Ontario budget is a requiem for a caring province
TheStar.com – opinion/editorialopinion
Published On Tue Mar 27 2012. By Carol Goar, Editorial Board
Ontarians can scrap Dalton McGuinty’s job description — Premier Dad — right now.
No father would withhold funds from a disabled child, while giving a stronger child a tuition rebate for university or college, as McGuinty did in Tuesday’s provincial budget.
No father would deprive any child of the necessities of life, without making a significant sacrifice himself.
Ontario has fallen on hard times to be sure. But the government is still in a position to make choices about the $112 billion in revenues it expects to collect in the year ahead.
The numbers in Tuesday’s budget leave little doubt that deep spending cuts are required in light of Ontario’s status as a have-not province with a deteriorating manufacturing sector and a rapidly swelling debt.
Here are the key figures: Interest payments on Ontario’s $258 billion debt eat up $10.6 billion — 8.4 cents out of every dollar of revenue. That is more than the province spends on post-secondary education, children and youth services or public safety.
Each year the province runs a deficit, the debt goes up and there is less available for everything else. Even if McGuinty meets his target of balancing the budget by 2017-18, Ontario’s debt-to GDP ratio, which now stands at an uncomfortably high 37.2 per cent — the highest in the country — will rise to 41.6 per cent before going down. That is unsustainable.
Most Ontarians accept the need for belt-tightening. What they don’t accept — at least not yet — is that this province can no longer afford to support the vulnerable.
That is the premise on which Tuesday’s budget — delivered by Finance Minister Dwight Duncan but devised by McGuinty on the advice of economist Don Drummond — is built.
• It freezes welfare payments, currently $599 per month for a destitute individual, for a year, despite the fact that food prices in Ontario are going up by 4.6 per cent a year and electricity costs are rising by a staggering 8.9 per cent. These people have nothing to spare. They are already living far below the poverty line. Yet McGuinty is asking them to “share the burden” of restraint.
• Disability support payments, currently $1,064 per month — barely enough to sustain a poverty-level existence — are also being frozen.
• The Ontario Child Benefit, scheduled to increase to $109 per month in July, will rise instead to $100, forcing the poorest parents to wait a year for the financial relief they were promised.
• Children’s Aid Societies, which take care of kids no one wants, are expected to pare $16 million from their budgets.
On the other side of the ledger, here is what the government chose not to do:
• Cancel or revamp its 3-month-old tuition rebate that goes to post-secondary students with family incomes as high $160,000. Parents earning more than $100,000 like the 30 per cent rebate. But losing it would not be a financial hardship.
• Raise personal or corporate taxes (although it is deferring a couple of planned business tax reductions and boosting a handful of user fees.)
• Reduce the six-figure salaries paid to senior executives — hospital and university CEOs, and heads of provincial boards and agencies (their pay is being frozen for two years).
• Lift the 20-student cap on elementary classes, although there is no evidence that putting three or four more students in the classroom would compromise the quality of education.
The big-ticket savings in Tuesday’s budget are, for the most part, sensible and balanced, although they will hurt most Ontarians in some way.
It is the small items — the cutbacks imposed on those eking out a precarious existence — that raise questions about McGuinty’s values.
Although the premier enacted a poverty reduction plan in 2009, he has now effectively renounced it.
Although he insisted this week, “We are not prepared to balance this budget on the backs of families who may find themselves in difficult circumstances,” he did exactly that.
After nine years in power, McGuinty may have found his backbone. He is staking his government’s fate on a risky, bad-news budget.
But he has lost his compassion.
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