In a recent column in the Globe and Mail, Adam Radwanski decried the apparent death of centrist political parties in Ontario. He points out that the Kathleen Wynne Liberals have lurched so far to the left that they rival the NDP for big government policies. You can’t even use the phrase “tax and spend,” because the March budget only spends. If Doug Ford continues to scrap the more moderate platform of his predecessor Patrick Brown, Ontario voters will be caught between two extremes; in which case neither party will really speak to the majority of Ontarians, who one suspects, (and hopes) fall into the category of fiscally prudent but socially tolerant. Radwanski thinks it would be hard to “position as a centrist (who would be) easily accused of defending the status quo.”
So it appears, gone are the days of a benign Bill Davis striking the delicate balance between making sure the books are in order while dispensing some really forward-thinking initiatives—rapid expansion of post-secondary education and healthcare, building a first-class highway system and starting GO Transit. When Davis left office Ontario’s debt-to-GDP ratio was about 15 percent, now it is almost tripe that figure.
A letter to the editor in the Toronto Star praised the Wynne budget for “moving Ontario closer to the Scandinavian economic model, which has the government providing the more expensive social programs within a free market economy.” The only problem with that analogy is that Scandinavia pays for its programs as it goes along. Scandinavian politicians are somehow able to convince their constituents that if you want stuff you have to pay for it—still an alien concept in Canada. As a result Norway, Sweden and Denmark, with all their cradle-to-grave social programs, have a debt-to-GDP ratio of under 40 percent while Canada’s sits at 92 percent—more than double.
Pro Wynne columnists are sneering at Doug Ford for suggesting he could find $6 Billion in savings on an annual spend of $150 billion—four percent. It may be a cliché to say that every householder in Ontario could probably cut expenses by four percent, relatively painlessly, if they had to, but it is no less true for that. Ford has been vague about his platform, other than the elimination of the carbon tax. Depending on who is on his advisory team there is still a chance he can surprise Ontario voters by being more moderate than expected. Recent polls suggest the Wynne budget has done the trick of moving the PC’s from majority to minority status—and for Ford, minority means the Liberals and NDP form the government. The harsh reality is there are not enough dyed-in-the-wool blue Tories in Ontario to provide a majority.