Ontario economic statement falls short of fiscal revolution

Michael Mantha MPP for Algoma—Manitoulin. File photo.

QUEEN’S PARK—Business owners were the big winners in the first economic statement from the Ford government released earlier this month. But what was perhaps more important is that, except for minimum wage earners who will have to wait until January 2020 to see the boost to $15 an hour the Liberals had set for January 2019, the bloodletting in government services feared by progressives and cheered by the right have not materialized—although the stage has been set.

This is well in keeping with the Progressive Conservative’s commitment to taking a slow and prudent approach to government, but those in the Opposition benches are anything but happy about the results.

“In the Fall Economic Statement, Doug Ford and his Conservatives have cut more than $3.2 billion, including the transportation operating budget by $305 million,” noted Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Mike Mantha, who was clearly not impressed by the economic statement. “Northerners are already affected by poor road maintenance, winter and summer. We can’t afford more cuts when our highways are closed for days after floods or snowstorms. People in Northern Ontario rely on roads to get to medical appointments, to school or to work and shouldn’t have to worry for their safety.”

Mr. Mantha also noted that Premier Ford announced that his government was abolishing the Children and Youth Advocate, the Environmental Commissioner and the French Language Commissioner.

“It is a sad time for Ontario, when the government reduces the oversight over itself, nothing good can come out of it,” said Mr. Mantha. “We need independent legislative officers to keep the government in check. The Conservatives are demonstrating that they have little interest in youth, Francophones or the environment, for that matter.”

Mr. Mantha went on to note that there are not many options for children and youth across Algoma-Manitoulin to access representation or assistance as (Northern rural) resources and services are much lower than that of families in urban centres. “If a child were to experience homelessness, there are not many shelters throughout the riding that will have the funding or the space to assist them, especially if they are not with an adult,” he said. “We also can’t forget that since Indigenous children are overrepresented in the child welfare system, the loss of the Child Advocate will make it increasingly more difficult to navigate these systemic issues.”

“It is troubling to see Ford’s Conservatives attacking every single environmental safeguard we add in Ontario, especially after seeing the massive forest fires from this summer or the rapid floods of this fall,” continued Mr. Mantha. “Ontario will not be safe from climate change, but Ford’s Conservatives refuse to act like leaders.”

“Doug Ford and the PCs are breaking most of the promises they have made to Ontarians during the election campaign,” said Liberal Finance Critic Mitzi Hunter in a statement released in response to the economic statement. “They promised they would find efficiencies, that no one would lose their job. That the basic income pilot wouldn’t be tampered with—they are breaking every promise, one at a time.”

“While there is a housing affordability crisis in Ontario, the PCs are gutting rent control for new units. Families, seniors and workers will be forced out of rentals when they are no longer able to afford steep rent increases. The protections we put in place will now be gone.

“The Ford government is also dangerously underestimating job growth in the province and inflating deficit projections. They are sending a dangerous message to investors when they pretend the deficit is billions more than reality. It is equally dangerous to predict anemic job growth despite a strong economy. It may help them try to justify their cuts, but this behaviour will do nothing except drive investment from Ontario.

“Conservatives are refusing to invest in research, technology and innovation. Make no mistake; this will have far-reaching consequences for Ontario’s economy,” concluded Ms. Hunter.

The PCs have, however, committed to cutting taxes for the lowest income bracket (up to nearly $30,000). Individual low income earners will save up to $850, and families up to $1,700, by not having to pay any provincial income tax with the benefit gradually reducing for those individuals making over $30,000 up to $60,000—at a cost of $120 million a year to the provincial coffers. Critics maintain the $15 minimum wage would have put more money in low income pockets while hiking the government’s revenue instead of hamstringing it.

Meanwhile, high income earners will be spared a planned Liberal surtax, keeping $275 million in the pockets of the provinces wealthiest and out of the provincial purse.

The government says it has reduced the 2018-19 deficit by $500,000 to $14.5 billion and that the reduction was achieved through cutting $3.2 billion in expenses with measures such as a freeze on hiring and limits on discretionary spending in the public service. However, much of those savings were cancelled out by the loss of $2.7 billion in revenue, largely due to the dismantling of cap and trade and scrapping planned tax increases.