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It’s time for Ford to make a budget U-turn

Author: Jay Goldberg 2024/01/30

Premier Doug Ford created a financial mess over the past six years, but he still has a chance to turn it around before the next election.

As Ford begins to craft his next budget, he needs to balance the books, prioritizing tax relief and make fundamental accountability reforms.

Looking at Queen’s Park today, a major clean-up is in order.

For one thing, Ontario now has the most indebted sub-sovereign government in the world.

Yes, a lot of this mess was created by reckless spending by Ford’s predecessors. But Ford has been on the job for six years and his government is responsible for adding about $80 billion to the province’s debt, which is now running over $400 billion.

Six years in, there can be no more blaming former premier Kathleen Wynne for the mess Ontario finds itself in.

This debt avalanche was caused by a reckless approach to spending. Some might call it the Oprah Winfrey approach to government. Ford is giving everyone a car, so to speak. As long as it’s electric.

Ford, along with his pal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, handed out more than $30 billion of subsidies to massive auto companies like Stellantis and Volkswagen. Ontario taxpayers are on the hook for one-third of the cost.

Ford’s willingness to hand out $10 billion of taxpayer cash to two auto giants is a symptom of the larger problem of his addiction to government spending.

At the macro level, the spending picture is bleak. Ford launched a crusade to the premier’s office by promising to end the party with taxpayer cash. But government spending today is $40 billion more than it was the year Ford came to power. That’s $15 billion over and above inflation.

All of this extra spending led to chronic deficits. Ford has only balanced one budget in six tries and doesn’t plan to get the province back to black until at least 2025.

Then there’s tax relief. Or rather, the lack of it.

Yes, Ford should get some brownie points for temporarily cutting the province’s gas tax by 6.4 cents per litre. The tax cut has saved the typical Ontario family nearly $1,000 since it was introduced in June 2022. But Ford failed to deliver any tax cuts that are more substantial, like income or sales tax relief. And so far, the gas tax cut isn’t permanent.

Here’s a three-point plan for Ford to take Ontario back in the right direction.

First, balance the budget. The Ford government is projecting a $5.3 billion deficit for 2024-25. Ford should freeze government spending at last year’s levels, which would more than wipe out the deficit.

Second, Ford should make his temporary gas tax cut permanent. The 6.4 cent per litre cut has been crucial for families bombarded by inflation, high interest rates and a punitive federal carbon tax. None of those three issues are going away any time soon and neither should the tax cut.

Ford should also look at cutting income or sales taxes within the parameters of a balanced budget.

Third, Ford must pursue major and substantive government reforms. It’s time to make sure Ontario never gets in such a bleak financial state again. He needs to introduce a spending cap, balanced budget legislation and bring the wages of government employees in line with the private sector.

Ford has made his fair share of mistakes over the past six years. But with two years left in his mandate, Ford still has a chance to right his wrongs. That starts with this year’s budget.


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