By giving the Liberals another run at governing this province, a significant enough portion of the electorate is showing faith in the vision leader Kathleen Wynne presented during the recent election.
To the surprise of many, the voter turnout for last week’s provincial election showed an increase, up almost five per cent in participation to 52 per cent compared to the 2011 election that brought in a Liberal minority.
With 58 seats in the Legislature, the Liberals now have a majority government to carry forward any plan they have promised without having to go to the New Democrats for support, confident in the knowledge that enough Ontarians, or at least those in Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area, want a socially responsive approach to government policy.
While that is now more possible, Liberals need to bear in mind that there is very little margin for forgiveness if the kind of waste that factors into the current $300 billion debt – including the $1.1 billion gas plant cancellation penalties, the lack of oversight of cthat ran to another billion dollars and the ORNGE air ambulance spending fiasco – continues to characterize this government.
The feel-good, left of centre budget that the Liberal government presented in May, and on which they campaigned, is still a gamble in the face of our current economic reality. Over the past decade while the province’s debt continued to grow, revenue continued to fall. This was the result of the dual effects of the trend of lowering corporate taxes, again and again – from 14 per cent in 2010 to 10 per cent in 2013, for example – and the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs, particularly in the manufacturing sector.
Moreover, the Liberals’ efforts at trying to attract new business to the region and to launch new initiatives such as the Green Energy program have been less than stellar.
The Liberals are gambling their 10-year, $2.5 billion Jobs and Prosperity fund will be one answer. But the plan includes transferring tax dollars to rich multinational corporations such as Cisco and OpenText to the tune of hundreds of millions before they see any movement in the level of job creation for which we all hope. Their $29-billion transportation and infrastructure plan would also serve to stimulate the economy.
Ontario’s current unemployment rate is 7.4 per cent, which is higher than the national average while, at double that rate, youth unemployment is among the worst in the country at 15.4 per cent, and is actually higher in some urban centres.
The government also has in store plans that will leave more money in Ontarians’ pockets including reductions in auto insurance rates, a 30 per cent rebate for college and university students, and caps on hospital parking fees. Also in the grab bag are full-day kindergarten, increases to minimum wage indexed to inflation, and the independently run Ontario Retirement Pension Plan.
This kind of budget would be a turnaround given that the Liberals have been chipping away at the deficit with spending cuts and freezes that have put them ahead of their deficit cutting projections for the second year in a row. Perhaps it was easily missed that during the one televised election debate, Wynne acknowledged that the government in Ontario spends less, at about $7,600 per capita, than any other province with the exception of Quebec.
So, we have to wonder at what pace the promised spending
will actually be rolled out when the Liberals also promise to bring in a balanced budget by 2017-18. Currently, overspending each year runs to $12.5 billion.
Frankly, governments make a habit of running deficits, so that the pattern seems built into the system when creating budgets. Government accounting is nothing if not creative in how it manages to move funding around to keep running. But it can do that if it can show that the economy is safe and sound.
Under the leadership of previous Liberal premier, Dalton McGuinty, the Liberals at Queen’s Park were no strangers to this practice, but they should understand that it would be imprudent to take Ontarians for granted this time. Better fiscal oversight has to be a top priority.