When voters went to the polls this past October and re-elected Dalton McGuinty, they did so with a very different understanding of what the Premier had in store for Ontarians. The Premier's campaign focused on expanded Go Transit services, building three new undergraduate university campuses, cutting tuition rates by 30 per cent, and protecting government services from across the board cuts. The Liberals went out of their way to assure voters that across the board cuts to government would not be necessary, and provided precious few details on what their plan was to reign in the deficit.
Just months after Ontario's provincial election one would be hard pressed to find a Cabinet Minister or the Premier discussing the government's plan to implement their election promises. Instead, the focus has shifted to daily reporting on the musings of Don Drummond, who is chair of the "Commission on the Reform of Ontario's Public Sector." In addition to the near daily trial balloons leaking from the much anticipated Drummond Report, when formally released, it is expected to include 400 recommendations on reforming the Government of Ontario. The goal is to provide the province with a plan for erasing the unprecedented $16 billion dollar deficit from Premier McGuinty's last budget by 2017-2018.
The Premier has a draft of Drummond's report on his desk, but he's not sharing it with opposition MPPs or voters. The media are only receiving bits and pieces as the Liberals see fit. A number of special interest and pressure groups have been briefed on the impact to them of Drummond's proposals, yet everyday Ontarians have not been shown the respect they are due to participate in guiding their own destiny.
Government departments face cuts of up to 30 per cent of their annual budgets. Some medical procedures, such as cesarean sections, are on the chopping block. Caps on class sizes could be lifted. How medical issues among senior citizens in long-term care facilities are addressed could also change. Each of these decisions has an impact upon real people in Ontario, and it is incumbent on the Premier and government to engage citizens in making these tough decisions.
It is clear the unsustainable spending increases that have seen Ontario's budget grow 70 per cent over the last eight years has led the province to a moment of stark choices and transformational change. There is little doubt the mounting public debt (which has almost doubled while McGuinty has been Premier) must be addressed.
Real people who live and work in Ontario must be central to the decision making and prioritization of what strategies will be employed to reign in the deficit. It isn't enough for the government to pass the buck to an unelected, unaccountable outsider and cherry pick what they feel is best.
Premier McGuinty should make the full report public without delay. He should allow Ontarians to digest it and then begin to decide how to move forward in a manner that protects the key government services Ontarians hold near and dear, while cleaning up the mess eight years of McGuinty economics has caused.
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