surging debt

The bottom line is that six years into Ford’s time on the job, any excuses for his fiscal fiasco fall flat. Pictured: Ontario Premier Doug Ford. Photo Credit: Doug Ford/X. 

Ontario’s debt has erupted like a volcano under Premier Doug Ford’s watch and he has no one to blame but himself. 

Ford rode into office on a high horse. During the 2018 provincial election, he barnstormed the province, castigating the Wynne government as fiscally reckless. If elected, Ford pledged to end Ontario’s debt dive and straighten out the province’s finances.

But six years later, Ford has added $86 billion to the provincial debt. That means Ford added more debt to Ontario’s balance sheet than any other premier, save Dalton McGuinty. 

That’s right: Ford’s fiscal record is worse than even his immediate predecessor, Kathleen Wynne. 

Ford’s apologists generally come up with three excuses to take the heat off his dismal debt record: the situation inherited from the Liberals, the pandemic and a lack of government revenue.

All three excuses are hogwash. But let’s go through them in turn.

First, there’s the “blame the Liberals” argument.

It’s true that when Ford came to office, the Liberal government was running a large deficit. When the Wynne government presented its final budget, shortly before the 2018 election, then-finance minister Charles Sousa laid out a plan to spend $158.5 billion and run a $6-billion deficit. 

After the election, did Ford come in and clean up the mess? Nope. Ford increased 2018 spending to $162.5 billion and exploded the deficit to $11.7 billion.

This is an apples-to-apples comparison: what the Liberals planned to spend during the 2018-19 fiscal year compared to what Ford chose to spend. The deficit and spending went up, not down.

Second, there’s the pandemic.

There’s no denying the pandemic presented a difficult situation for governments across the country. Ontario was no exception. 

The pandemic threw the province’s finances off in 2020-21 and 2021-22. The year before the pandemic began, the Ford government laid out plans to run a $5.8-billion deficit in 2020-21 and a $4.6-billion deficit in 2021-22. 

Instead, the Ford government ran deficits of $16.4 billion and $13.5 billion in 2020-21 and 2021-22, respectively. 

Add the two pandemic years together, you get a deficit increase of $19.5 billion compared to what the Ford government planned prior to the pandemic.

There’s no question the Ford government could have spent more efficiently during the pandemic, but for now let’s give it a pass.

Even so, take $19.5 billion off Ford’s $86-billion debt tab and you still get $66.5 billion.

That means Ford added $66.5 billion to Ontario’s debt, even once you hand him a pass on the pandemic. That’s still $22.5 billion more than what Wynne added during her five years in power. 

Third, let’s look at the revenue argument. Is it possible that Ford hasn’t been able to balance the books because revenue growth has been slow? 

Just the opposite: when Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy presented his 2024-25 budget, it laid out a plan to bring in $205.7 billion. That’s $54.9 billion more than the government’s first year in office, 2018-19.

Instead of taking advantage of nearly $55 billion in new revenue to balance the books, the Ford government drove up expenses by $52 billion. 

As a final indictment of Ford’s record, let’s look at Wynne’s projected fiscal plans. 

In 2018, in the Ontario Liberals’ final budget (one Ford condemned as reckless), Sousa presented a projected spending plan of $185.8 billion for 2024-25. Ford’s plan, presented in this year’s budget, is $28.7 billion higher. 

While inflation in recent years has been higher than Sousa anticipated back in 2018, Canada’s supercharged inflation rates in 2022 and 2023 can only explain about half of the $28.7 billion in additional spending. 

The bottom line is that six years into Ford’s time on the job, any excuses for his fiscal fiasco fall flat. He has vastly outspent the Liberals, jacked up the debt and won’t balance the budget despite $55 billion in revenue growth. 

It’s time for the Ford government to quit the excuses, balance the books and pay down debt to put six sorry years of fiscal recklessness into the rear-view mirror.

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