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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.

There has lately been more than one allusion to the Ontario Liberals’ “second straight election disaster” last June 2, 2022, when they won only 8 of the Legislative Assembly’s 124 seats.

In fact, this was slightly better than the 7 seats they won in 2018. But it was also, no doubt and for the second time in a row, not even enough to qualify for official party status.

At the same time, in the 2022 election the Liberals actually won a slightly greater share of the province-wide popular vote than the official-opposition New Democrats (23.9% vs 23.7%), who took 31 seats!

(The almost crazy imbalance between seats and popular vote here of course flows from the sometimes extreme vagaries of the current electoral system, which Liberals had a chance to change and didn’t, and New Democrats used to criticize.)

It is also true enough that in three of the four main public opinion polls since the 2022 election the Liberals have continued to finish ahead of the NDP in the province-wide popular vote — in the latest Abacus poll by as much as six points.

There is as well a history of writing the Ontario Liberals’ epitaph too early. In the 1970s many believed the Ontario New Democrats would replace the provincial Liberals, following precedents in the Mother of Parliaments across the sea.

Then in the middle of the 1980s David Peterson from the university city of London, Ontario  liberated an increasingly urban voting base from a once glorious agrarian democratic past in the family farm heartland, that then did appear to have seen its better days.

Subsequently Peterson’s new more urban Liberals led to the governing parties of Dalton McGuinty from Ottawa, and Kathleen Wynne from the old suburbs of Toronto.

Meanwhile, at their recent annual general meeting in Hamilton, Ontario Liberals “overwhelmingly voted for a one-member-one-vote system” to elect the next party leader.

With the next fixed-date provincial election in 2026 now dimly in the headlights, a few party members  may also be having second thoughts about the rural side of the old Ontario Liberals, that Peterson’s new party for young urban professionals ultimately seemed to cast adrift.

In the 1960s Ontario Liberals were still obvious enough descendants of the old “Great Reform” agrarian democrats — a local variation on the wider family farm democracy of the anglophone North American Middle West.

The Great Reform Liberals dominated Ontario provincial politics in the confederation era under “Ontario’s Cromwell” Oliver Mowat (premier 1872–1896). Then they had a historic reprise under “Canada’s Huey Long” Mitch Hepburn, in the later 1930s and early 1940s.

This party’s deepest roots were in the Class 1 family farm land of Southwestern Ontario. Mowat’s seat in the legislature was Oxford North. Hepburn’s was Elgin (also the Canadian homeland of US liberal economist John Kenneth Galbraith, whose father was a farmer and prominent local Liberal).

The Ontario Liberals of the 1970s still had at least some of the old progressive rural mud of Southwestern Ontario visibly on their shoes.

Robert Nixon, leader 1966–1976 (and 1981–1982) was the last of this agrarian democratic line. And his final career as Premier David Peterson’s finance minister was a constructive link between the old rural and new urban order that finally led to McGuinty and Wynne.

The now arguably too urban Ontario Liberal Party of the 2020s could possibly use some of its long vanished agrarian democratic and “Great Reform” rural past today. Instincts of this sort played a part in the failed quest for Green Party leader Mike Schreiner as next Liberal leader.

(Mr. Schreiner grew up on a family farm in Kansas. And he currently sits for Guelph in the Legislative Assembly, home of the University of Guelph, formerly the Ontario Agricultural Collage — where John Kenneth Galbraith did his undergraduate degree.)

Is there some other way the current still somewhat misty Ontario Liberal leadership race of 2023 can bring the party’s family-farm democratic deep past at least a little back to life?

So far there doesn’t seem any obvious successor to Brant County farmer Robert Nixon in the contest. And the auto sector in Southwestern Ontario has built a base for urban New Democrats not old progressive rural Liberals.

The ancient history of the Ontario Liberal Party, however, is testament to the historical reality that a progressive rural community was once a dominant force in the regional politics of Canada’s most populous province.

A 2020s provincial Liberal movement that somehow managed to revive even a little of this old rural progressive tradition just might make a useful contribution to both present-day Ontario political culture — and its own partisan success in the 2026 election.

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.

After fifteen years of governments pursuing high spending, run-away deficits, and no meaningful tax relief, it’s time for Ontario Premier Doug Ford to think big.

Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy is set to present the Ford government’s pre-election budget next month, which gives his team a chance to set the spending tone as the province heads to a vote.

In the Wynne government’s final budget before facing voters in 2018, former finance minister Charles Sousa rolled out $20 billion in deficit-financed promises to try to win over the support of the province’s voters.

Ford rightly called out the lack of wisdom in Wynne’s big spending financial decisions. Voters handed Ford a strong majority mandate and sent the Wynne Liberals packing.

That was strong signal that people wanted change.

Wynne was not the first political leader to try to buy-off voters by using their own money. Conventional wisdom suggests that governments can improve their chances heading into an election by dangling expensive goodies to win the public’s favour.

That’s what former premier Wynne did in 2018. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did exactly the same thing last year.

But if Ford and Bethlenfalvy are tempted to embark on a spending spree this spring, they should think twice.

Voters elected the current Ontario government because Ford promised to protect taxpayers and bring sanity back to Queen’s Park after well over a decade of financial mismanagement.

And Ford should take decisive action before June’s election.

It’s time for the Ford government to stay true to the pro-taxpayer message that got his team elected in the first place.

After four years of delays, it’s time for Ford to finally deliver on his promised tax cuts.

During the last election, Ford promised voters that he would cut middle class income taxes, lower the gas tax, and provide corporate tax relief.

So far, he’s zero for three and the clock is ticking down.

Ford’s promised income tax cut could save a two-income household up to $1,700 per year. That could help Ontarians desperately trying to pay down their credit card bills after years of pandemic disruptions.

Ford’s promised gas tax cut could save a family filling-up a minivan and a sedan once a week $390 per year. At a time when millions of Ontarians are nearing a financial breaking point, $390 in savings could help cover the cost of groceries for a family of four for about two weeks.

Ford also pledged to cut taxes for Ontario businesses. He said a corporate tax cut would bring jobs back to the province and make Ontario a more attractive place in which to invest.

Two years into the pandemic, businesses need tax relief and reduced red tape now more than ever before.

Media reports have also suggested that Ford is considering ending license plate sticker fees for Ontario drivers. For a family with two cars, that could save $240 every year. With inflation rising rapidly and cost-of-living soaring, families could use the extra cash.

Best of all, this tax relief can be delivered without deepening the deficit.

The government should return non-health sector spending back to pre-pandemic levels. Doing so would save over $10 billion per year, which would more than compensate for any revenue lost by leaving more cash in taxpayers’ wallets.

It’s time for Ford to remember why he was elected in the first place. Voters wanted to end the Liberal spending spree, enjoy tax relief, and bring sanity back the province’s finances. So far, Ford has failed on all fronts, even discounting the impact of the pandemic.

In the government’s March budget, Ford should put all of his chips on the table and bet on tax relief.

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.

If your wallet is feeling lighter, it’s not just because of the rising cost of living and inflation.

Ontario’s political parties have teamed-up to take $14 million out of taxpayers’ pockets this year, and they’re just getting started.

Back in 2014, former premier Kathleen Wynne introduced the per-vote subsidy. Under Wynne’s plan, political parties would get a set amount of money from taxpayers every three months, to be spent on whatever the parties want, including lawn signs and attack ads.

Thanks to Wynne’s program, Ontario’s political parties have taken nearly $100 million out of taxpayers’ wallets in the past seven years.

But Wynne isn’t the only politician who deserves some coal in the stocking.

When he was running to replace Wynne three years ago, Ontario Premier Doug Ford promised to scrap Wynne’s political welfare handouts.

Promise made, promise broken.

Ford has been in office for more than three and a half years, and Ontario’s political welfare program is alive and well.

In fact, political welfare is thriving like never before.

In February, Attorney General Doug Downey announced the Ford government planned to keep Wynne’s political welfare system in place. He also announced that the amount of money Ontario’s political parties receive under the program would increase to historic new highs.

That means not only did the Ford government fail to repeal political welfare, as promised, but it’s also made it even more costly.

When Downey announced this policy reversal, he blamed the pandemic, claiming that the economic climate meant Ontario’s political parties couldn’t fundraise as much as they would have liked to.

All three of the opposition parties at Queen’s Park have chosen to go along with the Ford government’s plan to suck money out of taxpayers.

Ford’s team also quietly introduced a new gravy train for Ontario’s political parties ahead of the 2022 election. The four parties are set to receive $10 million in taxpayer loans for them to spend during the 2022 campaign.

Taxpayers will literally be loaning money to political parties for the privilege of being forced to watch the kind of TV attack ads that make us want to throw our televisions out the window.

But new evidence posted on Elections Ontario’s website shows that the Ford government’s decision to blame the pandemic for breaking its election promise is just hot air. The government’s own legislation keeps the system in place until at least the end of 2024.

If the government wants to blame the pandemic, it certainly can’t use that excuse to justify a three-year extension of the program.

The fact that Ontario’s political parties are crying poor is also a load of hogwash. Last year, in the thick of the pandemic, Ford’s Progressive Conservatives raised $3.4 million. The Liberals and the NDP raised millions as well.

Do those numbers suggest that political parties really need our help?

There are literally thousands of things hard-earned taxpayer dollars could be better spent on.

The average Ontarian is set to pay $1,850 in provincial sales taxes this year. With the $14 million going into Ontario’s political parties’ pockets, over 7,500 Ontarians could have had a sales tax holiday for the entire year.

Does that sound like our politicians have their priorities straight?

Ontario’s politicians are using the pandemic as a weak excuse to justify raiding the treasury.

Taxpayers can’t let them get away with it.

Ontario’s politicians need to be held accountable.

Ford was right when he said that taxpayers shouldn’t have to see their hard-earned tax dollars pad the pockets of political parties.

Before the next election, taxpayers want to see the old Doug Ford make a return to Queen’s Park and finally take political parties’ hands out of the taxpayer cookie jar.

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.