Ontario is a circus and Premier Wynne is walking a tight rope.
(This column originally appeared in the Toronto Sun)
By: Candice Malcolm
For years, Ontario taxpayers have been like spectators at an extravaganza show; constantly on the edge of their seats and bewildered by the entertainers who govern the province.
Taxpayers are left to wonder: Will the Liberals surprise us by pulling a rabbit from a hat and somehow balance the provincial budget by 2017-18 as they’ve promised?
Or will Premier Kathleen Wynne use sleight-of-hand to break her election promise and raise taxes yet again?
Ladies and gentlemen, step right up and witness the magic.
The Ontario Liberals still claim they can make an $8.5 billion deficit disappear in just two years.
Last week’s budget shows the government still has some tricks up its sleeve as the Wynne Liberals finally included some of the math behind their plan.
It is a good start to the road to fiscal recovery.
But unfortunately, in Liberal government tradition, the document is filled with accounting tricks, half-truths and overly rosy projections.
The government’s often-repeated claim that it will balance the books without major tax hikes or spending cuts, is a mathematical impossibility.
Wynne will gain some much-needed cash by selling government assets in Hydro One and General Motors (remind us why taxpayers had a stake in a car company again?)
But those one-time cash payments will do little to eliminate the ongoing operational deficit in Ontario.
Ontario does not simply need a one-time influx of cash. It needs a permanent reduction in the size of government.
In recent years, we have witnessed the proliferation of managers managing managers in the provincial bureaucracy.
Wynne and her public sector underlings have hired so many new paper pushers that about one in five people now employed in Ontario works for the government.
Is it any wonder that more than half the money we give to Queen’s Park is spent on government employee compensation?
Magicians use illusions to deflect reality and fool an audience. Just as the magician’s assistant isn’t actually being sawed in half, budget deficits don’t magically disappear.
The reality is, in order to balance the books, the Wynne government will have to both raise taxes and make significant spending cuts.
When the Jean Chretien federal Liberals eliminated Canada’s deficit in the 1990s and reduced the national debt by $100 billion, the ratio of spending cuts to tax hikes was seven-to-one.
The Wynne government has already jumpstarted half the equation.
In last year’s budget, the Ontario Liberals increased taxes on traveling, tobacco, alcohol, high-income earners, licenses and fees, not to mention the massive coming tax increase on everyday (non-unionized) Ontario workers through the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan payroll tax.
This year’s budget once again featured tax hikes, this time on beer and a looming one on carbon emissions.
But the new taxes so far have barely made a dent in the deficit, and the provincial debt continues to soar.
Even with historically low interest rates, the Ontario government will spend over $12 billion next year just paying interest on its ever-growing debt.
The Wynne government’s plan masks both the service cuts and tax hikes needed to make the numbers work.
The Liberal magicians tell us interest rates will forever stay low, when we know they won’t.
They want us to believe Ontario’s economy will grow considerably, despite the aforementioned job-killing taxes.
In Ontario, it’s a circus. And Premier Wynne is walking a tight rope.