As the election heats up and politicians fall over themselves to promise the moon to voters, the single largest problem facing Ontario continues to be the province's pitiful finances. Without addressing Ontario's operating deficit, which ballooned to $12.5 billion in 2014, and the $11 billion in annual interest payments for the province's public debt, we will continue to spiral into a permanent have-not province with a basket-case economy.
Ontario needs to get its books in order.
More deficits are not option. Credit agencies have warned of future downgrades if Ontario does not balance its budget. Considering interest payments on the debt is the third largest and fastest growing expense in the budget, another credit downgrade would be devastating. It will make future debt less desirable on the bond market and more expensive to service. Ontario taxpayers will be forced to fork over more money and receive less in return, as the 'Ministry of Debt' will suck up more and more of the total budget.
The ballot box question in the election therefore must be: how will each of the major parties balance the budget if elected?
We know what Tim Hudak and the PCs would do. Hudak has been brutally honest with the people of Ontario about what his government will cut and the tough decisions they will make to get the province back on track. His plan largely echoes Don Drummond's report put together for the Liberals and the McGuinty government back in 2012. The Liberals ignored this report so the PCs intelligently scooped in and picked it up. The PCs have been ridiculed in the media and lambasted in attack ads because of this honesty, but at least we know where they stand.
Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals, on the other hand, continue to evade any serious discussion about spending reductions. We know they've blown passed their deficit targets for the past two years, and when it comes to the details of getting to a balanced budget by their target date of 2018, their numbers frankly just don't add up. The spending trajectory starkly changes in 2018, but no one knows what will be cut. In the leaders' debate, Kathleen Wynne failed to name a single program or spending item she would rein in to balance the books.
As for the NDP, Andrea Horwath has introduced a platform that will add nearly $2 billion in new spending in the first year, and while they plan to eliminate the Liberal's proposed $2.5 billion in corporate welfare, that alone will not eliminate the entire deficit. The NDP will also create a Minister of Savings and Accountability that will save a projected $600 million. But what will that ministry cut? Jobs? Hospitals? Schools? We just don't know.
The PCs may have offered a politically distasteful message of cutting government jobs, but they are the only ones with the audacity to discuss what needs to be done.
Rolling back 100,000 government employees sounds jarring, but can easily be put into perspective. According to the latest data from Statistics Canada, in 2012 there were 1,353,901 government employees in Ontario. Considering the total workforce in Ontario was 6,784,800 in that year, government workers made up 20 per cent of the total workforce.
One if five workers in Ontario is a government employee.
Adjusted to exclude federal employees and federal crown corporations, the figure is 1,131,125 people, or 16.7 per cent of the workforce; paying for the salaries and compensation packages of these government employees comprises 50 per cent of all money sent to Queen's Park. Eliminating 100,000 of these positions still leaves over a million Ontarians working for the province. Any party that realistically wants to address the deficit must address the managers managing managers in our bloated civil service.
Ontarians should demand the truth from their politicians. And especially, from their premier.
Kathleen Wynne has is trying desperately to run an election without addressing her plan to get Ontario out of the massive hole her government has dug. So far, it appears Wynne's only plan is to keep digging.
MORE ON HUFFPOST: