Ed. note — This commentary by former NDP advisor Tom Parkin is one of three written by supporters of the three main parties in the Ontario election. We also have commentaries from former PC advisor Deb Hutton and Liberal insider Omar Khan.
Over the weeks of the Ontario election campaign, Conservative leader Doug Ford hopscotched the province, giving away money and never saying how he would pay for anything.
He gave just one answer: “efficiencies.” And it seems that was enough.
WATCH: Doug Ford puts out plan, but no details on how Ontario PC Party will pay for it
During the campaign, Ford promised to give away about $6 billion. There was a $2.3-billion giveaway on income tax, a $1.2-billion giveaway on the gas tax, and a $1.9 billion giveaway on cap-and-trade carbon pricing.
Between his money giveaways and new spending, Ford’s promises added up to more than $6 billion. And he offered no plan for paying for them — just “efficiencies.”
A deeper look is worrying. Ford’s income tax plan would give about $1,100 to every person earning over $109,000 while an average worker earning $49,000 would save only $18.
His gas tax cut hurts municipalities that fix roads and pay for transit — perhaps leading to property tax increases. And money from cap-and-trade was assigned to GO Transit expansion.
NDP leader Andrea Horwath argued Ford’s $6 billion in unfunded promises would result in cuts to health care, schools and public services.
And clearly, Horwath’s warning had a political effect. To defend from her attacks, Doug Ford pledged that not one job would be lost to cuts. He said Ontario would hire more teachers and nurses, not lose them. He never mentioned any privatization.
Ford promised he would find $6 billion in “efficiencies” — not cuts and privatization.
There are some significant points here — two about the future, one about the past.
Firstly, Doug Ford has absolutely no mandate for future cuts and privatizations. When Mike Harris was elected in 1995, he stated his plan to cut and privatize. When Tim Hudak ran in 2014, he was clear about his plans to cut public services and the workers who do them. Not Ford. Ford’s promise was efficiencies, not cuts and privatization.
WATCH: Andrea Horwath says she’s ready to be Ontario’s official opposition leader
Secondly, it’s significant that Andrea Horwath’s NDP is the official opposition now. The last time Ontario Conservatives were elected, in 1995, the Ontario Liberals were the official opposition. But in 1995, the Liberals themselves had campaigned on tax cuts, slashing billions from budgets, privatizing and weakening worker protection laws.
The Liberals were a badly compromised opposition. Horwath’s NDP will be uncompromising and tenacious. And electors have given her the largest Official Opposition in more than 30 years to help her carry out the fight.
The third point is that the Liberal record encouraged many voters to conclude that efficiencies could cover Ford’s revenue gap.
Let’s not mince words. The Liberal government was terrible with public money. Over $1 billion was spent to not build power plants. Other private power plants were contracted at windfall profits on 20-year terms.
Very expensive Toronto and GO transit plans resulted from political meddling. At each election or by-election, a ton of public money seemed instantly available to woo voters.
It didn’t matter if your politics fell to the right or left, the Liberals were an extremely cynical government careening from one bad financial decision to the next. Their constant use of public dollars to bail themselves out of one political crisis caused their next political crisis.
The cynical style of the now-defunct Liberals made it possible to believe “efficiencies” was a sufficient answer to questions about funding Ford’s spending plan. Ford never had to explain how his plan could be paid for. And Horwath’s warnings about health-care cuts and privatization no doubt didn’t ring true to many ears.
Now the campaigning is over and governing starts.
Ford refused to show Ontarians a fiscal plan. But he will be required to table a budget every spring — and will have it picked over by the auditor-general.
We are about to learn whether Ford’s billions in giveaways can be paid for with efficiencies.
Or whether Andrea Horwath was right — and cuts and privatizations are coming.
Tom Parkin is a former NDP advisor and a political commentator with a social democratic point of view.