Budget 2014 – A program for taxing and spending

By MPP Toby Barrett

A few days before we commenced this July’s legislature debate on the budget, I rose in Question Period with the following to Premier Wynne: “So you say in three years it’s zero deficit. However your hand-picked economist, Don Drummond, projects in three years a $30.2-billion deficit. Premier how do you square this $30.2 billion discrepancy?”
Instead of answering the question herself, the Premier asked Treasury Board President Deb Matthews to respond. Matthews responded by saying the point Drummond was making was, “if we did nothing that is the reality we would be facing. What we have done is we made very clear steps to reduce our deficit” – at which point she was drowned out by Opposition objections.
I continued back to the Premier: “We have no indication from you of how your promise will be kept. Nothing will come of nothing… How will you keep your promise? Is it selling assets, cutting government programs and services for families, seniors, and vulnerable people in our society or jacking up taxes on the middle class? Or do you plan on breaking your promise to balance the books in three years? What is the plan for 2017-2018? Is it to cut government spending by $30.2 billion?”
To me this is the essence of the July budget debate – a $12.5-billion-plus shortfall today leading to a projected $30.2-billion shortfall in three years, if nothing is done. Time will tell what interest rates and the debt servicing charges will be on Ontario’s projected $411.4 billion debt three years hence.
To date, the Premier, her Finance Minister and Treasury Board President have presented nothing by a way of a plan, yet alone any specific measures, to halt this deficit spending with borrowed money. Each net addition to the debt every year continues to accumulate. Hence in three years we will be faced with a projected sum total debt of $411.4 billion – again if nothing is done about it.
We hear rumors of the province selling assets. I don’t entirely object to that notion, but that should be done only to pay for long-term debt, not to finance shortfalls in operating expenses. Explaining it another way, Norfolk and Haldimand counties are both selling one of their largest assets – their electricity utilities. They aren’t talking about using the proceeds to pay off a deficit, but for long-term investments. Why is Ontario’s government looking at selling assets that were built-up over decades to pay for their out-of-control spending?
Governments, like families, have to pay interest on the money they borrow. It took Kathleen Wynne, and her predecessor Dalton McGuinty only 10 years to double Ontario’s debt. And that means we have to pay more than $11 billion just this year to service that debt. That’s $11 billion that will not be going to health care, or education or helping the most vulnerable in our society.
And if we continue to get concerning news from credit rating agencies like Moody’s and Dominion Bond Rating Services, that $11 billion a year interest charge could jump considerably.
What are your thoughts? Contact me at toby.barrett@pc.ola.org
Mindful of the words of Shakespeare’s King Lear, “Nothing will come of nothing, speak again” we in Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition will continue to ask questions and press for answers.