It’s that time of year again.
This month, a legislative committee will hold public hearings about the 2015 Ontario budget. When the hearings are over, Finance Minister Charles Sousa will pick the ideas he likes and put them into a budget this spring.
It’s hard to believe, but this will be the seventh budget since the recession of 2008-09. As you know, that recession threw a lot of people out of work. It cut deeply into government revenues. And things just haven’t been the same since.
In the first two budgets after the recession, the Liberals focused on keeping the economy afloat by borrowing heavily to invest in infrastructure and to pump money into the economy. That was a good move – it kept people working.
But at the same time, the Liberals cut tax rates for business. That was a bad move – it sucked money out of government coffers, and it has increased the provincial deficit every year since. And despite Liberal promises, it hasn’t done a thing to boost business investment.
It has boosted profits, of course. That was always the point. Liberal economic policy is mostly dictated by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and the biggest corporations in the province. They want to cut government spending and cut public services to do two things: 1) create investment opportunities for private companies (like “public-private partnerships”), and 2) pave the way for more tax cuts.
The problem they face is that Ontarians don’t want to give up their public services. We like our public health care. We like our public education. We want to keep our communities safe. We want to keep our workplaces safe. We want to protect the environment.
Faced with the popularity of public services, the Liberals have adopted a multi-track strategy: 1) cut public services and jobs in areas where the public may not notice right away; 2) transfer public sector work to the private sector (even if it costs more); and 3) attack the wages and working conditions of public employees.
Since 2010, pretty much every public employee in this province has given up real money to fund Liberal policies. But all the wage cuts and benefit cuts we’ve seen aren’t working. Not for us. Not for Ontario. This year’s budget deficit is actually expected to be higher than last year’s.
The reason is simple: Liberal “austerity” is dragging down economic growth. When public employees are spending less, we’re not helping to grow the economy. And a weak economy means weak revenues for government.
Austerity doesn’t work. It’s time to turn things around.
I’ll be making a presentation to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs on January 29. I want MPPs to know public services matter. I want them to know good jobs matter. I want them to know fairness matters. I want them to know there is an alternative path.
Most of all, I want them to know what you, as an OPSEU member, think the next Ontario budget should contain. Please drop me a line with your suggestions. Or if you prefer, make your own written submission by January 30.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President, Ontario Public Service Employees Union