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Reckless budgeting? The Trudeau Liberals should take a look in the mirror

April 18, 2019
 Reckless budgeting? The Trudeau Liberals should take a look in the mirror

(This column originally appeared in the Toronto Sun)

Doug Ford’s government recently released its first budget. For those who had been hoping for big reductions in spending, it was surely a disappointment: spending rose by over five per cent, while the Progressive Conservatives’ campaign promise to balance the budget was pushed off by one year to 2023. Finance Minister Vic Fedeli framed his approach as “restoring sustainability to government finances in order to protect what matters most.”

The Ontario budget is, at best, a very tentative first step to tackle a soaring mountain of debt that’s already more than $344 billion. It is budget of essentially modest restraint.

Not that you’d know it from the hysterical reaction coming from Doug Ford’s federal counterparts.

In an unusual move, the Trudeau government sent some of its MPs down to Queen’s Park to give federal reaction, and the party immediately unleashed a tsunami of over-the-top social media posts, clearly signalling that the Trudeau Liberals are desperately hoping to improve their re-election odds by ginning up the Ford Tories as slash-and-burn villains.

Unfortunately for the Trudeau Liberals, they’ve got something of a credibility gap when it comes to lecturing about budgets.

For starters, one of the lead fearmongers was Employment Minister Patty Hajdu, who really isn’t the best spokesperson to be giving pointers about reckless use of taxpayer money. She blew $1.1 million of taxpayer money renovating her ministerial office in 2016, even ignoring advice from her own bureaucrats that such largesse would be criticized.

But it’s hard to blame Hajdu when she’s part of a government that doesn’t seem to really care about keeping costs under control, as it shown by shattering its own balanced budget promise in spectacular fashion.

Recall that the now-discarded 2015 Liberal platform promise was straightforward: three deficits totalling $26 billion in new debt before returning to balance in 2019.

What did we get instead? There’s $127 billion in new debt by 2024, and still absolutely no plan to get back to balance.

That’s not missing by a little bit. That’s missing by $101 billion, or five times more debt than their campaign plan.

The Trudeau Liberals didn’t break his promise due to a lack of money. Quite the opposite: a strong overall economy has meant that tax revenues have actually been higher than projected, meaning there was extra money pouring into government coffers that the government hadn’t been counting on.

And what did they do with that extra money? They found ways to spend it and keep on borrowing.

Now, despite their own over spending and inexcusably broken balanced-budget promise, the Trudeau Liberals are criticizing Ford for spending too little.

Ironically, perhaps the better criticism of Ontario’s budget is that it doesn’t control spending enough. While spending increases are more modest than under their Liberal predecessors, the Ontario PCs aren’t exactly starving the government beast. To get back to balance in 2023 (or, with any luck, even sooner) the Ford government will need to demonstrate a level of discipline that can be awfully challenging for the average politician.

Regardless, the notion that a government elected on a clear promise to get Ontario’s fiscal house in order after years of big deficits is going to take any lectures from the promise-breaking spendthrifts in Ottawa is laughable. Rather than posture against a government that seems to be even modestly concerned with controlling spending, the Trudeau government should take a long look in the mirror and confront the government that’s truly reckless with taxpayers’ money.


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