Numbers don’t lie. But that doesn’t mean they always tell the whole truth.
As the treasurer of a union as large and complex as OPSEU, I’ve learned that you need to see all the numbers in order to get a complete and truthful financial picture.
And as an active member of a public sector union, I’ve also learned that politicians can be very good at hiding the truth behind a few carefully chosen numbers. I have a sinking feeling that’s what we’re going to get from Doug Ford’s “Commission of Inquiry” and audit into the province’s books.
Ford says the commission and the audit — which are going to cost us $50 million — will give us an independent, unbiased, and truthful snapshot of our finances.
But that’s hard to believe.
For one thing, the timelines are far too short. The Premier wants the inquiry and audit to be finished by the end of August, but professional auditing firms say it’s impossible to do a thorough and credible review in just a few weeks.
And for another thing, the person Ford hired to lead the commission, Gordon Campbell, is anything but independent and unbiased.
Campbell was the far-right premier who hacked, cut, and privatized the province’s public services. Here are a just a few of the lowlights from his time in office:
- Tax cuts for the wealthy …: Campbell was a huge friend of the rich, slashing corporate and incomes taxes by up to 25 per cent
- … and service cuts for the working: To pay for those tax cuts, Campbell threw people off welfare, cut social and civil services, and sold off a number of government assets
- Tuition hikes: Campbell lifted a freeze on university and college tuition that had kept education affordable for many. He also attacked public school teachers’ wages by taking away their right to strike
- Lower minimum wage: Campbell brought in a two-tier minimum wage system so that newcomers to the workforce could be paid 25 per cent less than the regular minimum wage
- Health care cuts: Last but not least, Campbell broke the government’s collective agreement with thousands of health care workers, slashing their wages by 15 per cent and privatizing more than 8,000 health care jobs.
With that kind of slash-and-burn track record, it’s clear Campbell is a true believer in austerity and trick-down economics, policies that are great for the rich and brutal for the rest of us. Can we really trust him to provide advice that’s based on evidence and not ideology?
Of course not.
I have no doubt that Campbell will cherry-pick a few select numbers that will portray our financial situation in the worst possible light. And I can already see the headlines that will follow: “Ontario finances worse than feared,” “Ford’s hands tied,” and finally “Deep cuts needed.”
If Ford actually wanted an honest and unbiased review of Ontario’s books, he would simply have used the experts already on hand. Ontario’s Auditor General and Financial Accountability Officer both have long and proven track records of finding government waste, diagnosing problems, and publicizing potential cures.
Wouldn’t it be better to spend the $50 million on services that help “the people” instead of on private auditors?
But the sad reality is that Ford isn’t actually doing this to help the “the people.” And he didn’t hire Campbell as a financial doctor, but as a spin doctor.
Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida
First Vice-President / Treasurer
Ontario Public Service Employees Union