When it comes to cutting taxes, the Government of Ontario has been clear on priorities. It has made efforts to reform seemingly unpopular or inefficient taxes in an attempt to balance the budget and make public spending more efficient.

But one glaring fiscal inefficiency has escaped the spotlight.

In the last year alone, Ontario provided nearly $700 million in subsidies for fossil fuel consumption.

Yes, you read that right. Last year, the cash-strapped Government of Ontario provided nearly $700 million of public money to expand natural gas, fund tax exemptions for aviation and rail, and support tax cuts for coloured fuel use in agriculture.

Let’s be clear: subsidies in themselves are not inherently bad public policy. A subsidy that supports, say, expansion of energy access can be a smart use of money if it benefits the greater population.

Even at the best of times, though, fossil fuel subsidies produce negative side effects. They incentivize pollution and distort the market, unfairly handicapping clean energy alternatives. They significantly stunt Canada’s urgent need to combat climate change and slow our transition to a low-carbon economy.

These subsidies are not unique to Ontario, to be fair. Many provinces offer tax breaks for things like aviation fuel. But Ontario has a real opportunity to set an example for the rest of Canada by taking action and making efforts to redirect these funds into better areas.

First step? Take stock.

Ontario needs to do a full inventory of current fossil fuel subsidies and find ways to improve policy efficiency from economic, environmental and social perspectives. This review should be publicly available, so Ontarians know where their tax dollars are being spent.

Next? Make a plan.

The province should develop an action plan to phase out inefficient subsidies and figure out how to invest that money for the greater good, especially when it comes to supporting sustainable, affordable energy access.

The impact could be massive — $700 million isn’t exactly pocket change. If that money was strategically re-invested, it could make a huge impact on hundreds of thousands of lives. And amidst the recent funding cuts for which the government has been criticized, the potential to redirect this money is even more significant.

In case you’re still in doubt, I’ve done the math. If reinvested smartly, $700 million could put 52,700 students through school, provide skills training for 70,000 workers or fund public health care for 189,000 Ontarians — a win no matter where you sit on the political spectrum.

No one wants to see public dollars wasted, least of all the Government of Ontario.

If it takes the opportunity to buckle down on fossil fuel subsidies and reinvest those millions wisely, not only will it set the province on a path to a more sustainable future, it will also prove itself to be Canada’s vanguard for smart, fiscal efficiency.