A tale of two budgets

In Ontario, it is both the best of times and the worst of times; the spring of hope and the winter of despair.

(This column originally appeared in the Toronto Sun)

By: Candice Malcolm

Whether it is the best of times, or the worst of times in Ontario depends on what you choose to read this week.

Canada’s two largest budgets were introduced in succession – the federal budget on Tuesday with Ontario’s coming on Thursday – and they paint two very different narratives about the state of our economy and public finances.

The Harper government tabled a balanced budget.

Despite a slumping price of oil and tumbling value of the loonie, the feds have managed to eliminate their deficit.

Not only is the budget balanced, it also contains a small surplus as well as tax relief for hardworking Canadians.

Even with this fiscal restraint, the federal government will also roll out new infrastructure upgrades and a smorgasbord of tax credits and saving incentives.

Thanks to Stephen Harper’s management, Canada is the top performer in the G7 in terms of public debt in relation to the size of our economy.

Economists around the world look to Canada as an important leader in encouraging global powers to restrain spending and to reduce their reliance on public debt.

Here at home, however, this message falls on deaf ears; Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals continue to spend with reckless abandon in Ontario.

Ontario lives beyond its means and spends beyond its capacity.

Premier Wynne and Finance Minister Charles Sousa are stuck in an economic fantasyland; they believe they can spend their way to prosperity and tax their way to economic growth.

They refuse to face the facts.

Instead, they insist on racking up more public debt and kicking the can down the road for future generations to deal with.

The latest provincial budget will be more of the same.

How did we get here?

Following the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent recession, both the federal and Ontario governments deferred to populist economic policies – the Harper government succumbed to pressure and implemented stimulus against its better judgment, while the Ontario Liberals dove in eagerly.

Both turned on the borrowing taps in vain attempts to “stimulate” the economy through fake demand and real debt.

But the similarities between the Ontario and federal governments end there.

Unlike other governments, in Canada and abroad, Harper did not use the recession as a stealth opportunity to increase the size of government.

The Harper Conservatives created temporary programs rather than a permanent bureaucracy.

While targeted handouts are wrongheaded, at least they are short-lived.

The Ontario Liberals used the recession as an excuse to ram their ideological love of big government down our throats.

They made government bigger. Permanently.

At Queen’s Park, stimulus has morphed into an overwhelming operating deficit and a mountain of public debt.

In Ottawa, stimulus spending has been tapered and the books are once again balanced.

Here we have the tale of two budgets.

On the one hand, we have a wise economist, Harper, who is willing to be honest with voters about the need to return to fiscal sanity.

On the other hand, we have the foolish activist, Wynne, trying to defy the laws of mathematics by being all things to all people and spending money she doesn’t have.

And that is why, in Ontario, it is both the best of times and the worst of times; the spring of hope and the winter of despair.