Liberal budget asks voters to trust they’ll keep their nerve

TheStar.com – Opinion/Commentary – “(Premier Kathleen) Wynne and Finance Minister Charles Sousa have wisely abandoned their commitment to balancing the budget in the short term, writes Thomas Walkom. “I say wisely because the social benefits from the Liberals’ proposed spending plans outweigh the initial monetary costs.”
March 28, 2018.   By

In the end, the Ontario Liberal what-me-worry budget comes down to a matter of trust.

Can Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government be trusted to abandon its deficit-cutting ways and deliver the billions in new spending it has pledged?

Or, if miraculously re-elected, will the Liberals suddenly find their promises too expensive to implement?

Will they find, as they have before, that times have changed, that the fiscal situation has deteriorated and that, sadly, circumstances demand cutbacks and the privatization of public assets.

If the Liberals can be trusted, Wednesday’s budget is, in many ways, a masterpiece of social democratic policy.

Highlights from the 2018 Ontario budget

It cements in place Wynne’s earlier commitment to universal pharmacare by eliminating the deductibles and user fees that 2.6 million seniors must currently pay when they use the Ontario Drug Benefit program.

It introduces a rudimentary denticare program for those not already covered by workplace or public plans.

And, as the piece de resistance, it pledges to introduce free daycare for all children from the age of two and a half until they reach kindergarten.

To help pay for this, it raises taxes by an average of $200 per person for the 1.8 million upper and middle income earners who make more than $95,000 a year.

Along the way, the budget promises much-needed money for those the Liberals have stiffed before, including hospitals, long-term care residents and the poor.

To get to this enviable position, Wynne and Finance Minister Charles Sousa have wisely abandoned their commitment to balancing the budget in the short term.

I say wisely because the social benefits from the Liberals’ proposed spending plans outweigh the initial monetary costs.

Moreover, as Justin Trudeau’s federal Liberal government has shown, voters are willing to tolerate budget deficits if they think the money is being well spent.

True, Ontario’s debt as a percentage of gross domestic product is predicted to rise slightly over the next three years. But if the Liberals keep their nerve, this is a small price to pay for a path-breaking agenda.

If they keep their nerve.

 

Up to now, Wynne’s Liberals have not been keen on running deficits. Even in this budget, Sousa spends the first five-pages of his 21-page introductory speech congratulating himself for having “slayed the deficit.”

To do that, Sousa and his government squeezed the health care and hospital spending they are now promising to expand.

Without warning, they also privatized Hydro One, the province’s electrical transmission monopoly, in order to give a short-term boost to their finances.

And the Liberals have dealt before with some promises they found too expensive by simply not honouring them.

That’s what former premier Dalton McGuinty did with his 2007 pledge to introduce limited denticare.

In this budget, Sousa predicts government deficits until 2024 — more than two elections from now — to meet the new spending commitments.

He is unusually insouciant now about that. But he is bound to face pressure to change course. One of the questions supporters of the Liberals’ bold new agenda should ask themselves is whether he’ll succumb.

To put it another way: If Wynne’s Liberals do win the June 7 provincial election on the basis of this very interesting budget, can they be counted on to deliver?

https://www.thestar.com/opinion/star-columnists/2018/03/28/liberal-budget-asks-voters-to-trust-theyll-keep-their-nerve.html

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