I have a vision of a great Ontario. It's a leader in better quality health care treatment for patients, higher test scores for students and shorter commutes for drivers and transit riders alike.
But today, all these things are at risk. Ontario is in a deep fiscal hole. Without urgent action, we're staring at a $30 billion deficit and a $411 billion debt in just a couple of years. So if we really care about a stronger Ontario we've also got to care about our public debt -- and then do something about it. No more throwing money we don't have at things we don't need, and at every problem that moves. Because the money's run out.
It's time for government to return to balanced budgets, re-focus on its basic responsibilities, and exit the distracting and unnecessary business of being in business: things like designing and selling lottery tickets and putting wine bottles on shelves. Honestly, what's more important: Designer lighting in swanky liquor stores and roulette wheels for shiny new casinos -- or more MRI scans and cancer-beating drugs on the formulary?
This is where the sixth in our Paths to Prosperity discussion papers comes in. It's called "A New Deal for the Public Sector." A New Deal rejects the premise that government success is measured by its number of employees, the amount of money it spends, the number of programs it delivers or the stores and businesses it owns. That's the old way of thinking, and it's helped get Ontario into the mess we're in today.
The problem isn't our civil servants. It's a political leadership that has no vision for government -- other than to make it bigger. By contrast, A New Deal serves as a framework for a leaner government that delivers better priority services for less money, and creates a new culture of customer service. It does so by giving our public servants the specific objectives, measurements and incentives they'll need to help us achieve it.
We'll measure productivity, just like the private sector. Once our planned across-the-board two-year wage freeze is over, we'll reward public servants who deliver superior outcomes through a tightly-managed system of performance pay. We will recognize hard work when it's earned by producing measurable results.
Those who don't perform will no longer be on the government payroll -- again, just like the private sector. We'll end compulsory union membership for people like managers, program supervisors and senior policy advisors, and allow them to bargain individually for their compensation if they choose. And we'll ensure all Ontarians can apply for government job openings, not only those already on the government payroll.
By laying out these goals, expectations and incentives, an Ontario PC government will bring the size and cost of the public sector back into line with our ability to pay. We'll create a more innovative public service that's answerable to taxpayers for the money it spends. The result will be a government that can once again safeguard the things Ontarians truly care about.
But more than that, A New Deal is founded on the simple idea that tough choices are always the right choices. The problem with spending beyond our means is it cuts off our capacity to pay for the things we care about. This is the great irony of those who will oppose the difficult decisions and bold ideas of my leadership. The current government, for example, talks about the need for compassion. But their reckless overspending has robbed us of the ability to be compassionate in the first place.
Compassion is something you are able to do, not just promise. It's an act of love to help those in need, not an excuse for inaction. A New Deal for the Public Sector is a summons to principled action, for an Ontario that can lead Canada again in job creation, quality of life and value for taxpayers' money.
The 2012 Ontario budget freezes pay for doctors, and extends a pay freeze for health care executives. The province will begin means-testing seniors' prescription drugs, paid for under the Ontario Drug Benefit Plan, effectively meaning that the 5 per cent wealthiest seniors covered by the plan will have to pay more into the plan. Seniors with incomes over $100,000 and senior couples with combined incomes above $160,000 will be affected. Increases in health care spending will be capped at 2.1 per cent per year.
The budget freezes pay for teachers. A pay freeze for educational executives, already in place, will be extended. School boards in low-population areas will be amalgamated, and "under-utilized" schools will be shut. Student transportation will be cut by $34 million.
The province will begin means-testing seniors' prescription drugs, paid for under the Ontario Drug Benefit Plan, effectively meaning that the 5 per cent wealthiest seniors covered by the plan will have to pay more into the plan. Seniors with incomes over $100,000 and senior couples with combined incomes above $160,000 will be affected.
Welfare rates will be frozen and planned increases to the Ontario Child Benefit will be delayed.
There are no tax hikes in the 2012 Ontario budget, but it does freeze the corporate tax rate at 11.5 per cent, foregoing planned reductions in the tax rate to 10 per cent. The freeze is expected to save $1.5 billion over three years.
Ontario will cap the 10 per cent hydro bill rebate at 3,000 kilowatt-hours, a limit high enough that most homes won't be affected, but businesses could be. Reducing the tax credit will save $470 million over three years.
On top of the four jails the province already plans to close, the budget adds two more to the closure list -- one in Brantford and one in Chatham. Overtime for jail guards and the Ontario Provincial Police will be reduced.
Ontario plans to reduce spending on business support programs by $250 million by merging a number of different programs.
The province aims to increase revenue by increasing the number of gambling facilities. [Details to come]