Well, everyone can rest a little easier now, especially all those working parents and seniors and people with disabilities and teachers and poor folks and anyone who ever plans to use the province’s health-care services.

It’s such a relief to know that despite a looming deficit and massive impending spending cuts, Ontario’s $2.2-billion corporate tax cut will go ahead as planned.

The business sector needs the “stimulus,” according to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Management Board Chair David Tsubouchi says that the slowing economy means that it’s time for everybody — except the corporate sector, of course — “to pull up their socks.”

I guess that’s the difference between Conservative cabinet ministers and, say, regular human beings. They look around and see overcrowded schools in disrepair, waiting lists for subsidized day-care spaces in the tens of thousands, hour-long ambulance delays, backed-up emergency rooms, and developmentally disabled people who suffer abuse because adequate care and skilled workers cannot be provided for them, and their hearts bleed for the poor, under-stimulated business sector.

And the tax breaks don’t stop there. The Conservatives still plan to go ahead with their controversial tax cut for parents of children in private schools that will amount to about $400 million by the time it’s fully implemented while, at the same time, planning to cut about $700 million from the public school system.

The province even managed to find $2.37 million for World Youth Day, an international gathering of Catholic teens planned for July, 2002. Possibly to deflect any criticism of such significant public funding for a religious event during a time of budget cuts, Toronto Bishop Anthony Meagher has emphasized that while World Youth Day is a Roman Catholic event, it is inclusive and “open to all.”

Outsiders, I hope, will be given a warmer reception than the one the Catholic church currently extends to gay men, lesbians and feminists.

Then there’s the recent leaked report examining the options for operating the province’s child-care system for $270 million, just over half of its current budget of $470 million.

They include: gutting the current system to make it possible to run on its diminished budget, with radically fewer day-care centres and subsidized spaces; cutting child care altogether and using the $270 million for tax credits for working poor families, excluding those on welfare (about $1,500 annually per family, which would cover about two months of day care); or cutting child care altogether and, instead, giving low-income and welfare families a $1,000 annual child-care benefit.

Given these ridiculous options, I wonder why the Conservatives didn’t just take Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal to heart and encourage the poor to sell their children as food, thereby solving the need for food banks, as well as the child-care crisis, in one fell swoop. Work a tax break into it somewhere and, presto, it’s a Common Sense Revolution.

As the would-be successors to Premier Mike Harris preen themselves in preparation for the March, 2002 leadership run, it’s essential to consider the human cost of six years of Conservative leadership.

Two terms of leadership by a smug, combative and hostile government has wreaked havoc upon any publicly-funded service, from education to health care. There may no longer be a deficit on paper, but the majority of people in Ontario aren’t doing any better than they did before 1995. A $200 cheque one year can’t even begin to make up for the decimation of health care, education and social services. As one letter writer recently lamented in The Toronto Star in response to the proposed child-care funding cut: “I don’t want a tax cut; I want quality child care for my intended children.”

Even those tax cuts that have been the trademark of the Harris government and responsible for much of its popularity, have, in reality, been nothing more than a dumping of responsibilities elsewhere. Provincial downloading to cities has raised municipal taxes and that, combined with the demise of rent controls, has, to name just one example, made Toronto an impossibly expensive city in which to live.

Even Harris’ traditional base of support, all those people in the 905 region and in smaller cities and in rural areas, need not look any further than Walkerton to see just how destructive the Conservative policies have been for them, too.

And that’s the Mike Harris legacy in a nutshell: balanced budget, battered province.