With the provincial election just days away the main political parties and their leaders are playing it safe in an effort to convince voters they are the ones best able to carry Ontario through the next four years of what by many indicators will be tough economic times.
Up until now there has not been any galvanizing wedge issue among the main contenders, the Liberals led by Dalton McGuinty, the Progressive Conservatives, led by Tim Hudak and the New Democratic Party (NDP) led by Andrea Horwath. This, despite Hudak’s attempt to denigrate McGuinty’s promise of a $10,000 tax credit for employers who hire new Canadian professionals.
But here in Toronto, the issue that has left voters sensitive to the provincial campaigns is any promise to cut or lower taxes without interfering with services. We have not even begun to feel the effects of cuts at the municipal government level since they are still only at the discussion stage, yet Torontonians are already polarized regarding what has to be done to balance the City’s budget.
The Rob Ford mayoral campaign that made a mantra of “stopping the gravy train” – of spending less while maintaining services – was a piece of fiction. So any provincial campaign along those same lines must recognize that it is treading a perilous path towards losing public trust.
Nonetheless, politicians cannot seem to resist trying to win votes with similar promises because, thanks in part to the chorus from America’s Tea Party, a tax cut is tangible. You can see the effect right away, even if it is just to take one cent off the Goods and Services Tax the way the Harper government did.
The Mike Harris Conservatives took the same tack by cutting provincial taxes. We paid for that by losing hospital beds and through nursing staff cuts so severe that we are only now beginning to recover from the long wait times that still plague hospital emergency rooms and other medical services.
Voters need to ask themselves whether they are willing to put the province’s social and public service institutions at risk for the sake of getting a few cents back on the dollar.
Yet, because it is such a winning formula, the Hudak Progressive Conservatives are promising to cut personal and corporate taxes. Incredibly, they also promise to do this without cutting spending on education and healthcare, which account for 70 per cent of the provincial budget. All this to make sure that we do not confuse the current Tories with the Harris cut-and-slash Tories of the past. At the same time, Hudak is promising, as are the other major leaders, that his party can pay down the deficit by 2016. Yet he offers no concrete details on how he would find enough efficiencies within the other 30 per cent of the budget to pay down a $15-billion deficit in five years.
Andrea Horwath’s New Democratic Party (NDP) is promising an increase in corporate taxes and at the same time no tax increases for anyone else. Can she distance herself (and her party) far enough from the Bob Rae NDP government when social contracts were enacted to rein in public service costs? Remember ‘Rae Days’?
The McGuinty Liberals have also promised to cut corporate taxes while also not increasing taxes. However, McGuinty is a known entity and the fact that he has shown steady leadership – especially through extremely tough economic times – must count for something.
Still, the hard fact is that unless the current economic climate shifts dramatically or unless whatever government we elect next week can bring forward true economic reform and innovation, there will have to be serious action taken, which means we must expect that services will be cut to meet that 2016 deficit payment deadline.
We either cut services or raise taxes. Maybe, even both. We have to decide who we can trust to make those important decisions.
We have had stable government with McGuinty. Heading into continued economic uncertainty, maybe we need to keep it that way.