The Easter miracle of deficit cuts at Queen’s Park

By MPP Toby Barrett

If ever there was a case for stressing math literacy in our schools, it would be the recent jumble of deficit numbers leading to this spring’s provincial budget. There have been some complimentary headlines recently on Premier Wynne’s handling of Ontario’s finances, such as, “Ontario’s deficit shrinks by $1.6B”. However, it’s not true.

The deficit is not down. It’s up – once you wade through the pre-budget jiggery pokery Ontario’s Finance Minister presented prior to the Easter break. This is an ongoing trick some politicians play at budget time – overestimate the deficit goal for the coming year and then claim fiscal prudence when you appear to overachieve.

All this government has managed is to reduce the deficit estimate by the $1.6 billion that it overestimated last year. It has been labelled the Easter miracle of deficit reduction.

The overspending is scary: a $14 billion deficit in 2010-11; $13 billion in 2011-12; $9.8 billion in 2012-13; increasing to $10.5 billion in 2013-14 and $10.9 billion in 2014-15. The only way Wynne will be able to balance the budget by 2017-18 as promised – is through massive tax hikes, massive layoffs, or a fire sale of assets like Hydro One.

On April 2, I took the government to task during Question Period, asking, “Premier, just before you became Liberal leader in 2012, you stated, ‘When I say we need to stay on our government’s fiscal plan of balancing the budget by 2017-18, I mean it’. So you want us to believe in a balanced budget in two years despite the fact that your deficits have been increasing over the past three years, not decreasing. Your hand-picked economist, Don Drummond, predicts a $30.2-billion deficit in two years; you say zero.”

My response to this fiscal fiction from the finance minister, who answered in lieu of Wynne, was: “I certainly don’t believe either one of you. Year after year, you present to this House phony deficit numbers, fake numbers, purposely designed to confuse the people of Ontario into thinking that your increasing deficits aren’t that significant. Your inflated deficit projections are a deliberate scam to obfuscate the real deficit numbers.”

To that, I received an answer of “we try to do our best with integrity. . .” The people of Ontario want government to do more than try!

Ontario’s $10.9-billion deficit is 68 per cent higher than the deficits for all the other provinces, territories and federal government put together.

Ontario’s auditor general Bonnie Lysyk has said there will be negative implications of continued deficits. After last July’s budget, the credit rating agencies indicated a downgrade will be almost inevitable unless the province implements measures to address its high level of debt.

In contrast to current government policy, I am a believer that the debt spiraling out of control defies common sense. Common sense tells us if this was happening within a family or in a business, we would have to stop spending immediately.

The bottom line is when you borrow money, you have to pay it back – but with respect to the provincial debt, it won’t be us who will be doing it. Shamefully, it will be left to our children. We live off credit and they pick up the tab.

The Easter Miracle at Queen’s Park – let’s hope it’s not resurrected next year.