Toward smaller, smarter, affordable government

By MPP Toby Barrett

Recent meetings of the Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) gave MPP’s an opportunity to recognize the important work local councils are doing in these difficult times. To that end, the provincial government must work with municipalities as partners to combat our jobs and spending crises.
And this can be accomplished by delivering on three straightforward principles to foster a pro-growth environment: First, whether municipal, provincial or federal – there is only one taxpayer. Second, job-killing red tape needs to be cut, regulations shouldn’t hinder growth. And third, affordable energy attracts new investments, in turn benefiting local communities.
There is a clear and unequivocal need to grow the private sector economy. This is where the jobs come from, where the products and service, the new ideas, innovations and creativity come from. We cannot forget that it is the private sector that provides the competitive edge that our province needs to survive and thrive in the global economy.
But with an approaching Ontario budget there is worry government will take the easy way out. They’ll do what they always do when their backs are against the wall – they will raise taxes.
We have already heard proposals to scrap the next legislated round of business tax cuts in the budget. In the middle of an economic downturn; government should never raise taxes on the very people and businesses who create jobs, who help us compete in the international marketplace. By doing so, government risks strangling off our last, best hope for turning Ontario around – the private sector economy.
Politicians, whether they be federal, provincial or municipal, have been known to recite a long list of all the things they could do for their various stakeholders. These commitments usually involve lots of money. The point is that this time, the money simply isn’t there.
Until recently, what we heard from Queen’s Park was that all we need is a “fair and balanced” approach to fixing Ontario’s fiscal and economic problems. But now it has been revealed – we are staring into the abyss toward a $30 billion deficit in 2017 unless we change course.
Since the release of the Drummond report, the governing Liberals have spent virtually every day talking about the things they will NOT do to address this looming catastrophe. They’re not just cherry-picking from Don Drummond’s savings recommendations; rather they’re pulling entire blocks out of its foundation. Without a word on what they would do to fill the holes left behind.
Day after day, one idea after another has been taken off the table: full day kindergarten at a cost of $1.5 billion; maintaining capped class sizes costing $500 million; keeping 70 per cent of non-teaching staff in schools at $600 million; maintaining the Ontario Clean Energy Benefit cost of $1.1 billion; and retaining the tuition grant which will cost $485 million. This accounts for a total of $4.2 billion in Drummond savings recommendations that will not be implemented.
We need commitments to deliver smaller, smarter and more affordable government at all levels. We need a full, top-to-bottom review of every government program to determine its true value and eliminate those that do not pass the test. And we need an end to municipalities being forced to choose between cutting needed services and infrastructure or raising property taxes.