This month, the Ministry of Finance begins consulting Ontarians on the 2016 provincial budget.
A committee of the Legislature will tour the province to collect ideas. So will Finance Minister Charles Sousa. The government even has a “Budget Talks” web site where you can submit your ideas directly.
It should be an exciting time. Budget time is when we imagine what our province could be, and what Ontarians could build together. A good budget turns imagination into reality.
Too bad budget time in Ontario is now such a dreary affair. Under the Liberals, the last six budgets have been about what we can’t do and what we can’t afford.
Every year, we’re told to accept less – weaker public services, lower wages, fewer jobs. And we’re supposed to be satisfied with an economy that only limps along – not quite in recession, but not quite growing either.
It doesn’t have to be this way. There was a time when Ontario always led the way – always building, always growing, always improving public services. And we did it because we knew: If you want to grow, you have to build. If you want to build, you have to pay for it.
Way back in 1961, Ontario was bogged down in a bad recession. But rather than crying poor, Finance Minister James Allan took a different tack.
“I think you will agree,” he told the Legislature, “that at this time – when the pace of our economy has slackened – we need courage, vision, enterprise and bold action.”
Allan sketched out a plan for Ontario to build and grow. He called for better roads, better schools, and better public services to advance “human betterment.”
And he had the guts to go find the revenue. Allan brought in a sales tax, the first ever in Ontario.
“We must face up to realities,” he said. “The program we have announced is designed to promote expansion and increase employment. If we forego the revenue from our sales tax, we must cut back on our services, our capital works and our assistance to municipalities and school boards.”
Allan didn’t want Ontario to go backwards. He wanted us to go forwards. He wanted to build. He wanted to grow.
Fast forward half a century. Today, when there is more money in Ontario than ever before, our government refuses to find the revenues to build our public services. When it comes to public works, the Liberals insist on siphoning public dollars to corporate lawyers, bankers, and construction companies that just happen to have deep roots in the Liberal party.
Some people are getting rich off public dollars. That’s a fact. But we’re not growing as a province – we’re stagnating.
For the good of all Ontario, it’s time to put money back into public services. Instead of subsidizing all those big companies, why don’t we try taxing them for a change?
Our Finance Minister brags that Ontario spends less per person on public services than any province in Canada. He shouldn’t. It’s nothing to be proud of. We should be aiming high. We should aim to have the best-funded public services, not the worst.
Ontario needs a bold new budget. This month, let’s tell the government.
Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida
First Vice-President/Treasurer, Ontario Public Service Employees Union