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EDITORIAL: Ford’s angry budget (May 2019)

May 28th, 2019 · No Comments

The most recent Ontario budget targets Toronto for over $177 million in annual provincial funding cuts. The targeted cuts are to Toronto’s programs in healthcare, child care, legal aid, tourism, and transit. In exchange, Premier Ford’s province-wide base gets a few shiny trinkets, and as a whole the budget still fails to resemble the kind of plan that could lead our province in the direction of fiscal balance.

Let’s consider a few numbers:

$4.9 billion –  that’s how much more the province of Ontario will spend this year, than it has ever spent before. Last year, the Wynne government spent $158.5 billion, a record number. This year, the budget will spend even more: $163.5 billion.

40.4 % – That’s the percentage of our current debt to GDP ratio, and that is likely to grow in the coming year and slow economic growth as it does so.

$11.7 billion – that’s the actual size of Ontario’s deficit, according to the budget document. Then again, that’s just a number to be twisted and manipulated by Ford and his cronies. While they were campaigning, they claimed the deficit was $15 billion; now they claim to have reduced it to $11.7 since taking power. Right.

One reason for the increased pressure on the budget is the cancellation of the province’s cap-and-trade plan. This plan had helped lower our carbon emissions and brought in $2 billion in net revenue. That revenue  funded green initiatives, like providing incentives to generate electricity from wind and solar to feed back into the grid. As a result of the cancellation, the federal government has imposed a carbon tax. Ford is spending $30 million to fight the feds on this in court. Ford argues that their tax will kill jobs and and push Ontario into a new recession, yet his budget actually predicts increased economic growth and employment with the federal carbon tax in place. Which is it, Mr. Ford?

In a recent report to city council, city manager Chris Murray tallied $177.65 million in provincial cuts to Toronto this year alone. That’s equivalent, in Murray’s estimation, to a 6 per cent residential property tax hike. Is Ford banking on Toronto raising property taxes and then asking him to come to the rescue? Budget impacts include $24 million in a loss of provincial gas tax funding, money intended to offset anticipated TTC day-to-day maintenance expenses. Councillor Joe Cressy (Ward 10, Spadina-Fort York) called this a “vicious cycle by design. The province breaks the TTC by not funding the TTC, then they propose to upload the TTC to fix the system they broke.” Toronto Public Health is facing a $65 million cut. In addition, this will devastate the 200,000 children who rely upon the city’s school nutrition program on a daily basis. Toronto Paramedic Services can look forward to a $3.85 million cut. Children’s services face the largest single cut of $84.8 million. 

“If you look through the budget, it mentions booze and gambling 63 times. It mentions climate change 15 times and it mentions poverty zero times,” observed Green Party leader Mike Schreiner. The budget promises corner store availability of beer and wine. To make up for this, the province will give hundreds of millions to the Beer Store, which is owned by a multinational corporation that has an iron-clad contract that allows them (and the LCBO) to virtually corner the beer market. It’s one of the strange trinkets that one might see in a pre-election budget, like the pie-in-the sky vastly expanded subway system, open drinking in city parks, bars open at 9 a.m., on-line gambling, tailgate parties in the parking lot of sports arenas, more speed on 400-series highways, and a circus for the site of Ontario Place. 

It’s a budget that makes no fiscal sense, and takes no responsibility for the well-being of … Torontonians. Which, it seems, is the point. Sticking-it to the big city plays well with the base, and for Ford, it probably feels good too. The Ontario budget for 2019 is an ode to ugly politics: it’s not lean, just mean.

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