TORONTO - Ontario's Liberals are being called undemocratic "control freaks" by public interest groups angry that people are not being consulted about cuts to government services to trim the $16-billion deficit.
Economist Don Drummond was hired by the Liberals last year to conduct a review of all government services and recommend which ones should be reduced or eliminated altogether.
The former banker has met only with selected groups he invited behind closed doors and has not held any public hearings on what could be huge changes, the Ontario Health Coalition said Friday.
Premier Dalton McGuinty never said huge cuts would be coming during last fall's election campaign, added coalition spokeswoman Natalie Mehra.
"The McGuinty government has no electoral mandate for major cuts to public services," said Mehra.
"Nobody ran an election on it. It was barely mentioned in the provincial election."
Drummond has been leaking some of his ideas to the media instead of releasing his report to everyone at once in the legislature, and is looking only at cutting costs, not increasing revenues, said Mehra.
"There’s no consensus among economists that this is the right approach," she said.
"There’s a biased mandate for the Drummond Commission towards privatization and dismantling of private services, with no consideration of the revenue side."
The reaction of women's groups to Drummond's suggestion that Ontario could save millions of dollars by delisting caesarean sections and hysterectomies from medicare shows the economist should not be making such recommendations, added Mehra.
"Women were appalled this banker who doesn’t have any political knowledge whatsoever would be given the power to make such recommendations," she said.
"The very controlled process that is accompanying the release of the Drummond report really prohibits a proper analysis and public debate about what really are sweeping policy changes."
"The Liberals' budget and policy-making process in the past few months violates every principal of democratic, open, good government," said Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch.
The Liberals are keeping secret Drummond's report even though it was paid for by the public, and shut down the legislature before Christmas without any committees that would normally hold public hearings on the budget, said Conacher.
"As a minority government, the Liberals must realize that they cannot any longer be control freaks and acting in undemocratic, secretive ways, but must compromise and be more open and democratic," he said.
A senior government source said Finance Minister Dwight Duncan has been conducting his usual pre-budget hearings with people across Ontario, and noted the Drummond report "is only one of many" components that go into crafting the provincial budget.
"It’s interesting that these folks complain about how Drummond is not getting out there and meeting with people, but in the very same breath concede that he met with them," said the source, who did not want to be identified.
Mehra said Drummond's report had already been written by the time the Ontario Health Coalition got its meeting with the economist in December, but the government source said the report still has not been finalized.
"It’s just not true that it was written when they met."
Drummond's report is expected to be made public next month, but McGuinty has already said the government will be the one that decides which recommendations to adopt and which to ignore.
McGuinty should remember it's a minority Parliament and not just his decision to make, said Ryerson professor Bryan Evans.
After eight years of building up public services, the Liberals should have told voters last fall that they would have to reverse that course to eliminate the deficit, added Evans.
"At no time did Premier McGuinty or the Liberal government talk about retrenchment, a return to privatization and the polarization — politically and socially — that would lead to," he said.
"That’s never been on the agenda, until now."