Ontario squeezes spending to build for the future: Editorial
Even by the standards of modern budgets, which rarely contain anything that hasn’t been pre-announced, the plan set out on Thursday by Ontario’s Liberal government contained very few surprises.
And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The Liberals have already put forward an ambitious agenda – a $130-billion infrastructure plan; reforming liquor laws; selling off most of Hydro One; setting up a new Ontario pension plan; and bringing the province into a cap-and-trade scheme to reduce greenhouse gases.
All that was known. What Finance Minister Charles Sousa added to the mix was a renewed pledge to eliminate the province’s deficit by 2017, as promised. What he did not spell out was exactly how the government will accomplish that goal.
Almost certainly, it won’t be pretty. Sousa bent over backwards to avoid words like “cut” or even “reduce.” Instead, he trotted out a range of MBA-style phrases such as “repurposing” government assets and services.
However it’s described, it will amount to squeezing an already-lean provincial government even more. His budget plan says spending on government programs will actually decline slightly by 2017 (from $120.5 billion in the coming year to exactly $120 billion in two years). Taking inflation and population growth into account, that means there are bound to be cuts.
In fact, leaving out education and health-care, the two biggest areas of spending, the government projects a decline in program spending of 5.5 per cent. That is sure to translate into lost jobs in some areas and bitter protests from unions whose mission is to protect their members’ pay and positions.