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Gentili: Yes, the Ontario budget contains cuts, but the sky isn’t falling

Every budget document is generally pretty vague, and while there are some big cuts in the Tory spending document, it's the first budget in years that mentions Ontario's $343B debt, and that's important
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20190313 Doug Ford 02 KA
Premier Doug Ford. (Supplied)

If you believe the things that are written about me in the comment sections on Sudbury.com, I’m: A.) A left-wing pinko, and; B.) My opinion has been bought … by someone (I don’t know who. But if you are a member of the Illuminati and you owe me money for keeping the populous ignorant, I’d like my cheque please.).

Anyway, the reason I say this is because I’m going to talk about the Ontario budget and since I’m going to be accused of leaning to one side or the other anyway, I just want to put it out there. Anyone who really knows me would laugh uproariously at the notion that I’m either left-wing (not) and involved in a media conspiracy (I wish. I’m big fan of conspiracy theories and can talk at length about most of the big ones of the 20th century.)

A lot of people seem to think Premier Doug Ford is the devil and his band of populist Tory politicians are vicious little demons doing the Big Bad’s bidding. While I'm not a supporter nor a fan of Ford, the premier is a lot of things, but he isn’t evil, and neither his government’s budget.

Yes, the budget contains cuts. Cuts are never entirely popular. But cuts are not bad in and of themselves. 

Let’s put at least some of these cuts into perspective. First, a good chunk of the money the Tories have clawed back — billions of dollars — is money the Liberals promised to spend in their last budget. 

Why is this important? It’s important because of the Kathleen Wynne Liberals’ campaign strategy in the elections of 2014 and 2018. That strategy was pretty simple: Buy votes with spending promises. Wynne should have lost the 2014 election, but a combination of big expensive spending promises and the implosion of then Tory leader Tim Hudak, delivered a Wynne (see what I did there?).

To win the election, the Liberal leader said, “Hang Ontario’s ballooning deficit and ignore the province’s enormous debt, we’re doing everything we can to get re-elected.”

Part of the reason I don’t think the Tory budget is so radical is because of those two items: the deficit and, more importantly, the debt. I’m not a card-carrying Conservative, but the Tories are the first Ontario government in more than a decade to mention the red in our ledger, let alone pledge to tackle it. That’s important.

Ontario’s budget deficit is $11.7 billion. If you think that’s high, the debt-load we’re carrying as a province is somewhere in the area of $343 billion. That means everyone one of Ontario 14 million or so residents owes $23,000, give or take.

Most of the people reading this probably run a household, and I’m sure more than a few of you worry about your personal debt. What you owe influences (or should influence) how you spend. You can only kick the can down the road for so long. Eventually, you run out of road.

The Liberals’ approach was to get enough voters to buy into the notion that that road is endless. It isn’t. The Conservatives, at least, realize this and are making an effort to rein things in.

Of course there is concern about how they plan to accomplish this. And rightly so. But then we should always be concerned and skeptical about all government decisions, but that doesn’t mean all government decisions are bad. 

The complete overhaul of the health care system is no small task, and the new layer of bureaucracy the Tories want to create could just be an expensive replacement for the bureaucracy we already have. But the party also made a promise to end ‘hallway medicine’. The Liberals couldn’t do it, didn’t even come close, and they spent billions trying. 

Why are we twisting ourselves into knots about how the Tories plan to do it? Their plan, vague as it is at the moment, may accomplish what the Grits couldn’t. 

The plan to amalgamate 35 health units into just 10 could be problematic. We here in Greater Sudbury know better than many others how amalgamation brings with it a host of new, often unforeseen, challenges. But then again, removing layers of bureaucracy could actually streamline things and lower costs. 

Education funding changes will mean slightly larger class sizes (which aren’t a bad thing, necessarily), but also a return to the back-to-basics math curriculum parents demanded. It’s important to remember part of the Liberals’ strategy to hold onto the reins of power was to keep the powerful teachers’ unions happy. The Tories won’t play that game.

Before you send me letters or post comments in the vein of “What about this cut?” or “What about that cut?”, I know I haven’t gone down the list. Everyone has their particular area of concern. My message is pretty simple: Governments are temporary. 

The Liberals governed by promising everything under the sun and damn the torpedoes, like an exhausted parent trying to get an unruly toddler to quiet down for just five minutes. I, for one, am sick of being treated like an unruly toddler.

The Conservatives are taking a different approach: We can’t promise you everything, but here’s what we can do, and here’s why. Again, I’m not a card-carrying Conservative, but I appreciate being treated like an adult.

And if the Tory plan doesn’t work, or things go badly, there’s another election in 2022 and another one four years after that. The sky will not fall in the meantime.

Mark Gentili is the editor of Sudbury.com and Northern Life.
 




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