By Christine Van Geyn
Just four months ago Finance Minister Charles Sousa restated his commitment to balance the Ontario budget. The government’s speech from the throne has now confirmed that instead, the province will have an $8 billion deficit, and that they are “deliberately” choosing to run a deficit despite their repeated commitment not to.
It’s hard to decide what’s worse; the government intentionally choosing to break a promise that they made just a few months ago, or expecting us to believe it was intentional?
The government has gone through fiscal contortions to allow it to claim balance. The Auditor General and Financial Accountability Officer have both fought tooth and nail against the government’s claim that they balanced the budget last year. For example, the Auditor General announced that the government was hiding debt in complex financing structures and counting pension surpluses as assets even though it violates accounting rules.
To push back against the Auditor General challenging their claims of balance, the provincial government went so far as to empanel a group of experts to form a blue ribbon committee on whether the books add up.
A balanced budget really isn’t so complicated. It doesn’t need a blue-ribbon panel. It’s when your expenses are less than your revenues. When you earn more than you spend. It’s when you stop adding debt.
And while it may be incredibly simple, it is also incredibly important.
The deficits of today are the taxes of tomorrow. And, unlike spending, which is within the government’s control, interest rates are outside of the control of a premier on a shopping spree.
If rates go up dramatically, the cost of paying for all that debt goes up as well. And, while that premier may be long gone, you and your children are the ones stuck with the bill.
That’s why we must insist that our government’s balance the budget and hold them accountable when they don’t.
The finance minister now wants us to believe that he never meant that promise, anyway, that those bizarre contortions of Ontario’s books to give the appearance of balance didn’t really matter, that the fights with independent and non-partisan agents who challenged their claims of balance weren’t important, and that he didn’t mean to publish those glossy charts showing in the fall economic statement showing zero deficit up to 2020.
Instead we should believe that they are “deliberately” choosing a deficit. Why?
While the state of Ontario’s economy may not have shifted dramatically in the last four months, the political landscape has. The governing Liberals, who have a 23 per cent approval rating, looked set for certain defeat in the June election. But, as the official opposition Progressive Conservative party spun into chaos, the door to Liberal victory may have cracked open.
With that comes the appeal of spending an additional $8 billion on promises to buy votes.
The throne speech doesn’t address any sudden new challenges. The $8 billion is the result of increased levels of spending in health care and child care. Nothing has made the goals of improved health care or child care spaces suddenly any more urgent than they were four months ago. The only urgency is caused by changes in the Liberals political fortunes.
So, they’re making some big spending promises in their March 28 budget.
If they get re-elected and can’t achieve those goals, no matter. They can simply “deliberately” choose to throw out those commitments and do the exact opposite.
Just remember: liars make the best promises.
Christine Van Geyn is the Ontario director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, Canada’s leading non-partisan citizens’ advocacy group fighting for lower taxes, less waste, and accountable government. This article was previsouly published in the Toronto Sun.