Voters who were scared off by the harsh tone of the Tim Hudak campaign, and the ambivalence of the NDP campaign in the recent Ontario election provided Premier Kathleen Wynne with a solid majority. This will enable the electorate to see for the first time how she really intends to run the province. Some strong hints suggest that despite her apparent left-of -centre leanings, the premier is ready to introduce tough spending restraint in order to balance the budget by 2018. The first clue comes in the 2014 budget which will now be passed more or less intact. Deep in the backup documents we find a number of statements that, taken together, suggest public service sector will bear a large part of the burden. The most telling statistic is the estimate provided for program spending in 2018—the year we hit the black under her plan. The government forecasts that spending in 2018-19 will be exactly the same as 2014-15. To stay the same in the face of inflation means cuts. Where will they come from? There is a vague suggestion that the government is going to revisit some of the suggestions of the Drummond report where the former TD chief called for increases in classroom sizes, scrapping full-day kindergarten, eliminating the $1 Billion “clean air benefit” strict limits on program spending increases, and selling off assets in a gradual manner. The minority McGuinty and Wynne governments shied away from some of the more draconian measures recommended by Drummond, but the majority government claims it has already acted on 80 percent of them, and will now be “continuing to move ahead” on more of them. The clean energy benefit for example will be gone next year. Health care spending increases will be held to just over 2 percent per year—a far cry from the days of 5 and 6 percent increases. Actually the 2 percent target has already been achieved by Deb Matthews as Health Minister, which is the reason she has been made treasury board president. Effectively Matthews is now the Minister in charge of saying NO. Her job will be to eliminate the deficit by 2018. While she is the sister-in-law of former premier David Peterson, and has nearly 4 decades of Liberal activism behind her; Don Matthews, her father was once President of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada and the founder of a construction empire, which from a pedigree standpoint, places Matthews at the centre right of her Cabinet colleagues. Also contained in the budget notes is a suggestion that the province will start to tackle public sector pensions “by bringing public service retirement benefits in line with practices in the private sector and other jurisdictions, (can anybody say defined contribution?), which will save over $1.4 billion by 2017–18.” While it may be good news that Ontario is heading back to balanced budgets, the fact is that by the time we do achieve balance nearly one dollar in 10 will go to debt servicing and that could get worse depending on the latest downgrade in our credit rating by the Bond rating agencies. The next four years could be a bumpy ride for Ontarians, but there is really no option as we get ready to hand off the economy to a generation of young people who do not have anywhere near the job prospects and financial security enjoyed by their parents and grandparents.
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