The four horsemen of Ontario’s economic demise

By MPP Toby Barrett

Famine, war, pestilence and death – the four horsemen of the apocalypse – although occurring in various degrees during our 9,000 year history in this part of the world are presently of little public concern, although that could change.

With respect to today’s economic and fiscal status in Ontario as reflected in the May 1 budget, and without trying to be melodramatic, I suggest our province is on the edge of an economic apocalypse.

I suggest the four horsemen we presently face are debt, taxation, energy and red tape. And they are galloping in tandem as a four-horse hitch bound by a common harness of out-of-control spending and scandal. The budget hikes spending $3.4 billion this year.

I consider Ontario’s debt, caused by wasteful spending, as the first horseman looming over several generations of Ontarians. This is debt, not caused by lack of government revenue, but debt partially created by wasteful and irresponsible spending.

We now know government plans to add $12.5 billion to our crushing government debt. At this rate we will surpass economist Don Drummond’s prediction of a $411.4 billion debt by 2017-18.

The second horseman – big taxes – funds big government and the big public sector unions. This year’s budget hikes taxes by $3 billion. High taxation rates are correlated to high spending rates – again much of it in the wasteful category.

Over the past 11 years, we have witnessed the largest income tax hike in the history of Ontario – Mr. McGuinty’s so-called ‘health tax’. Hard on the heels of the ‘health tax’ came the HST –the largest sales tax increase in the history of the province. The tax horseman became a runaway horseman.

The recent onslaught of high energy prices – in particular for electricity – have brought Ontario’s consumers and industry to their knees.

Electricity-intensive industries are closing up shop and homeowners who heat with electricity can’t pay their bills. For this reason, I consider the highest energy bills in North America, which Ontario has, as the third horseman of our economic apocalypse. Again no help in sight from last week’s budget.

As with debt and high taxes, much of the reason for high hydro bills is wasteful spending by government agencies like OPG and Hydro One.

Large electricity consumers in Toronto pay twice what people pay in Montreal, Winnipeg or Chicago. In the United States, prices are falling because of shale gas. Yet, in Ontario, the government says prices will rise another 46 per cent. Obviously, there is something wrong here.

The fourth and final horseman of Ontario’s approaching economic apocalypse comprises the myriad of rules and regulations that suffocate farmers, businesses and consumers alike.

There are so many regulations, we’ve lost count. Figures range from government estimates of 365,000 to 5000,000 rules, according to The Toronto Star. Unnecessary bureaucratic red tape is by accounting definition wasteful spending – the Canadian Federation of Independent Business tallies the cost at $11 billion a year for the private sector alone.

It’s time to pull in the reins on wasteful spending and the four horsemen as represented by debt, taxes, energy and red tape. It will be tough and not without controversy. The alternative for Ontario and our coming generations will not be pretty. We need to look no further than jurisdictions like Greece, Detroit and Sacramento to see where the future of our province may lie.