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article imageOntario Finance Minister warns of cuts to rein in spending

By Andrew Reeves     Nov 8, 2011 in Politics
Toronto - Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan announced that Ontario can expect cuts in advance of the fall economic statement the McGuinty government will make later this month.
Former TD Bank chief economist Don Drummond recommended that the Liberal government of Ontario keep any necessary budget increases to 1 per cent or less, and Finance Minister Dwight Duncan intends to do just that.
But when spending jumped roughly 3.4 per cent between this year and last, limiting future spending to 1 per cent or less will be a remarkable achievement - and will inevitably lead to some "very difficult choices.”
The challenge, Duncan claims in the Toronto Star, is “how we change the way we deliver services so that we can sustain the education and public health-care systems that all Ontarians value.”
A challenge which is so small feat, given that the McGuinty Liberals fell one seat short of a majority in the October 6 election, and must rely on the support of at least one opposition party in order to pass legislation. And the Ottawa Citizen is reporting that McGuinty is making any reliance on the good will of the opposition leaders needlessly difficult to obtain. Tim Hudak and Andrea Horwath claim that in the month since the election, they have heard nothing from the Premier.
“I’ve been waiting for him to pick up the phone and call," notes NDP leader Andrea Horwath, "maybe not (as) a friend, but a colleague anyways."
“We don’t have the same kind of parliament that we’ve had in the province for the past number of years,” she said. We have a minority parliament. And so it seems to me a smart thing to do would be to sit down with the other leaders and at least have a high-level conversation about what are some of the major roles, what are some of the things we need to work together on to make the province a better place.
And for PC leader Tim Hudak, one of those ways to make the province a better place would be to rein in spending altogether. Debating the merits of a 1 per cent increase when Hudak is pushing for public sector wage freezes to help get the deficit under control will no doubt strike the leader of the Official Opposition as frivolous, to say the least.
Hudak plans on taking his public sector wage freeze plan directly to Don Drummond who is assisting the government in reaching the 1 per cent goal.
“Here’s the problem," Hudak tells the Toronto Sun — "we went on a big bash when it came to government spending, and now we’re on the hangover.”
And when asked whether the Liberals are up to the task of reducing spending to below 1 per cent, Hudak was incredulous.
“Dalton McGuinty has increased government spending almost every year by around 7%, and now he’s going to rein it down to 1%?” Hudak asked the Sun.
“We need to reform the size and cost of government. If Dalton McGuinty isn’t up to the job, we’ll force him to do it.”
This is new territory for McGuinty and his Liberal government. While Queen's Park watchers remain doubtful that either opposition leader is likely to force another election so soon after the last general election, McGuinty must find a way to reach out to the opposition and at least provide the semblance of listening to them.
Either that, or McGuinty could do worse than call Prime Minister Stephen Harper for advice on ruling a minority government like a majority government. After all, Harper survived like that for five years, running what was arguably the strongest and most effective minority government in Canada's history.
Keeping spending at or below 1 per cent is a promise that McGuinty would do well to make good on. In reducing the size of his cabinet and stocking it with veterans, he proved after the election that he was prepared to scale down, and get more out of less. Now he must show that he has not lost his Premier Dad touch: as much as we may hate cuts, we cannot afford to continue spending to the degree that we have in the past decade.
His job will be to find a way to make us swallow the bad-tasting medicine and convince us that it's for the best.
More about Ontario, Queens park, Deficit, Austerity, job growth
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