A photo of Doug Ford at the official start of the tunnelling the Eglinton Crosstown West Extension,
Ontario Premier Doug Ford making a speech at the beginning of the Eglinton Crosstown West Extension project. Credit: Queen's Printer for Ontario, 2022 / Government of Ontario Credit: Queen's Printer for Ontario, 2022 / Government of Ontario

There will be no cheapness on the part of the Ford government when it comes to providing for customers visiting the private spa to be built at Ontario Place.

On the other hand, the Ford government is exhibiting plenty of cheapness when it comes to providing for children getting an education in Ontario. (Those would be our children, by the way).

And so it is that our “populist” premier will spend $400 million building a parking garage for the convenience of well-to-do spa users, while scrimping on the most basic educational materials in Ontario’s schools.

That scrimping — education funding has dropped by $1,200 per student under Ford (in inflation-adjusted dollars) — explains why classroom shelves are empty after teachers remove the learning materials they have provided, and schools increasingly rely on fundraising drives to pay for technology, libraries and classroom supplies, leaving schools in lower-income areas at a disadvantage.

The government’s miserly approach to funding our children’s education seems curious in such a rich province.

LISTEN: Keeping Ontario Place a place for all

Certainly, there’s no shortage of money in Ontario coffers. The government is actually swimming in money — even as it hollows out key public programs, underfunding schools, shutting down hospital emergency wards and doing nothing for the homeless beyond allowing developers to build ever more condos that are quickly sold to high-income buyers.

While underfunding our public programs didn’t start with Doug Ford, his government has raised this sorry practice to a guiding principle.

For years, we have been told by provincial business and political leaders that we must cut government spending to keep deficits under control — or international investors will cut us off.

That threat was always grossly exaggerated. Our deficits were always manageable; there was never the slightest risk international investors would cut us off.

The notion that we cannot afford a strong public sector has always been a scam.

But it’s particularly a scam these days. The Ford government’s own numbers show a sea of surpluses — not deficits — over the next four years.

And the government’s finances are even better than it likes to admit. The province’s Fiscal Accountability Office — an independent government agency — reported last month that Ontario is on track to collect $22 billion more than it plans to spend on its public programs.

That’s $22 billion that is not being used to adequately fund our education, health care and other vital public programs that determine the quality of life for millions of Ontarians.

While the Ford government is particularly hostile to the public sector, scrimping on public programs has sadly become the norm in recent decades — to the detriment of all of us.

We’ve become increasingly numb to what we are losing, caught up in a capitalist narrative that celebrates individuals making it on their own, rather than celebrating what we can achieve collectively.

This capitalist narrative is based on the concept of “survival of the fittest,” which was popularized by the book “The Origin of Species,” written by the great 19th century evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin.

But this narrative is something of a distortion of Darwin’s overall view of what led to the successful evolution of the human species.

In a later work, “The Descent of Man,” Darwin stressed humans as social animals and singled out the most important characteristics in our evolution, starting with our capacity for love, sympathy and caring for others.

In other words, what was key to our successful evolution wasn’t so much our ability to compete with each other but rather our ability to cooperate, to help one another, to take care of the well-being of others — which strong public programs enable us to do.

But, in recent years, so many of our political leaders have, like Doug Ford, ignored this and instead backed the business elite in its aspiration to ensure that the fittest (that is, themselves) survive and prosper extravagantly. Hence Ford’s pampering of spa users, while leaving children needing an education to fend for themselves.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Toronto Star.

Linda McQuaig

Journalist and best-selling author Linda McQuaig has developed a reputation for challenging the establishment. As a reporter for The Globe and Mail, she won a National Newspaper Award in 1989...