Frank Stronach certainly got his money’s worth when he made a Magna International training facility available for the Tory government’s infomercial-disguised-as-a-provincial-budget.

His company, whose directors include former premier Mike Harris, will save a stunning $31.9 million when the Tories’ corporate tax cuts are fully implemented in 2006.

The new seniors’ property tax credit (more on that below) will give Stronach back $4,200 for every $1 million that his mansion home is worth — lower and middle income seniors won’t even qualify for it. As well, the Tories’ income tax cuts alone are projected to save him over $3 million a year. Stronach’s other business is breeding racehorses. Clearly, backing the Tories is much less of a gamble for the fabulously wealthy of this province.

As for the rest of the province, the Tories haven’t even let them eat cake — they’ve barely thrown them crumbs. Take the aforementioned property tax credit for seniors. (Take it! Please!) As of July, seniors will be reimbursed for the education portion of their property taxes, thereby taking another $450 million out of the school system. While this is being touted as a pre-election goodie for seniors, it is really just another gift for the rich. There is absolutely no cap on the rebate but, perversely, there is a floor. Lower and middle-income seniors — because they already qualify for existing property tax credits — will see no net benefit from the new credit.

But, that’s not even the most offensive aspect of the new credit. Ted Martin, chair of the Waterloo Region District School Board, says: “By extending the tax credit for private schools — and exempting seniors from the education portion of property tax — the government has completely abandoned the notion that public education is a necessity that benefits all citizens, should be paid for by all citizens, and be available for all citizens. Not only are they taking more public money, and giving it to private educational institutions with virtually no strings attached, but they are also ending the universality of payment. These are huge steps towards a parents-pay system.”

As Martin points out, “Public education is no longer seen as a common good. That is terrifying. That is exactly the sort of Americanization of our public education system that we feared under Mike Harris and John Snobelen. Though Ernie Eves and Elizabeth Witmer talk a kinder gentler more supportive line — or perhaps because they do — they are the true enemies of public education.”

Equally disturbing is the government’s claim that this “budget” is balanced. Quite simply, despite the alleged $524 million surplus, it is not. Ecker can only pretend, by using $2.5 billion in extra health care money from the federal government, to have a surplus — and most of that money had already been squandered on more tax cuts.

Ecker also carried forward an unused billion dollar contingency fund from last year’s budget to artificially help her bottom line. As well, the Tories are counting on earning $2.2-billion from the sale of public assets during 2003/2004. Even if that happens as projected, it’s hardly a sound long-term strategy for running the province. Sooner or later, they’re going to run out of things to sell. Or, we’re going to run out of patience as we watch our public legacy being whittled away.

The “budget” also hides the enormous costs of the disastrous hydro deregulation scheme. Between May 1, 2002 and February 28, 2003, the government spent well over a billion dollars to pay power producers the amount that exceeded their 4.3 cent per kilowatt-hour price cap. This billion dollars, and the next billion dollars and the billion dollars after that, are being kept “off balance sheet.” In other words, our province is now being run exactly like Enron.

Beyond the details of the “budget,” its introduction ignored centuries of parliamentary convention. That will leave a bad taste — even for many people who are sympathetic to the Harris-Eves agenda. Eves now claims that he had no choice, because the legislature was still on its Christmas break. But, as most observers have pointed out, that situation was wholly contrived by Eves in order to bypass the legislature and avoid public accountability.

Finance Minister Janet Ecker described the so-called “budget” as “an historic occasion, not only because of the twenty-first-century process of delivering this budget speech but equally so for its content.”

Apparently, in Ecker’s version of the twenty-first century, we are no longer living in a democracy. Politicians are allowed to openly lie about their reasons for bypassing the legislature. Of course, the century is still young, so there’s still time for citizens to speak up for a different version of the twenty-first century. They can take the first step by kicking out this government when they vote in the upcoming election.


Scott Piatkowski

Scott Piatkowski is a former columnist for He wrote a weekly column for 13 years that appeared in the Waterloo Chronicle, the Woolwich Observer and ECHO Weekly. He has also written for Straight...