How would Margaret Thatcher address our economy?

By MPP Toby Barrett

Last week the world recognized the passing of the iron-willed Margaret Thatcher, the first female British Prime Minister and iconic figure once described as, “perhaps the most admired, hated, fascinating, boring, radical and conservative leader in the Western world.” While opinions vary on her politics, there is little argument she was one of the most influential politicians of the 20th century.
Like her or loathe her Margaret Thatcher grabbed Britain – then the “sickman of Europe” – by the bootstraps and pulled her country up to new economic and international heights.
Today, Ontario – the “sickman of Confederation” – would do well to learn from Thatcher’s labour reform, tax-reduction, deficit reduction, and measures to reduce the size of government.
Just as Thatcher knew when she campaigned in 1979 under the slogan, “Labour’s not working”, we know we can do better. The fact is right now, Ontario’s not working.

Ontario’s history and our people – much like Britain’s – speak to our shared potential to succeed. We have skilled, hard-working people. We have dedicated and driven entrepreneurs. We also have vast natural resources and fertile farmland the envy of the world over. It’s time we tap into that unrealized potential just as Prime Minister Thatcher did some 30 years ago.

Margaret Thatcher realized that, as we now see in Ontario, government was spending too much money without result. Facing a jobs and debt crisis, we cannot solve one without solving the other. Both,
require consistent, clear, goal-oriented action to eliminate waste, reduce the tax burden, to curb public sector militancy and reduce the size of government.

A better Ontario requires a public service that operates just as we do every day by setting
goals, measuring outcomes and rewarding those who help achieve them. In Ontario, just over half of the entire budget each year is spent on salaries, benefits and pensions for government workers. Much as Thatcher withstood the public sector trade union strikes of the so-called “winter of discontent”, we too must consider public sector demands in the true economic light of day – refusing to bankroll wasteful practices.

It’s time to freeze wages for all public servants for a minimum of two years to reduce the size and cost of government. Similarly, government pensions are a ticking time bomb. With a hundred billion dollar unfunded liability we need to rein in expensive gold-standard pension plans moving to more affordable retirement savings programs like those common in the private sector.

We need to eliminate programs we simply cannot afford. One of Margaret Thatcher’s keys to economic rebound saw her government, as she later noted, “roll back the frontiers of the state.” In Ontario we need a rollback based on the following parameters: if a government program works and is necessary, keep it; if it is broken, fix it; but if it can no longer justify its value to the taxpayers who pay the bills, shut it down.

The legacy of Thatcherism teaches us the benefits an efficient tax-cutting government can realize through reducing the burden on our job creators; encouraging them to invest and hire more people. More people working means more revenue into the treasury.

As we recall the undeniable impacts of Britain’s only three-peat Prime Minister we look to her legacy of economic turnaround.