Thanks to the reckless policies of former premiers Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne, when Ontario Premier Doug Ford was elected three years ago the province was well on its way to being driven into a fiscal wall.
Ford promised Ontario voters that he would hit the breaks.
Unfortunately, it seems like he hasn’t been able to switch off the cruise control.
Ontario’s Financial Accountability Office released a new report on the state of the province’s finances last week, which lays bare Ford’s lack of progress in improving Ontario’s balance sheet.
Despite Ford’s commitment to restore fiscal responsibility to Queen’s Park, even when pandemic spending is subtracted, Ford’s overspending rivals his Liberal predecessors, according to a new Fraser Institute Report.
Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy’s budget plans to run at least eight more deficits, until 2029, with the province crossing the $500-billion debt threshold in a few short years.
Worse, the accountability office report shows that even Bethlenfalvy’s bad news budget used projections that were far too rosy. According to the report, rather than balancing the budget in 2029, the Ontario government will still be running a $6.9-billion deficit.
It’s clear the government to balance the budget through economic growth alone as Bethlenfalvy failed to present any clear plan to restrain government overspending.
Spending in Ontario’s education budget is one example of where savings must be found.
Ontario spends an average of $17,000 per student. Quebec just $12,300. If Ontario matched Quebec, taxpayers would save $9.7 billion annually.
Targeting the education budget would equal real progress on the deficit.
The government also overspends on its bureaucracy.
Outside of the education department, the Ontario government spends over $43.4 billion a year on paying bureaucrats’ salaries and benefits. Government employees are paid more than 10 per cent more than their counterparts working for a business.
That means that taxpayers would save nearly $2.2 billion every year with a five per cent reduction in compensation costs.
When adding up these labour and education savings, Ontario taxpayers could save $11.9 billion per year. The accountability office is projecting that Ontario will run an $11.1 billion deficit in 2023-24. So those savings would bring Ontario back into the black within two years.
Ford could even find additional savings to allow him to keep his 2018 tax cut election promises.
Freezing spending in ministries like francophone affairs, which saw a 40 per cent budget increase last year, would be a good start.
There are more savings right under Ford’s nose. The premier’s cabinet office increased spending by six per cent last year while thousands of Ontario businesses were struggling just to keep their doors open.
Ending corporate welfare, which Ford promised to do during the election, would allow him to find some desperately needed savings as well.
Instead of ending corporate welfare, Ford has handed tens of millions of dollars to companies like Ford Motor Company and Maple Leaf Foods.
The Ontario government can balance the budget if it’s willing to make prudent choices and share in some of the burden of the downturn.
Ford inherited a fiscal mess when he was elected three years ago. It’s impossible to argue otherwise. Still, he now has an opportunity to start to make good on his election promises and begin to turn the state of the province’s finances around.
For the sake of the next generation, Ford should take it.
Jay Goldberg is a Troy Media Columnist and the Interim Ontario Director at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. For interview requests, click here.
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