Randall Denley: Ontario’s politicians need to focus on spending cuts, not squabbles

Randall Denley: Ontario’s politicians need to focus on spending cuts, not squabbles

Ontario’s huge deficit and mounting debt threaten the services citizens rely on. That’s not just Premier Doug Ford’s problem, it is all Ontarians’ pr

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Ontario’s huge deficit and mounting debt threaten the services citizens rely on. That’s not just Premier Doug Ford’s problem, it is all Ontarians’ problem, and the public should expect every MPP in the legislature to help fix it.

Ontarians who believe in Santa Claus might hope they can keep paying for their services with debt, just like they did for most of the last 15 years. Unfortunately for them, that well has run dry.

The party-poopers at the province’s financial accountability office estimate that if nothing is done about the deficit, interest payments on Ontario’s ever-increasing debt will have risen to $16.6 billion by the time Ford’s term ends, about $4.2 billion more than the public is paying now.

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That’s a steep price for inaction, and an awful lot of money going to banks instead of services.

As the province sinks deeper into debt, its credit rating is getting worse — meaning we will have to pay higher interest on government debt.

Major ratings agency Moody’s recently downgraded Ontario because of concern over the size of the deficit.

Now the downgrade is starting to spread, with three hospitals and a university being affected.

So far, the Ford government has taken only small steps to cut spending, but every move is met with a dramatic reaction from the opposition parties and public sector unions.

The latest example is a plan to cut $25 million from a $425-million fund used for a grab bag of education programs that don’t fit the cookie-cutter provincial financing model.

Last year, the Kathleen Wynne government budgeted $377 million for these things, and overspent that by $10 million.

Though the new government is spending more than its predecessor, former premier Wynne said the spending reduction was “reckless and irrational,” and would “put students at risk.” Not to be outdone, NDP leader Andrea Horwath called the changes “callous and shocking.”

This is typical of the way things have gone in the legislature since Ford took power. Civility and rationality have headed for the door and left rancour and vituperation behind.

Question period is like a hockey game where a bench-clearing brawl starts when the puck drops and doesn’t end until the final buzzer.

The public, and probably the politicians, have had enough of that. It’s time for a Christmas truce, where all parties can step back and figure out a better way to proceed.

Soldiers did it in the First World War. Surely politicians can do it, too.

It would be a welcome act of statesmanship for Ford to reach out to the leaders of the other three parties and invite them to meet, just four people in the room, and talk about what can be done about the deficit.

There are good reasons for the other leaders to say yes to such an invitation. No doubt Liberal and NDP supporters are among those most worried about the impact of the cuts Ford needs to make.

He’s going to cut, so why not take the opportunity to suggest things they find least harmful? That’s called representing your constituents.

Horwath is against every cut the government wants to make, but it doesn’t seem to be working for her. According to a recent Campaign Research poll, her party has dropped to third place. Possibly a new approach is in order.

For Mike Schreiner, the Green Party leader and one-man caucus, it would be a rare opportunity to be heard. The same goes for interim Liberal leader John Fraser, who should bring in Wynne, too.

Surely she, so recently the premier, must have some ideas about what ranks lowest in priority among the government’s spending.

It is far easier, of course, to decry every budget-balancing move Ford makes. There is no such thing as a popular budget reduction.

Most everything the government does benefits, at least in theory, families, children, the sick, old people, the poor or the disabled.

Despite all the noise, the deficit still needs to be reduced. That is not a matter of ideology, unless arithmetic is an ideology.

The question is not whether to reduce spending, but how to do it in the way that does least harm.

The opposition parties have a choice. They can become part of the solution or they can wave their arms futilely in the air.

If one views life purely politically, it’s in the opposition parties’ interests to have Doug Ford fail abysmally. That increases their chance of getting back into power, but how does it serve the public?

If the PC cuts are as bad as they claim, surely the other parties must be able to suggest something better. Or perhaps they don’t support cutting a dime of anything. That would be good to know, too.

Source: nationalpost.com

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