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Government spending and provincial debt have exploded in Ontario over the past two decades. Racking it up has been a bipartisan affair.

Under the leadership of the province’s three latest premiers, Ontario transformed itself from a province with a relatively modest debt load to one crushed by the weight of a massive $400-billion debt burden.

It’s time for Ontario’s politicians to do something about it. Ontario needs a law forcing governments to keep spending increases at or below the rate of inflation to stand in the way of future fiscal recklessness.

But before looking further at the antidote to our problems, it’s important to first look at how we got here.

Dalton McGunity promised to be a responsible steward of the province’s finances when he ran for premier in 2003.

“Ontario deserves a government that will maintain fiscal discipline,” McGuinty told voters on the hustings.

McGuinty’s Liberals promised to abide by the Harris government’s balanced-budget law and work hard to reduce the debt.

“We will not add to the provincial debt,” the Liberal platform said. “We will pay down the debt as conditions allow, with all surpluses going directly to debt payment.”

It turns out the Liberal platform wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.

Government spending stood at $66 billion and the provincial debt was $110 billon when McGunity took over Queen’s Park. Government spending rose to $130 billion and the provincial debt reached $258 billion by the time McGunity presented his final budget 10 years later.

McGunity increased government spending by more than three times the rate of inflation.

Then along came Kathleen Wynne. Wynne jacked up government spending by another $48 billion and ballooned the debt to $308 billion in a span of just five years.

Wynne actually showed more fiscal restraint than McGunity, if one can even call it that. Instead of increasing spending at three times the rate of inflation, she increased spending at two-and-a-half times the rate of inflation.

Ontarians were tired of 15 years of reckless spending, borrowing and taxing by the time the 2018 election came around.

When Doug Ford entered the political scene, he promised to right the wrongs of his Liberal predecessors.

“The party is over with taxpayers’ money,” Ford declared as he crisscrossed the province.

Ford repeatedly pointed out that under the leadership of McGunity and Wynne, Ontario had become “the most indebted region in the entire world.”

A Progressive Conservative government would change all of that, Ford pledged.

But in the five years since Ford first sat down in the premier’s chair, he’s failed to put Ontario back on a sustainable course. He’s broken the most important promise he made to voters: end government waste and mismanagement.

Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy tabled a plan to spend $199 billion and increase the provincial debt to $416 billion in the government’s 2023 fall fiscal update. He called the document a “responsible” plan.

Ontarians should ignore the government’s rhetoric.

The reality is there has been no spending restraint under Ford’s watch. Government spending has increased by $12 billion over and above the rate of inflation in the past five years.

So much for ending the party with taxpayers’ money.

If McGunity, Wynne and Ford had kept government spending increases in line with the rate of inflation, Ontario today would be spending $102 billion. The Ford government is set to spend nearly double that this year.

Ontario would be debt free and would have hundreds of billions of dollars in a rainy-day fund in that very same scenario.

Instead, taxpayers are on the hook for more than $1 billion a month in debt interest payments this year. That’s the equivalent of paying for a brand-new hospital every 30 days.

It’s time to break the cycle of debt and deficits.

Earlier this year, the government of Alberta passed a law mandating spending increases stay at or below the rate of inflation plus population growth.

The best time for Ford to have introduced that kind of legislation was five years ago. The second best time is right now. Ontario taxpayers cannot afford to wait any longer.

Taxpayers are fed up with paying more than $13 billion a year in interest on the debt, money that simply goes into the pockets of Bay Street bondholders.

It’s time for Ford to remember what he promised voters. Five years after he said he would clean up the Liberal mess at Queen’s Park, he’s only made a bad fiscal situation worse.

For the sake of future generations, Ford must balance the books and introduce a spending restraint law to ensure this sorry saga of ballooning deficits and debt finally comes to an end.

Jay Goldberg is the Ontario Director at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation


The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

The clock is ticking on Ontario Premier Doug Ford. He promised Ontarians “the party is over with taxpayers’ money.” Now he needs to keep his promise to get spending under control before time runs out and the next election starts.

While some may try to argue that Ford has not had a chance to fix the province’s financial problems due to the pandemic, the Progressive Conservative government increased spending by $5 billion during its first year in office.

Ford outspent former premier Kathleen Wynne before COVID-19 ever hit our shores.

When Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy presents the government’s fall economic update later this week, it will be the Ford government’s second to last chance before the next election to show Ontarians that the Progressive Conservatives can keep their promises.

How can Ford prove to Ontarians that he really can stand up for taxpayers?

There are at least four key moves the Premier and his government can make.

First, restrain spending.

The pandemic showed that our health-care system needs some improvements. But that doesn’t excuse the soaring government spending Ontarians have seen in nearly every other area of government.

Two years ago, the Ford government spent a total of $164.8 billion. This year, it plans to spend $186.1 billion.

Any increased spending, other than in health and long-term care, should be temporary and pandemic related. If the Ford government reduces spending to pre-pandemic levels in ministries other than health and long-term care, taxpayers could save $15.2 billion.

That would go a long way in eliminating the province’s $33.1 billion deficit.

Second, Ford needs to cut taxes to keep his election promises.

Ford promised to lower the second income tax bracket by 20 per cent. That could save an Ontario taxpayer up to $827 a year. For hardworking Ontarians trying to make ends meet amid rising costs of living, that money could go a long way.

That one tax-cutting promise would cover over a month’s worth of groceries for a family of four, even at today’s inflated food prices.

Ford also promised to cut Ontario’s gas excise tax from 14.7 cents per litre down to 9 cents per litre. For a family filling up their minivan once a week, that would save over $200 per year.

Third, the premier needs to end corporate welfare, once and for all.

Ford spoke against corporate welfare during the 2018 election campaign, but his government handed over nearly $300 million to the Ford Motor Company for factory renovations, even though Ford is a wealthy company on the Fortune 500 list.

Ford also handed out $55 million to the profitable Maple Leaf Foods.

Ontarians don’t want to see their hard-earned taxpayer dollars handed over to rich corporations.

Finally, we need end political welfare.

Ford told Ontarians that giving $12 million a year of taxpayer money to political parties with no strings attached was wrong.

“I do not believe the government should be taking money from hard-working taxpayers and giving it to political parties,” said Ford just three short years ago.

But rather than scrapping the program, Ford has put it on steroids. He’s made the program more costly and even arranged for Ontario’s four major political parties to take a $10-million payday loan courtesy of Ontario taxpayers just weeks before the next election.

Ford still has time to redeem himself.

By pursuing these four policy avenues, Ford can show that he still intends to fight for everyday Ontarians.

With only months left before the next election, it’s time for Ford to get cracking.

Jay Goldberg is the Interim Ontario Director at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

While Ontario’s college and university employees have been busy cashing in on massive pay hikes during the pandemic, taxpayers and tuition-paying students have been barely getting by.

The newly minted minister responsible for universities and colleges, Jill Dunlop, now has a full knapsack of homework to do on this expensive file.

With a $33-billion deficit, the number one job of all of Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s newly shuffled cabinet ministers should be to find savings within their departments.

In Dunlop’s case, there are plenty of savings to be found.

Consider the numbers from Ontario’s three largest universities: the University of Toronto, York University, and the University of Waterloo.

At the University of Toronto, the number of employees making more than $100,000 ballooned by 8.9 per cent in 2020.

York University and the University of Waterloo also saw significant increases of 7.8 per cent and 5 per cent, respectively.

But as university employees were enjoying raises, everyday taxpayers were losing their jobs. The province lost 355,300 net jobs in 2020. At the end of last year, Ontario’s unemployment rate stood at 9.6 per cent.

The numbers go from bad to worse for students.

Young workers, aged 15 to 24, saw the most significant job losses of any demographic group in the province last year, according to Ontario’s Financial Accountability Office.

For every worker over the age of 25 who lost their job last year, five workers under the age of 25 lost theirs.

Despite these massive job losses, Ontario’s students can expect higher costs when they return to school in the fall, while Ontario taxpayers will be forced to pay for the province’s bloated post-secondary salary tab.

Ontario’s universities spend well over half of their budgets paying their employees.

Compensation accounted for 61 per cent of the University of Toronto’s 2020 budget, 68 per cent of York University’s, and 62 per cent of the University of Waterloo’s.

How does that affect government spending?

The province of Ontario currently spends more than $10 billion annually on post-secondary education.

Based on our province’s three biggest universities, Ontario will spend anywhere from $6.2 billion to $7.0 billion on university employee pay this year.

In addition, the Ontario government’s post-secondary budget has increased by $2.4 billion over the past five years, suggesting that employee wages and benefits were responsible for growing the budget by about $1.5 billion.

With a $33-billion deficit, Ontario cannot afford billions of dollars in pay hikes.

As a new minister bringing a fresh perspective to the colleges and universities ministry, now is the time for Dunlop to show leadership.

That leadership should begin by tackling these outrageous wage hikes.

The Ford government has introduced legislation that, on its face, attempts to rein in extravagant salaries and benefits by capping government employee wage increases at one per cent per year.

However, the legislation has far too many loopholes. It allows raises greater than one per cent for length of employment, performance assessments, and the completion of further education.

In addition, as far as the colleges and universities ministry is concerned, limiting pay increases to one per cent simply doesn’t go far enough.

It’s time for pay cuts.

Dunlop can work with Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy to reduce the deficit by cutting wages in the colleges and universities ministry and closing the loopholes that are facilitating these extravagant annual raises.

It’s simply unfair to keep asking students and taxpayers to pay higher costs to allow those who work for the government to avoid sharing in the burden of tackling the disaster that is Ontario’s finances.

For too long, Ontario governments have allowed the province’s deficit to get out of control by refusing to make tough decisions.

It’s time for Dunlop and the Ford government to act.

Jay Goldberg is the Interim Ontario Director at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.