POLITICS
12/21/2018 12:41 EST | Updated 01/23/2019 15:28 EST

The Winners And Losers Of Ontario Premier Doug Ford's Spending Cuts So Far

And 2018 was just a warm up, experts say.

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Ontario Prime Minister Doug Ford attends a meeting of the premiers of Canadian provinces on Dec. 7, 2018, in Montreal. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the meeting.

TORONTO — Throughout Doug Ford's first six months as premier of Ontario, the province has swiftly chopped programs, pulled back spending and retracted Liberal promises.

While Finance Minister Vic Fedeli has maintained the cuts are to manage Ontario's multi-billion dollar deficit, and "require everyone to make sacrifices without exception," critics say the province is repeatedly targeting the same groups.

"A lot of the cuts have been on a small scale, nickel and diming, but targeted," said Yannick Beaudoin, a systems economist at the David Suzuki Foundation. "The province says it's 'for all people,' but apparently not for Indigenous people, children, French people, the environment, midwives, or educators. Who is left?"

So far, the province has only shaved its $15 billion deficit by $500 million, but is expected to make significantly deeper, but necessary cuts next year, some experts say. Ontario is in debt about $350 billion.

"If the government can get the budget balanced it will benefit everybody because we won't have a province that goes bankrupt, but that will happen at some point if we continue spending," said Janet Ecker, former minister of finance in the PC Ernie Eves government and senior fellow at the C.D. Howe Institute.

"We have to find ways to do things differently."

The province did not respond to requests for comment.

Before 2019 brings another round of program and funding cuts, HuffPost has put together a list of the some of the winners and losers so far.

Losers

Young people

The cuts have targeted young people, especially those whose lives are precarious, said Kiaras Gharabaghi, director of Ryerson University's School of Child and Youth Care.

From closing the independent Child Advocate's Office to slashing the school budgets for specialized programs such as in-class tutoring and after-school programs for at-risk youth, Ford is "not allowing young people to have a voice, rendering them less than citizens," Gharabaghi said.

"There's a lack of interest in the future, and a much greater interest in maintaining those who hold positions of power in society right now."

The Child Advocate Office had a help line set up for kids facing problems at home, or in foster care, investigated when a child was injured or died while in care, and pushed for improvements to the child protection system. The Ombudsman's Office is supposed to absorb these responsibilities.

The province plans to set up three roundtables "dedicated to sharing ideas for improvement" of child and protective services, Minister Lisa MacLeod announced in November. They will report not to the ombudsman, but to the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services.

"Ontario's most vulnerable children and youth deserve better outcomes," said MacLeod.

Indigenous communities

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Cathy Stronghearted Woman listens during a drum circle at Queen's Park in the Walk for Reconciliation in Toronto, May 31, 2015. It was one of several such events across Canada on Sunday leading up to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report.

One of the Ford government's first changes, to assign Minister Greg Rickford to both Indigenous affairs and the energy, mines and northern development files, sent a signal to Indigenous communities.

"This is a more hostile government towards Indigenous relations than we've seen in a long time," said Hayden King, executive director of Ryerson University's Yellowhead Institute. Not only does Rickford have to split his time between the two files that had previously had their own ministries, he also faces a potential conflict of interest overseeing resource projects in First Nations communities.

"The province and people of Ontario have an obligation to honour treaties and have a just relationship with Indigenous people," King said.

Other cuts include ending Indigenous education training for teachers, and decreasing the Indigenous culture fund, intended to support preserving Inuit, Metis and First Nations heritage, nearly in half from $5 million to $2.75 million a year. The province said it is reviewing the fund to make sure money is being spent responsibly.

This summer it cancelled curriculum writing sessions that would've developed ways to teach students about truth and reconciliation and introduce Indigenous languages to kindergarteners. The decision was made to cut costs, Education Minister Lisa Thompson said at the time.

Women

Randy Risling/Getty Images
Midwifery students were organizing a national campaign to petition for more funding for their program in March 2018. There's a lack of resources dedicated, they say, which is making it difficult for them to finish their school and putting their profession at risk.

The province dismantled an expert panel on violence against women and has yet to honour the Liberals' funding promise of providing $14.8 million over three years to increase services at rape crisis centres.

In November, MacLeod pledged $11.5 million for front-line services, but it's unclear if this is new money.

"We want to make sure those affected by violence and exploitation receive the supports they need, while offenders are held accountable through the justice system," she said in a statement at the time.

The PC government will no longer fund the College of Midwives of Ontario, which oversees more than 900 midwives, the college said last week. Shortly after, CTV reported the Ministry of Health said it hadn't made a decision yet.

The province has scrapped the Liberals' pledge of $2.2 billion to create free childcare spaces for toddlers, which will disproportionately affect women, said Caroline Andrew, a University of Ottawa professor whose research focuses on women and social policies.

"Young, two-income families need daycare, desperately need good daycare," Andrew said. "Cutting back daycare pushes time and energy onto the woman, all of that unseen labour will rest with women."

In his campaign, Ford promised to create a 75 per cent refundable tax credit for child care costs, but has yet to implement it.

The environment

Ford cancelled Ontario's cap-and-trade alliance with Quebec and California, which will save Ontario household $264 in 2019. That elimination of carbon pricing is estimated to cost the province $3 billion in lost revenue over four years, according to the financial accountability officer, but Ford said will lower gas prices by about five cents per litre.

"Cap-and-trade and carbon tax schemes are no more than government cash grabs that do nothing for the environment, while hitting people in the wallet in order to fund big government programs," said Ford in a statement in July. "We believe that this money belongs back in the pockets of people."

The province also cancelled rebates for electric vehicles, and got rid of the environmental commissioner role.

"We're definitely taking steps backwards and the ironic thing is if the environment loses, nothing else can win," said Beaudoin.

He said carbon pricing is an effective way to get companies to produce more environmentally friendly products and services, and attract private investment in green technology.

Low income earners

Among the province's most contentious decisions was cancelling the basic income pilot project that provided payments to 4,000 low-income earners in Hamilton, Brantford, Thunder Bay and Lindsay. The project was part of global movement to study if there is a better way to support people at a time when work is becoming increasingly precarious. The results would have been shared with researchers worldwide.

The government also scaled back a planned three per cent increase in social assistance to 1.5 per cent.

"Some groups have lost in very direct ways and that includes low wage workers, those who rely on the Ontario Disability Support Program, or Ontario Works for their incomes, and people who work temporary, contract or part-time jobs," said Sheila Block, senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

The province also decided not to go ahead with the Liberals' plan to bump minimum wage from $14 to $15 an hour. Instead, the government will no longer require people earning less than $30,000 a year to pay income tax, despite an independent economic analysis finding low-income earners would be better off with a higher minimum wage, potentially earning more money than what would be saved through tax exemptions.

Taxpayers (it's complicated part one)

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Protestors gathered at Doug Ford's company Deco Labels and Tags in Toronto on Nov. 17, 2018. Protestors gathered to demonstrate opposition to the Ford government's proposed cuts to social assistance, job protections, the minimum wage, healthcare, education, environmental safeguards, Ontario Works and to the Ontario Disability Support Program.

Small cuts to programs will reduce the deficit by only $500 million, but significantly impact communities, said Block.

"We are all losing investments in the kind of province we want for ourselves, and our children and their children, and that includes conserving nature, combating climate change, reducing inequality, and promoting richness in the arts," Block said.

"It's all a lose-lose proposition. While some people might have a little bit less on their tax bill one year, they're going to pay for it both directly in terms of services and indirectly from the impact on the economy and Ontario's society."

If the government is sincere in reducing its deficit, it should be raising revenues, such as corporate, sales and income taxes, she said.

Winners

Taxpayers (it's complicated part two)

Victor J. Blue/Getty Images
Victor Fedeli, Ontario's finance minister, listens during an interview in New York, U.S., on Nov. 29, 2018. Canada is offering tax incentives totalling $14.0 billion to offset the impact of President Donald Trump's tax reforms.

Ford's cuts will benefit all taxpayers in the long run because they mean the province is working towards a balanced budget and more stable financial position, according to Ecker.

The government has to act now, when the economy is strong, to address the deficit without causing "serious, serious disruption," Ecker said.

She noted the province needs to get the deficit under control so it can avoid bankruptcy and one day be able to put more tax dollars towards programs rather than repaying its debt.

"Something has to go, unfortunately, and people (in the last election) rejected the approach of the Liberals, the deficit spending approach," she said.

Ford supporters and fiscal conservatives

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Supporters watch as Doug Ford performs a ceremonial swearing in at Queen's Park in Toronto on June 29, 2018.

During his election campaign, Ford promised he'd cut $6 billion in government spending and eventually balance the budget. While he isn't close to either of those goals, he's spent his first six months as premier demonstrating to supporters he's intent on keeping those promises, said Ian Lee, a Carleton University business professor.

Ford's small cuts across the board "send a message to fiscal conservatives that the government is paying attention to their concerns and the deficit," said Lee.

"For the first time in years, the government is at least paying lip service and making decisions to address the fact Ontario has the largest debt of any subnational government in the world."

Although the cuts in 2018 were "a warm up for the main course," the impact they've had on communities "shouldn't be trivialized," Lee said.