It’s time for straight talk on finances

By MPP Toby Barrett

As many are beginning to find out, Ontario’s government finances are in trouble and they won’t get better if the present government doesn’t change its ways. Over the past eight years an unprecedented explosion of spending using borrowed money has added billions to an already unaffordable provincial debt. No entity, large or small, public or private, can thrive or survive intact, with debts as huge as Ontario’s.
To be clear, our province is going broke, and the sting of recent financial turmoil will pale in comparison to what Don Drummond predicts is coming.
Members of Provincial Parliament returning to Queens Park this past week opened a new chapter in Ontario political history by addressing these unprecedented financial challenges.
The recent McGuinty government Drummond Report highlights the crossroads we are at: We can continue down the eight-year McGuinty path toward a $30.2 deficit and a $411.4 billion debt by 2017, or we can take the road less travelled, cutting wasteful spending and reducing the deficit.
It’s time for a new approach.  And, it’s time for the Ontario government to look us in the eye and tell the truth.  And here’s one painful truth that must be understood: government money isn’t “free.”  It comes from two sources: we pay for it in taxes or our children pay for it in debt.
While the challenges are massive, the solutions are age-old: Financial reform requires smaller, and less costly, government. Deficit-reduction, let alone, debt-reduction, is required to allow our children to pursue their dreams. The reforms we need are not in the millions, but in the billions of dollars.
It must also be understood that the transformation Ontario must make will not be borne by someone else or someone else’s program – it will be borne by all of us.
We need to remember the public sector bureaucracy – which is 70 per cent unionized – exists to serve its citizens, not its employees.  The truth is there are unacceptable pay inequities between union and non-union government employees and also between public and private sector workers.
People getting paid by the taxpayers shouldn’t get a better deal than the taxpayers themselves. Freezing public sector salaries for a $2 billion savings would be a start to reflects today’s financial realities.
Further steps require renewed focus on the top priorities of Ontarians: jobs and our economy, and an end to deficit spending. To that end, Ontario’s Opposition has proposed a ‘stress test’ of three criteria against which all government initiatives should be judged. Do they: 1.Reduce the size and cost of government? 2. Contribute to private sector job creation? 3. Ensure accountability and value-for-money for taxpayers?
People in Ontario have tried the present government’s way; that way has failed. After eight years, we’re running out of both money and time. As Opposition Leader Hudak noted earlier this week, “Every day’s inaction from now on will only lead to more sacrifice down the road.”
Ontario government spending and programs are on an unsustainable path. Inaction is no longer an option. The province of Ontario is facing a crushing debt crisis meaning we need to cut spending now, and we need to cut it significantly. We need to do it fairly, and we need to do it now.