Surviving in politics requires a mix of ideology and opportunism, and Kathleen Wynne’s election budget delivers big time on both.
From the cradle to the grave, social programs of free daycare and free pharmacare to money for students and seniors, the Ontario Liberals are determined to lead the progressive social agenda in Canada.
Wynne herself has long promised an activist government under her tenure and regardless of your political bias, you have to accept she’s achieved that.
Wynne and Finance Minister Charles Sousa are also the beneficiaries of strong economic growth and a corresponding $150 billion in revenue in 2017-18. So with an election around the corner and low polling numbers to overcome, enter the political opportunity.
Reversing a previous promise to stay in the black, the ideological portion of the budget will put the province back into a $6.7 billion deficit in the short term with a slow path back to balance in 2024-25.
The $20.3 billion in new spending over three years is designed win fans among centrist voters more concerned with day-to-day expenses than those up late worrying about a $325-billion debt and the $12.5 billion we have to pay in 2018-19 just to service it.
The pitch from the Wynne Liberals is look what you get now for paying later: daycare, healthcare, pharmacare, mental health care, essentially everything short of sending an actual Care Bear to your house. Look kids, Deficit Bear is here.
The 2018 budget follows the blueprint of the 2014 budget, which successfully put the Liberals back in majority and Kathleen Wynne in the premier’s office. It puts the NDP again on their back foot and leaving Andrea Horwath with a meagre promise of the same or better as the Liberal plan just without the Liberals.
If Horwath isn’t able to gain any momentum, the June 7 election will be a two party contest with Liberal’s hoping the ballot choice is the budget goodies or Doug Ford.
As always of course, the devil is in the detail. The pesky detail in the 2018 budget is after all this spending is how will Ontario be able to pull an AC/DC and get back in black? A closer look at the so-called Recovery Plan shows some big assumptions about how that spending spigot might be closed.
Program spending over the next three years will increase a total of 4.2 per cent as all the goodies flow through the system, and then the plan calls for a hard stomp on the brakes with that increase dropping to two per cent on the path to balance.
That will prove tough for future governments, who just like Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals, will also mix ideology and opportunity to try and stay in power.