Ontario's 2012 Budget: Put-up or Shut-up Time for Tim Hudak's Progressive Conservatives

March 27, 2012 by  

It is widely regarded as true that, in the lead up to, and during, the most recent Ontario provincial election, Ontario Progressive Conservative Party leader Tim Hudak spent his time telling Ontario voters what the governing Liberals were doing wrong, but came up woefully short on how his PCs would govern differently. That pattern has continued since the October election. In fact, as recently as February 23, 2012, the PC-friendly Toronto Sun published a column by Queens Park columnist Christina Blizzard in which she submitted that Hudak continues to lack “a cohesive strategy for the party that will give them a clear and intelligent message”. Her recommendation to Mr. Hudak:

“Come up with an alternative budget. Set out a clear, coherent document that shows exactly how he’d get the budget back in balance by the target dates set out by Drummond.”

Of course, Mr. Hudak and the PCs did not oblige (though Freedom Party of Ontario did, with its March 21 release of its “2012 Opposition Budget“). Instead, Mr. Hudak opted to submit an OpEd to the National Post, which printed it today: budget day. Those who read it will, I expect, shake their heads in disbelief. In his column, Mr. Hudak continues with the same strategy that allowed him to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory during election 2011: lots of over-played ranting about what the government’s doing wrong, and absolutely nothing in terms of specific proposals to which the public could hold Mr. Hudak and his PCs accountable.

To see what I mean, I’ve broken his submission into individualized paragraphs, and I’ve summarized each paragraph where the paragraph actually talks about things done wrongly, or things that should be (or should have been) done differently. Don’t look for anything like a promise going forward: Mr. Hudak speaks only of what he would have done, looking back over the last several months since the election. However, even where Mr. Hudak speaks of what he and the PCs would have done had they won the election in 2011, notice that Mr. Hudak’s would-haves are hopelessly vague and ambiguous.

What Tim Hudak Wrote Attack on Liberals PC Proposals Notes and Questions
In my job, I spend every day imagining Ontario as it could be. But in order to do that from a realistic reference point, I also need to take stock of Ontario as it is.
Our province is in the throes of a jobs, debt and spending crisis. Presumably the McGuinty government will declare its intentions on how to begin turning things around in its March 27 budget. It has been a long time coming — and this is a government with a lot to prove. Implies: “the McGuinty government for too long has told us nothing about an intention to “turn things around”, and things in the meantime have gotten worse”
Ontarians are staring at a $30-billion deficit and a $411-billion accumulated debt. These numbers are so staggering that they lose meaning unless we step back to gain perspective. I did that recently in New York, where I met with leaders in the global financial community. These individuals are utterly impartial, and see things only through the unforgiving realities of global economics and market conditions.
A singular theme emerged repeatedly — the link between unsustainable debt and economic growth. Businesses know that governments with high debt loads cannot afford lower taxes or the best infrastructure — two basic attractions for investment and job creation in any jurisdiction. So, by demonstrating it has a credible, measurable plan to bring down debt, government can inspire business confidence. And when businesses have that confidence, they will invest, expand and hire. Until Tim Hudak traveled to New York, he didn’t know that “unsustainable debt” undermines economic growth. Query: How much did the trip to New York cost the Ontario taxpayer? Is road tripping on the public dime the way to control out-of-control public spending?
Ontario’s debt is the symptom of an underlying illness: over-spending. On that point, if there’s one good thing to have emerged from the debacle in Greece, it’s that people now understand how neglect of debt issues can quickly become a crisis, especially if an economy sustains an unexpected shock, or there is a sharp rise in the cost of borrowing. At such times, heavily indebted governments lose all fiscal room to manoeuvre — and can lose control of their own destinies as a result. Note the concern with the “destinies” of “governments”. Query: Isn’t the important concern the destinies of the governed?
Owing to this heightened awareness, a measurable debt management plan will be the central test of the coming budget: It will be essential to show taxpayers, businesses, credit rating agencies and international investors that we have an integrated, pro-growth plan for recovery. Yet it’s not just the fallout from the eurozone crisis driving this scrutiny: When Don Drummond took a closer look at Ontario’s books, he found that instead of balancing the budget, the government’s plan would in fact double the deficit and nearly triple the debt from 2003 levels. When the credit rating agency Moody’s looked late last year, they put us on a negative credit watch. When Ontario’s Auditor General looked before the Oct. 6 election, he concluded there was “no clear strategy or forecast” for reducing Ontario’s crippling debt. The Liberals’ have Ontario on-course to double the deficit and nearly double the debt. Because of the Liberals, Moodys put Ontario on a negative credit watch. The Liberals have no clear strategy for reducing Ontario’s crippling debt.
I have argued consistently that the government does not recognize the gravity of the situation and the need for bold, integrated action to reduce the size and cost of government as I have proposed. Otherwise they would have: put an end to corporate welfare; enacted a mandatory public sector wage freeze; docked Ministers’ pay if they missed the required fiscal targets; cut the size of Cabinet to reorient its focus to private-sector job creation and the debt crisis; launched a rigorous program review using the best thinking of elected officials, public servants and Drummond commissioners to deliver a substantive fall economic update that would have cut spending — not increased it. And moved up the date of the budget. The Liberals recognize neither Ontario’s fiscal crisis nor the need to take remedial steps. Implied: PCs, had they been elected in 2011, would have put an end to corporate welfare; enacted a mandatory public sector wage freeze; docked Ministers’ pay if they miss required fiscal targets; cut the size of Cabinet; and cut spending. Note the utter lack of anything explicit. Which specific subsidies would have been eliminated? Why should public sector wages that are too high be frozen, instead of reduced? Cut the size of Cabinet how, and how much?: which ministries would the PCs eliminate? Cut spending: how much?
In tandem with shrinking our bloated public sector, bold action should have included kick-starting our private sector economy by lowering business taxes; enacting a plan for affordable energy by putting an end to costly wind and solar subsidies; reducing the regulatory burden by one-third and modernizing Ontario’s apprenticeship system to create 200,000 new skilled trades jobs. Implied: PCs, had they been elected in 2011, would have shrunk the public sector; lowered business taxes, ended subsidies to wind and solar power producers; eliminated 1/3rd of Ontario’s regulations; changed the apprenticeship system. Note, again, the utter lack of anything explicit. Which public sector functions would have been reduced or eliminated? Which business taxes would the PCs lower, and by how much? What spending decreases would the PCs make to ensure that their tax cuts did not increase the deficit? What would the PCs do about the government’s contractual obligations to wind and solar producers? Which 1/3rd of Ontario’s regulations would the PCs cut? Why is 1/3rd the right number? Why not 1/4th or 1/2? Does the number of regulations matter more than what they actually regulate?
Needless to say I did not become premier last October. So I took my ideas to the gentleman who did, in a meeting last November 18. Dalton McGuinty rejected every one of them. And here we are today, with a business-as-usual Premier who simply stalls for time, blames everyone but his own government for Ontario’s difficulties, shelters pet projects with no way to pay for them and rejects meaningful savings measures. Did I mention that the Liberals are bad? NOTE: in this very article, Mr. Hudak blames the McGuinty Liberals without putting forward any “meaningful savings measures”: nothing explicit; nothing to which the public could hold the PCs accountable.
The March 27 budget is a turning point. It falls at last to Dalton McGuinty to confront the scope of our debt, jobs and spending crisis. No papering over the cracks. No phony war with Ottawa. No accounting tricks. No diversions. No claims that spending increases are slowing — they’re still spending increases. We need a real plan that gets the fundamentals of our economy back on track. The onus is on the McGuinty Liberals, not the PCs, to make proposals to “get our economy back on track” Journalists, such as the Sun’s Christina Blizzard, have been calling upon the PCs to set out their counter-proposals in an alternative budget: a document showing what they would cut, and by how much, and showing exactly how and by when they would balance the budget. Instead: Mr. Hudak provides us with hand-waving generalities about “less” of something or other and “cuts” to bad stuff – nothing specifically identified – and we get nothing that would identify which specific taxes Mr. Hudak’s PCs would cut, which specific programs would be affected, and which specific amounts to be cut, raised, or borrowed.
As Leader of the Official Opposition in a minority Legislature, I take seriously our obligation to compel the government to do the right things in the right way. Accordingly, I will judge the budget against the benchmarks I have described. A benchmark is, literally, a mark on a bench, used to measure other things as against it. It is a quantum, not a mere quality. Mr. Hudak provides not one explicit number. He provides nothing that rightly could be considered a “benchmark”.
I call on all concerned Ontarians to do the same. I call on all Ontarians to be concerned. We deserve better from MPPs who want to oppose or govern.

I’m interested in hearing from you about whether or not you think Mr. Hudak has be sufficiently forthcoming with ideas. Has he put clear ideas out there to justify his condemnations of Liberal policies? Or is he all eraser and no pencil. Finally, for a sense of what is possible for an opposition party, I heartily recommend to you a reading of Freedom Party of Ontario’s 2012 Opposition Budget. I submit to you that Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives (and, for that matter, Ontario’s NDP) have no excuse for not having likewise issued an alternative budget. Politics – when it does not hold the voter in contempt – is a matter of put-up or shut-up.


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