Ontarians did not sign up for deep cuts in services

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorials
Oct. 3, 2018.   By

Among Premier Doug Ford’s many promises to Ontarians was his oft-repeated vow to cut $6 billion from the provincial budget in ways they wouldn’t even notice. No one would lose their job and services would not be slashed.

Two over-hyped reports later, Ford is no closer to figuring out how to make that misguided promise a reality.

The first report, which adopted different accounting principles than the previous Liberal government used, made the problem much harder by raising the provincial deficit to $15 billion.

And the second report, by financial consultants EY Canada and released last week, provides no easy fixes either. In fact, it does little more than remind everyone that the bulk of provincial spending goes to services that Ontarians care deeply about — health care and education — and then, quite casually, tosses out a few options that would dramatically alter how those services are delivered.

According to that report, Ontario could “reconsider application of universality to all programs,” opting instead for “means-testing to selected programs.”

It provides no specifics. But just about the only two services the province provides to Ontarians without a fee, regardless of their income, are health care and public education. And it’s awfully hard to imagine a scenario where fundamental changes in those areas could be passed off as a mere efficiency. Or how it would sit nicely alongside Ford’s other overarching promise to make life more affordable for Ontarians.

Right now, all but the poorest Ontario seniors pay the same deductible for access to the Ontario Drug Benefit program. The provincial government could, for example, require better-off households to pay much more. Or it could apply means-testing to the program that helps families with disabled children access such things as hearing aids and wheelchairs.

The government certainly could reduce spending through such measures, but there’s no reason to believe Ontarians were signing on for those types of “efficiencies” when they elected the PCs.

The report also says Ontario could impose “competitive pressure on public sector providers” by tying funding to efficiency and outcomes. And this comes right after the paragraph outlining how public schools are currently funded.

Citizens, it goes on, should be able to choose their public service provider and the government should also use data to determine its funding — “increasing allocations to these providers that demonstrate value and efficiency in delivering outcomes and reducing allocations to those that do not.”

Such a policy in education could quickly amount to public schools in better-off neighbourhoods, which can more easily deliver higher student achievements, receiving more funding, while schools facing the most challenges in educating students who need more help get less. It could divide children along socioeconomic lines instead of working to bridge that gap as a public education system should. It’s a complete failure in the U.S. and we shouldn’t go down that path here.

More to the point, none of this was discussed during the provincial election and it falls well outside Ford’s vague promise to end “waste and mismanagement in government.”

Policies such as means-testing and forcing public bodies to compete against each other for funding are a long way from Ford’s suggestion that finding efficiencies in government is as easy a business switching to cheaper stationery.

“When I tell people, ‘My friends, we will find four cents on every dollar of efficiencies,’ they break out laughing. ‘That’s all you can find, is four cents in efficiencies?’ ” Ford said during the campaign.

With this report touted as “a modernization action plan for Ontario,” they may not be laughing much longer.

https://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2018/10/03/ontarians-did-not-sign-up-for-deep-cuts-in-services.html

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