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EDITORIAL: Ford’s budget is a fail (Mar. 2023)

April 12th, 2023 · No Comments

The province is enjoying a windfall from sales tax on the inflated prices of goods and services. Notwithstanding a legacy of debt, which provincial governments of all stripes have contributed to, this government here and now is swimming in cash. One might have expected a budget with more punch, a budget that makes a difference for the economy, the environment, or for the many Ontarians who are struggling right now—but no. We have a budget that is neither conservative nor progressive, and there appears to be no underlying vision whatsoever, beyond kicking the can down the road. 

The finance minister is self-congratulatory. He is forecasting a balanced budget in 2025 on the back of the aforementioned inflationary sales tax bump and a general unwillingness to help out anyone. It’s hardly the “lean mean” fiscal plan one might expect from a Conservative premier. It’s a $195 billion spending plan. Adjusted to today’s dollars, this is the biggest budget the province has ever had and among the least impactful. According to the Globe and Mail’s Andrew Coyne, Ford’s “real spending amounts to roughly $12,000 per capita” more than his Liberal predecessor, Kathleen Wynne, and more even than the former NDP premier Bob Rae, whose real spending was $8,700 per capita. The Conservatives previously took control of the legislature ostensibly to reverse Rae’s wasteful spending, and yet they are now spending 40 per cent more per person, and this is all assessed in today’s dollars.

Not only is spending through the roof, but there is also a lingering debt to carry. Ontario’s debt equals 39 per cent of the economy. This debt-to-GDP ratio is the highest in Canada. The province’s accumulated debt as of March 31, 2023 is $407 billion, and that requires $13.6 billion in annual interest payments. Those payments are in the budget, and that cash is unavailable to support health care, education, or climate change action. 

Doug Ford’s government says it will enable the building of 1.5 million homes in the next 10 years. He’s already well behind, as this budget allows for only 80,000 to be built this year. That’s a slide from 2022 when 96,000 were built: the trend is not good. Part of the problem is historic labour shortages in the sector. The province says it will need 72,000 additional construction workers by 2027 to meet its goals. This budget earmarked $3.5 million to help make that happen, but according to the Ontario Home Builders’ Association, that will only contribute to 2000 more workers.

It’s clear this budget does not scream fiscal prudence, but it also doesn’t mean that it is progressive in any way. Low-wage earners have received the equivalent of a kick to the teeth with this budget as the minimum wage has been frozen while inflation hovers around six per cent; pay is now going down. The minimum wage will increase by six per cent in October to $16.55 per hour, but since this only matches inflation, it’s not a real raise. The message to all workers is that the two paid sick days a year Ford gave you during the pandemic are also going down—to zero. This budget contains no provision for rent controls or to prevent “renovictions.” This will impact many Annex residents living in older rental accommodations.

Bill 23 eliminated the municipal power to charge development fees. These are the fees cities use to build infrastructure like roads, sewers, and parks to accommodate new buildings.  The estimated loss to the City of Toronto alone is $230 million a year. It’s a gift to the development industry. At the time Bill 23 was introduced, Housing Minister Steve Clark assured municipalities they would be made whole: “There should be no funding shortfall for housing enabling infrastructure as a result of Bill 23,” he wrote.

The budget makes little mention of the climate crisis. In its failed Supreme Court application urging the court to cancel the federal carbon tax for Ontario, the Province of Ontario argued that it was their constitutional right to manage environmental laws and policies. Apparently, in this budget, Doug Ford is showing us it’s his right to do nothing. 

In its many failings this budget underscores Doug Ford’s inability and/or unwillingness to govern.


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