Perhaps you recall Finance Minister Dwight Duncan’s half-hearted and panicked “garage sale” two weeks ago – cuts to horseracing subsidies, shutting down a Niagara Falls casino, moving the LCBO headquarters, and privatizing Service Ontario.
With the release of the Drummond report requested by the premier himself, McGuinty is going to have to take his own medicine when it comes to reforming Ontario’s public service. Some of the key recommendations from the Drummond Report include: public sector wage freezes, cap elementary and secondary school class sizes, offer more specialized healthcare, end business subsidies. Sound familiar? I’ll give you a hint: It was in a provincial party’s platform released last May.
Chapter Six of the report is especially pertinent as it advocates either explicitly or through recommendations that teachers will need to be laid off. 10,000 Ontario teachers would need to be fired according to the report to cut costs. One small problem: The all-powerful teachers’ unions would protest en masse if McGuinty dared to make cuts to these labour interest groups that boosted him to power for eight years and counting. Also the same unions that gave days off to teachers wishing to campaign for the Liberal Party, and used taxpayer dollars to fund Liberal-friendly “third party commercials” during the elections. Finally, a tough choice for a premier that has always taken the easy way out for the province’s problems, but delivery is less than certain.
To be clear, Drummond is not a fiscal conservative’s wishlist. Yes, Drummond declares that Ontario is living beyond its means, but the report mostly talks about reducing proposed increases, cuts very little in the interest of value for dollars, and in some cases, advocates for more spending. The report recommends keeping the Local Health Integration Networks and reforming them, the expansion of the Family Health Teams, and establishing a Commission to guide health reforms. Additionally, the report limits itself to freezes versus cuts on teacher, doctor, and public sector salaries as well as recommending each sector to perform a comprehensive review of its operations, often expanding bureaucratic tasks such as the establishment of a Labour Relations Information Bureau.
Perhaps the most important oversight of the report is that it proposes getting rid of the 30% tuition cut only if the other recommendations are not followed. Other recommendations being an annual 5% tuition rise, more funding and more efficiency, as well as urging universities and colleges to specialize their programs more so they are not offering students a one-size-fits-all education. Still, the irony remains that Drummond recommends a large scale funding cut if additional postsecondary funding is not provided. Did I also mention the student outcry if McGuinty takes the recommendation to jack up liquor prices?
Even if McGuinty decides to end his tuition retail sale, it does not take a report to know the flaws of the program. Rob Leone, Ontario PC MPP for Cambridge and Critic for Training, Colleges and Universities commented: “The recommendation by the Drummond Report to scrap this Grant just shows that this policy was never thought out and was written on the back of a napkin during the election to win votes. The Drummond Report shows that the Ontario Tuition Grant represents an ideological problem with this government and that is that they are willing to sacrifice the long-term financial security of Ontario to garner short-term votes.”
Dr. Leone is not the only MPP who thinks the report is not doing enough. In a press release last Friday, MPP Randy Hillier stated: “Drummond refused to acknowledge the giant elephant in this province, the size and cost of government; instead he made recommendations based on the twisted fantasy that for the first time in history, government bureaucracy will and can become efficient.” To be fair, Drummond does recommend substantial reforms to the Ontario public sector, but is it enough?
Ontario’s debt now stands at $236.8 billion. On top of that we have a $16 billion deficit, shrinking revenues, and debt servicing charges that amount to $10 billion annually. Today’s lesson, kids: spending is bad.
How did we ever let ourselves go? Ontarians are victims of the “feel good” fallacy of public spending therapy. Spending more on healthcare, education, and other social welfare projects is generally viewed favourably by the populace, since more is better in someone’s liberal utopia. The worst part is that we’re perfectly happy to spend ourselves into deficits and pay more out of pocket in raised taxes to cope – almost like alcoholics and we have yet to admit we have a problem. As Ontarians we’re spoiled, and McGuinty will not be able to make those tough choices to tighten our belts and realize that Ontario’s economically prosperous days were over as soon as we started getting $3.2 billion in transfer payments from booming Albertan industries.
As MPP for Thornhill Peter Shurman noted: “We need to drive fiscal responsibility and transparency into every corner of government, so we can actually afford the front-line services that Ontarians depend on – like health and education. Ontarians don’t need a Don Drummond to tell us that.”
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's own and do not necessarily represent those of The Prince Arthur Herald.
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