Screen capture from Toronto Star video
Ontarians should have higher hydro bills, no all-day kindergarten, larger school classes, fewer hospitals, more expensive tuition and more user fees. That’s the central message Don Drummond delivered on Wednesday in his report on public-service reform.
Whether it’s health, education, social programs, labour relations or other government expenses, Drummond’s 362 recommendations in his 543-page report act as a repudiation of the policies and financial management during Premier Dalton McGuinty’s terms in office, and it has to be said, those of Ontario’s Finance Minister Dwight Duncan.
Since 2003, McGuinty has doled out expensive education policies, tax credits and subsidies without regard to their affordability. Now he’s being asked to walk most of them back. Even in education, an area in which the premier has received some praise and considers himself the education premier, Drummond suggests he’s been on the wrong track and recommends a reversal of virtually all education initiatives undertaken in McGuinty’s era:
- cancel all-day kindergarten;
- reverse the shrinking of primary class sizes;
- cut about 70% or 9,700 of the 13,800 new positions in the non-teaching category that have been added since 2002-03;
- reshape the newly announced 30% Off Ontario Tuition grant.
I’ve never seen a government’s record so thoroughly repudiated in what amounts to a forensic audit. The situation now is far worse than the mess Bob Rae made of the province’s finances. As Kelly McParland writes at the National Post:
No longer can the Premier pull numbers out of the air and treat them as bona fide. Ontario’s unemployment is 8.1%, almost equal to Britain’s 8.4% and the U.S.’s 8.3%, and both those countries acknowledge they’re facing a crisis. This year the province will take in $3.2 billion in equalization, a handout it was once proud enough to spurn. That’s almost ten times what it received just three years ago, but Finance Minister Dwight Duncan has recently been insisting it’s not nearly enough.
Perhaps the saddest part of all is despite thousands of professional government employees earning amongst the highest salaries and benefits in the province, three or so accountants or economists could not be found to do what Don Drummond’s commission has done.
What hope is there for Ontario’s fiscal health when its civil service seems to lack the financial management skills needed to perform this sort of financial review?