By MPP Toby Barrett
Canada’s recent election campaign reinforces the fact that there are people who believe we can tax, and spend, and borrow our way to prosperity. There are those who don’t appreciate the unintended consequences of regulation, upon regulation, and tax upon tax. Those whose policy prescriptions put us – as a nation and as a province – at a competitive disadvantagewithin North America, and around the globe.
As a provincial government we appreciate the urgent need to continuously improve our competitiveness and fiscal foundation, so the people of our province and country can live the lives they have earned and deserve.
But it’s fair to say that this is not a universally held view among many elected representatives and aspiring candidates.
Government can make a difference – and not necessarily in a good way. Case in point would be the destruction locally of our coal-based economic sector , and much of our legal tobacco market. Our area’s steel-making, petrochemical and agribusiness remains vulnerable to the whims of decision makers at the national and international level.
Government policy impacts investment choices.Where to start a business, expand a current operation, or close a facility – every day, business people make these choices. And these choices impact peoples’ livelihoods and lives.
Between 2003 and 2018, over 15 short years, Ontario’s debt skyrocketed nearly two-and-a-half times. At $360 billion, Ontario’s debt is the highest sub-sovereign debt anywhere in the world. No other state, or province, on earth is as in the hole as we are here in Ontario.
Not only do we have the highest sub-sovereign debt in the world, but we also have over-crowded hospitals reaching a breaking point. Traffic jams in the GTA that are among the worst in North America. Declining math scores reflect poorly on our public schools. We have a shortage of skilled labour – in the construction industry alone we face an estimated shortfall of 200,000 workers by 2032. And a housing market that is putting the dream of home ownership out of reach of too many.
There was a time when government issued debt, and the return on investment was clear and understood. People in Ontario got a new bridge, a new highway and a state-of-the-art hospital. The money was spent intelligently, and strategically. What we see today is very different — expensive interest payments, with little to show for all that spending.
Many people are not aware that three-quarters of our $160 billion Ontario budget is spent on just four items: $64 billion on health care, $30 billion on education, $17 billion on social services, and regrettably $13 billion in interest payments to service Ontario’s debt.
Supporting excessive debt with an interest payment of $13 billion a year crowds out the ability to fund other important priorities like health, education and community services.
At one time, Ontario was in the top ten among North America’s 65 jurisdictions, on par with our neighbours to the south like New York State. New York State is now number five, but, people are often surprised to find out Ontario is ranked 45th, one place ahead of Montana.
Government can do more to set the stage to boost our economy to create more jobs and a better quality of life for all.
We should be doing better. And we can do better.
Toby Barrett is MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk