Ford government economic updates and budgets

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Ford government economic updates and budgets

Finance Minister Vic Fedeli presented the Ford government's fall economic update yesterday. As expected, it was full of cuts and tax deductions, with little for anyone but the rich. 

Doug Ford was elected on a paper-thin compendium of headline promises, with no accounting of how he’d deliver on those or balance the books. And since then he’s done little more than settle political scores and cancel programs and policies associated with the previous Liberal government. ...

Fedeli called it “a plan for the people,” but it’s more of a grab-bag of measures that will benefit some businesses and people while leaving the biggest questions facing Ontario still unanswered. 

The government is giving small businesses a tax break and has forecast the potential of more breaks for businesses down the line. It’s rolling back a planned tax increase on the wealthiest Ontarians and cutting income tax for the lowest-paid workers. But given how little tax they pay now they’ll end up with far less money in their pockets than they would have if Ford hadn’t cancelled a planned raise in the minimum wage to $15. The province is ending rent control for new units, hoping to encourage developers to build more rental apartments. But that will inevitably result in higher rents at a time when tenants already face an affordability crisis.

They’ve slashed the independent watchdogs for the environment, vulnerable children and francophones. And they’re eliminating public per-vote funding for political parties, which is likely to hurt the opposition parties more than the Progressive Conservatives. It all amounts to less oversight and a less feisty opposition. 

But where will Ford’s promised $6 billion in efficiencies come from? When will the government eliminate the deficit and how? And what is Ontario’s plan to fight climate change? Fedeli’s update kicks all that down the line with a warning that “the road ahead is not an easy one.”

And to help it make the more substantial cuts, when they inevitably do come, seem more necessary the government purposely made that road more difficult. It artificially raised the provincial deficit from the Wynne government’s $6.7 billion to $15 billion, largely through adopting a different accounting method for public sector pension assets and money borrowed to reduce electricity bills. It’s raised the dragon so it can slay the dragon. Or, in Ford-speak, “promise made, promise kept.” Ford told Ontarians that provincial finances were worse than people thought, he made them worse by capitalizing on an accounting debate. He then used that as cover to deliver a series of spending cuts from slashing a planned social assistance increase in half to cancelling satellite campuses.

On Thursday, Fedeli claimed to have saved $3.2 billion in unspecified spending and reduced the deficit by $500 million, so it now stands at $14.5 billion. “We have made progress, but there is still much work to be done,” Fedeli said. He went on to speak vaguely about about taking “a new direction,” and intent on a “meaningful debt reduction strategy,” and delivering government services “effectively.”

This government seems content to leave Ontarians in the dark about what any of that will actually mean. For now, the continued focus is on campaign-style announcements of the buck-a-beer variety that Ford likes so much. This time round, it’s ordering liquor stores to keep longer hours and putting notes on home heating bills and gas pumps telling Ontarians how much the federal carbon tax is costing them.

This update is the latest vehicle for the Ford government to perpetuate the idea that the province is in a state of crisis. What it doesn’t do is give us much of an idea of how it plans to tackle the big issues.

Issues Pages: 

Andrea Horwath's criticism of Fedeli's fall economic update can be found at CBC's Power and Politics from 5 minutes 30 seconds to 12:00 minutes on the video below.



Here's more on the economic, social and environmental impacts of Fedeli's fall economic update:

As gleaned from numerous media reports, the measures announced included:

1. Implementing a tax credit for full-time minimum wage workers (which Ford has frozen at $14 an hour -- at a cost to minimum wage workers of $1.4 billion a year) that would mean minimum wage workers might not pay up to $850 a year in provincial tax (well short of the $1,900 a year they would have earned had the minimum wage been increased to $15 an hour).

2. Cutting nearly $1 billion from children, youth (including cutting pharmacare for young people who have private insurance) and social services with details on social assistance "reforms" coming on November 22.

3. Considering changes to publicly funded health benefits and the Ontario Drug Benefit Program (a concern highlighted by the Ontario NDP).

4. Cancelling a surtax on some of those with the highest incomes in the province at the cost of $275 million a year in revenue.

5. Rejecting a measure that would have stopped wealthy people from incorporating to get a better tax rate than others (at a cost of about $160 million a year).

6. Exempting new rental units from rent control (placing further pressure on already limited access to affordable housing).

7. Eliminating the positions of environmental commissioner, French language services commissioner and provincial advocate for children and youth (who investigated when a child died in foster care and advocated for improvements in the child protection system).

8. Forming a new mining working group that will focus on "streamlining" regulatory approvals and promoting investment in the Ring of Fire region.

9. Stating that the Ontario government would not block interprovincial pipelines -- such as the 1.1-million-barrel-per-day Energy East pipeline -- that link the Alberta tar sands to the eastern part of the country (presumably including export markets).

10. Cancelling a proposed French-language university (it's not clear how much that cost), on top of three other cancelled university satellite campuses -- in Brampton, Markham and Milton -- that had been budgeted at $300 million.

11. Increasing the threshold to maintain official party status from eight seats to 12 seats, as well as ending public subsidies for political parties by 2022 (which costs about $15 million).

12. Extending the hours of LCBO stores so that they are open from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week, plus developing a plan to sell beer and wine in convenience and big box stores.

13. Providing $25 million over four years to the City of Toronto to fight "guns and gangs."

The Ford government has already implemented a hiring freeze across the public service.

The government also introduced Bill 57 on the same day as the economic statement, a measure that would make it easier to sell Ontario Place in Toronto.



They are really going after Franco-Ontarians

As well as backtracking on the promised French-language university.


Ford's cutting of the French language university and the French language services commissioner in the budget update is causing an increasing level of anger among Francophones not just in Ontario, but also in Quebec, New Brunswick and Manitoba that could create electoral problems for Scheer. Even Rachel Curran, director of policy under former prime minister Stephen Harper, admitted as much on CBC's Power and Politics. 

What's been called a "sad day for Franco-Ontarians" presents a challenge for Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer — not only in Ontario but in every part of the country where francophones live. The Conservatives are hoping to replicate Premier Doug Ford's electoral success in Ontario and see him as a key ally in the fight against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's carbon tax. But they also have great hopes of wooing Quebec voters — hopes that could be dashed if Scheer is unable to reconcile his support for Ford with his pitch to the francophone voters now angered by Ford's actions.

In its fiscal update on Thursday, Ford's government announced it would be cancelling a project to build a long-awaited French-language university in Toronto and would be abolishing the position of the French language services commissioner.

These decisions hit Franco-Ontarians hard and the reaction has been swift and furious. The front page of Le Droit, a major Franco-Ontarian newspaper, called it a "black day for francos." Francophone organizations and associations across the province have denounced the move and say they are prepared to contest it in the courts.

But French-speakers in Ontario weren't the only ones who took notice. In New Brunswick and Manitoba, concerns are being raised about what it signals for the francophone minorities in those provinces. This is an especially sensitive issue in New Brunswick, where a new Progressive Conservative government is taking office that is dependent for survival on the People's Alliance, a party that wants to roll back some parts of the province's Official Languages Act.

Quebec's French-language media — which normally would pay little attention to a provincial fiscal update in Ontario — also jumped on the news. Le Devoir reported the decision under the headline, "Doug Ford sacrifices Ontario francophones." Le Journal de Montréal, a widely-read and generally conservative-leaning paper, called it a "sad day."

Quebec Premier François Legault, a small-c conservative himself, also expressed his concerns and said he would take up the issue with his Ontario counterpart. The mayor of Quebec City — the municipality at the centre of the region where most of the Conservatives' seats in the province are located — denounced the move as mean-spirited and provocative.

It all puts Scheer in a difficult position. Ford's Progressive Conservative government in Ontario is not only ideologically aligned with the federal Conservatives, it's in lockstep with Scheer's campaign against the federal carbon tax. Quebec Conservative MPs were quick to say on Friday that their party would always stand up for francophones, though they did not go so far as to say that they would stand against the actions of the Ontario government. But if Scheer and his party don't do more to show that they are not aligned with Ford's policy toward Franco-Ontarians, that could cost them support among French Canadians across the country.

Quebec isn't the only place where the francophone vote is decisive, although it is a province where the Conservatives have hopes of making gains. The party is polling in second place in Quebec and stole a seat away from the Liberals in the Chicoutimi–Le Fjord byelection earlier this year. Francophones make up at least a fifth of the population in all 78 of Quebec's ridings and a majority in 65. But outside of Quebec, there are four ridings with majority francophone populations — three in New Brunswick and one in Ontario. There are another 14 ridings — in New Brunswick, Ontario, Nova Scotia and Manitoba — where francophones make up at least 10 per cent of the population. Half of those ridings voted Conservative the last time the party won a majority government in 2011; they would be key to any Conservative victory in 2019.

It's not likely that being seen as close to the Ford government will do Scheer many favours in the 96 ridings across the country with significant francophone populations. ...

ETA: Scheer has very publicly allied himself with Ford, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney (who may become Alberta's premier after next spring's provincial election) in his fight against Trudeau's carbon tax. He may prove reluctant to take Ford to task over a separate issue that he'd prefer to avoid altogether.

That alliance could compound the potential for problems facing Conservatives in Quebec. Quebec will not be affected by the federally-imposed carbon tax; the province already has a cap-and-trade system in place.

But voters in Quebec are worried about climate change. Polls show that it rates as an issue most highly in Quebec, putting the environment and climate change among the top issues for voters in the province.

The Liberals' plan to put a price on carbon is also more popular in Quebec than anywhere else in the country. A recent Angus Reid Institute poll put approval of the plan at 69 per cent.

Mainstreet Research not only found support for the plan higher in Quebec than elsewhere, it reported that 77 per cent of Quebecers told the polling firm they strongly or somewhat agreed that "it is more important for the government to solve the issue of climate change even if that means that the economy suffers."

That puts Scheer at risk of being out of step with Quebecers in the next federal election on one major issue — a risk that could be amplified if francophones also sense the Conservative leader is unwilling to distance himself from Ford's approach to funding services for Franco-Ontarians.


alan smithee alan smithee's picture

Was Wynne that horrible? Seriously is that what progressives should celebrate?


Ford has laid the groundwork for an attack on social services. 

As political tactics go, it’s not a bad one.

Drum up fears that the social assistance program than sustains nearly 1 million Ontarians might be gutted. Do this by talking about how it costs taxpayers $10 billion a year, isn’t sustainable, and doesn’t encourage people to work. ...




Ford and the PCs have been surprised by the widespread and forceful opposition to the governments cuts Francophone services and the threat of large demonstrations against the government over this issue starting in December. As a result, Ford has backed down to some extent, but still will not fund a proposed French university. 

After a backlash, Premier Doug Ford's government announced Friday afternoon it will take a number of steps to bolster the French language in Ontario, although it's still cutting funding for a planned French language university.

In its fall economic statement, the Progressive Conservative government announced plans to eliminate the position of the French language services commissioner and scrap plans to build a French university as part of a plan to balance the budget.

The decision prompted immediate backlash from Ontarians, the federal government and Quebec's new premier, who asked Ford to reverse the cuts at their first face-to-face meeting this week. One of Ford's MPPs, Amanda Simard, broke ranks to criticize the move, saying she was disappointed and frustrated.

On Friday, the government announced it was changing its plans, vowing to: 

  • Re-create the position of French language services commissioner, that will be attached to the ombudsman's office.
  • Name Caroline Mulroney as the minister of francophone affairs.
  • Hire a senior policy adviser responsible for francophone affairs in Ford's office.

However, Ontario's government is not restoring funding for a planned French-language university in the province.

It's unclear how much the changes will cost to implement.

"The fiscal realities of our province's finances prohibit a new stand-alone French Language University right now," Mulroney said in a news release.  ...

The Francophone Assembly of Ontario, which represents some 740,000 Franco-Ontarians, previously announced it's planning a day of action against the cuts on Dec. 1 in dozens of locations across the province.




Amanda Simard, francophone MPP for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, has quit the Ontario PCs to become an independent over the Ford government's cuts to francophone services. 

For days, Ms. Simard has been speaking out against the government’s decision in its fall fiscal update to cancel plans for a francophone university and cut the office of the French-language watchdog. “I’m asking the Premier and the government to reverse their decisions. And so I’m just doing what I was elected to do,” Ms. Simard told reporters at Queen’s Park this week. ...

After significant outcry from the Franco-Ontarian community, the PC government retreated somewhat last week by announcing it would create a French-language services commissioner position under the auspices of the Ombudsman’s office. Mr. Ford also officially installed Attorney-General Caroline Mulroney as the Minister of Francophone Affairs, and pledged to hire a senior policy adviser for francophone affairs. But plans for a francophone university, which Mr. Ford had promised to keep during the election campaign, were not resurrected. ...

Ms. Simard said the “partial backtracking” was not enough. On Wednesday, she voted against the government’s fall economic update in the legislature.



Franco-Ontarians are organizing 40 rallies to protest cuts to French services by the Ford government. 

Franco-Ontarians and their supporters are gathering across the province to protest Premier Doug Ford’s cuts to services for French-speakers. Many are donning the green-and-white flag that represents Ontario francophones as they rally to denounce the Ford government’s decision to scrap plans for a standalone French-language university and eliminate the independent office of the French-language services commissioner.

The largest of the 40 or so rallies is expected to be in Ottawa. ...

The Ford government’s moves sparked widespread anger within French-speaking communities in Ontario and Quebec and have been publicly denounced by the Quebec legislature.