President of Ontario’s Treasury Board, the Hon. Peter Bethlenfalvy, was in Niagara-on-the-Lake yesterday discussing the state of the Province’s finances.
The President of the Province’s Treasury Board, the Hon. Peter Bethlenfalvy, was in Niagara-on-the-Lake yesterday speaking to about 90 business leaders at the Royal Niagara Golf Club. Minister Bethlenfalvy was joined by the Hon. Jim Wilson, Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade along with Niagara West MPP Sam Oosterhoff, Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Education.
Organized by the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce, the gathering was a chance to hear about the state of Ontario’s finances and how the current government plans to deal with the massive debt they assumed when they took over from the former Liberal government.
Minister Bethlenfalvy opened his remarks by reminding the audience about the five commitments the PC government made to the people of Ontario. They include: putting more money back in the pockets of Ontarians; cleaning up the hydro mess; creating jobs and making Ontario “open for business’; restoring trust and accountability; and reducing hospital wait times. “These five priorities guide our decision making,” stated the Minister.
While only being in office for 120 days, Minister Bethleffalvy said the PC government has wasted no time in getting to work and delivering on those promises. “We had our first cabinet meeting just two hours after we were sworn in,” he said.
The Minister’s remarks were certainly an eye-opener to many in the audience when he laid out the real state of the province’s books. Ontario’s credit rating has gone from a AAA score to a single A. “The previous government said we had a surplus but we actually have a $3 billion deficit.” The provincial government also has to find away to pay down the massive $330 billion debt that has accumulated over the last 15 years under the Liberal’s watch. “It’s unprecedented on the planet to have that much debt,” stated the Minister. The debt to GDP ratio prior to the Liberal government taking power was 27 per cent. That number climbed to 40.5 per cent under their watch.
Probably the most shocking statistic was the amount of interest the government is forced to pay on the massive debt – $1.4 million, every hour. “The interest payments in total are more than the total budget,” explained the Minister. He went on to say that if the government paid $1 billion per year towards paying down the debt it would take 350 years to pay it off.
While the current PC government inherited a very bleak fiscal situation, Minister Bethlenfalvy explained to those in attendance some of the things his government plans to do to crawl out of the deep pit of financial debt while simultaneously maintaining essential services.
His main message to the audience was that the government is taking a modernization approach to cost savings and improving services. “We will use a value for money lens in everything we do.”
He cited two simple examples of how the government can become more modern and save taxpayer’s money. First, he talked about digitizing the process of getting a new health card. “You don’t need to wait in line to get a health card. It’s also 60 per cent cheaper by digitizing the experience.”
His second example was getting rid of landlines in his Ministry’s offices. “My staff and I were all issued cell phones and yet we also had landlines. Getting rid of the landlines resulted in $8,000 in savings and that was just my office. Other Minister’s are following suit.”
When asked about the difficult balancing act between having to make the tough decisions around cost savings and providing services for the people of Ontario, the Minister said: “The people gave us a mandate to act. We will do it in a way that’s pragmatic and responsible.”
Minister Bethlenfalvy closed out his remarks by saying: “We have a moral imperative to leave this province better than when we inherited it. In not doing so hurts our most vulnerable.”