Wynne dumps balanced budget promise, wallows in financial incontinence
This Week in Queen’s Park
by MPP Jim McDonell
Following last week’s Throne Speech, and several days of highly publicized pre-budget policy announcements, the government presented its official 2018 budget on Wednesday. Despite repeatedly promising Ontarians a balanced budget before the June election, the government has now significantly backtracked and will borrow an additional $40 billion before returning to a balanced budget in 2024-25. Promises included billions in hospital funding, childcare subsidies, public dental benefits, hiring Registered Nurses in the Long-Term Care sector and many others.
They had 15 years, 12 of them as majority governments, to build the foundation of these programs. Instead, we have seen a doubled tax take (and rising), a doubled debt load that costs us more than $1 billion a month to service and only now, just two months shy of an election, they are suddenly concerned about chronically underfunded public services. The money to deliver on all these promises isn’t there. Had the provincial finances been stewarded better during these 15 years, we would have plenty of room to expand key services and still give Ontarians more of their money back.
The current government’s track record on bad finance and broken promises is nothing short of deplorable. According to the Ontario Finance Authority (OFA), the Province owes creditors over $312 billion, which makes it the most heavily indebted sub-national government in the world. After healthcare, education, and social services spending, interest payments now represent the fourth largest provincial expenditure. Without clear action, this will only crowd out essential public services at a time when we will need them most. At some point, we have to stop electioneering and start putting our financial house in order. By running a deficit, the government does the exact opposite and does all of us a disservice.
Unmentioned in the Minister of Finance’s speech, the total tax load on Ontarians and Ontario businesses will rise. Ontarians can expect to pay $275 million more in income taxes, while 20,000 additional businesses will be hit by the Employer Health Tax. These measures will raise only a fraction of the funds needed to return to balance, and the government is involved in a bitter dispute with the Auditor-General over debt accounting practices that fail to portray a realistic picture of the government’s overall liabilities and total debt. For instance, the government counts an $860 million pension fund as their own, despite not having the right to take it back from its pensioners. They are also ignoring a $1.3 billion liability on the Independent Electricity System Operator’s balance, as well as the debt and costs associated with the hydro rate reduction plan. We need transparency, integrity, honesty and fiscal responsibility in this Province now more than ever, so we can rebuild and give our children a future where advanced education funding doesn’t have to give way to debt payments.