Spending is the problem – not lack of revenue

By MPP Toby Barrett

A recent report by my colleague, MPP Vic Fedeli, who is Opposition Finance Critic, reveals the vast majority of people feel they are becoming worse off. Statistics Canada has found that the median family income growth in Ontario is only 0.4 per cent annually, substantially lower than the national average of 1.2 per cent.   An unprecedented number of families and businesses have been plunged into what has been deemed energy poverty.

Ontario’s real GDP grew by only 0.8 per cent in the fourth quarter of last year. The main drivers were a 12.1 per cent increase in housing prices and the current monetary environment of low interest rates and a low Canadian dollar, not sound government policy.

Ontario’s Financial Accountability Officer (FAO) has warned that total investment by Ontario business and public sector institutions is expected to decline by 0.1 per cent this year. As well, direct investment has fallen off sharply.

Ontario’s debt and deficit are not just abstract numbers. The FAO and others confirm Premier Wynne is creating a bleak future, where funding for essential services such as health care and education will continue to be crowded out by mismanagement and recklessness.

As Opposition, we are being asked, “So, what would you cut?” to balance the budget. That comment assumes there is only one solution to the problem. But another solution to balanced budgets may be increased revenue through growth. Revenues have grown every single year since this government has taken office. But through waste, mismanagement, and scandal, spending has increased at an annual rate of 4.7 per cent – far beyond what’s needed to compensate for population growth and overall price increases. If program spending was simply held to the growth rate, Ontario would be in surplus.

Most families realize that if they’ve dug themselves into a financial hole, the first thing to do is stop digging! In Ontario, that would mean putting an end to waste (like secretly paying over $300 million to bail out a U.S. realtor for the MaRs building), mismanagement (coming in $342 million over budget on the Pan Am Games and then paying $5.3 million in performance bonuses), and scandals (take your pick from the Auditor General, the FAO or the OPP). Think about Smart Meters costing $1 billion more than the public was told, or the gas plant scandal coming in at $1.1 billion as opposed to the $40 million announced, or the $5.2 billion Samsung deal the province could have walked away from for nothing. These are but a few examples.

July was a revealing month, starting with Toronto’s Metrolinx Annual Report. We learned the provincial government subsidized passengers on the troubled Union Pearson Express last year at a rate of $52.26 per ride. In the first 10 months of operation, the subsidy totaled close to $40 million.

The government is installing 500 electric vehicle charging stations at more than 250 locations, including the parking lots of McDonald’s and Tim Hortons. The total cost is $20 million, as an advance on the revenue the province wants to pull in from its cap-and-trade program.

Assuming revenues will continue on the same trajectory, the key to balancing the books will be to control spending. We don’t have a revenue problem in Ontario – we have a spending problem.