Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath and other progressive thinkers have seized on this week’s report from financial accountability officer Peter Weltman as evidence that, as she put it, “Doug Ford juiced up the deficit number to create a manufactured crisis and justify coming cuts to the services people need.”
If only she were even remotely correct.
Finance Minister Vic Fedeli says the province’s deficit for this year will be $14.5 billion. That includes a $1-billion contingency that probably won’t be spent. Without that, Fedeli’s deficit is $13.5 billion. Weltman doesn’t include that contingency and projects a bit more tax revenue than Fedeli does. His deficit number is $12.3 billion.
Neither of those figures constitutes good news. Fedeli is saying we’re in quicksand up to our necks. Weltman says maybe the quicksand is only shoulder deep. Either way, the dilemma is not appreciably different.
The budget crisis was manufactured, but it was manufactured by the former Liberal government, which left the province with a substantial deficit and a public expectation that services can be continually improved without having to pay more for them. Now, Ford has the unenviable task of trying to restore fiscal sanity.
Weltman’s report is also being used to show that Ford is actually driving the province deeper into the hole, because it projects deficits that will increase in the future. Had those critics even read the headline of Weltman’s media release, they would understand that those deficits would occur “without government action.”