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Ford pays lip service to fiscal prudence while leading a spending parade

Author: Jay Goldberg 2022/08/13

Ontario Premier Doug Ford talking out of both sides of his mouth.

In the Ford government’s summer throne speech warned about the need to be fiscally prudent. The question is whether the government is going to heed its own warning.

“Unprecedented spending throughout the pandemic has created new fiscal challenges here in Ontario and across Canada that will require prudent economic management in the months and years to come,” said the Ford government’s throne speech.

Ford’s throne speech was dead right. Ontario is not too far away from a genuine fiscal crisis.

Ontario’s debt has reached historic new highs, with the provincial debt set to sail past $450 billion this year.

The province now spends more on debt interest than on post-secondary education. More than $13 billion this year will flow out of government coffers to Bay Street bondholders instead of staying in taxpayers’ pockets or going toward mending the health-care system.

And interest rates are climbing faster than the Starship Enterprise at warp speed. Higher interest rates will mean higher deficits and even more fiscal pressure on Ontario’s bottom line.

If Premier Doug Ford was truly concerned about the debt build up and the challenges ahead in the throne speech, surely the time to address those concerns was in the budget presented hours later, right?

Wrong.

The tone-deaf Ford government simply re-tabled its spring budget with a few minor tweaks.

Remember, the Ford government’s spring budget included the largest deficit in the province’s history, $19.9 billion, which is higher than any deficit run during the pandemic. And the budget included no plan as to how to get back to balance.

How about tax relief?

The Ford government acknowledged in its throne speech that Ontarians face major cost-of-living challenges as inflation hits its highest level in nearly four decades.

But the government offered no real solutions to help Ontarians deal with soaring living costs.

The best Ford appeared to be able to do was to point to his temporary gas tax cut, introduced at the beginning of the summer.

The government has no plan for further relief going forward.

Such was the spectacle at Queen’s Park. A government warning of the need to be fiscally prudent and the dangers of inflation at lunch time was binge spending and taxing by dinner.

When Ford took office in 2018, he declared that the party with taxpayers money was over and that he would restore fiscal sanity to Queen’s Park while leaving more money in taxpayers’ wallets.

Instead, Ford has become the biggest spender in Ontario history. A new report from the Fraser Institute shows Ford’s spending is actually higher than that of his predecessor, Kathleen Wynne.

Ford has turned Wynne’s party into a parade.

It’s time for the government to recognize the gravity of our current situation. Ontario faces a massive deficit, which will only be fuelled further by rising interest rates. Over half of Ontarians say they’re $200 away from not being able to pay their bills, but we have a government that pays lip service to tax relief while failing to act.

With nearly four years left in its current mandate, the Ford government still has time to fix the sorry state of Ontario’s finances. Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy should get to work on a fall economic statement that presents a plan to balance the budget, reign in spending and deliver relief to Ontarians suffering from soaring inflation.

With Ontario’s finances in such bad shape, time is of the essence.