John Robson: There’s Nothing Remotely Conservative About Ford’s Ontario Budget

by EditorK

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is seen after a meeting with Canada’s provincial premiers in Toronto, Ontario, Canada December 2, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio/File Photo

Updated: March 27, 2023


Once upon a time Ontario, Canada’s largest province economically and demographically, was governed by spendthrift Liberals with an unshakeable faith in government’s ability to solve all problems. Booooo! So, many people worked hard to replace them with a different party. How’s that working for you now that the Tories just handed down the biggest-spending budget in provincial history with more where it came from?

There’s a lot of fussing at the moment about the imminent federal budget, with pundits saying those national Liberals must exercise fiscal restraint because government spending is a huge drag on the economy and society, but cut nothing and create vast new programs because government spending is a huge boost to the economy and society. So there’s a bit of a mental disconnect. And how can we come to grips with the underlying issues when even Canadian Conservatives brush aside questions about the appropriate role and actual capacity of government and roll up their sleeves to spend spend spend?

As Psalm 146 warns, put not your faith in princes. Everyman Doug Ford may get a bad haircut at Walmart then laugh about it. But when it comes to the public purse, and public philosophy, he’s just Dalton McGuinty in a blue tie, whose latest budget is the usual nauseating blend of PR and reckless extravagance, from the focus-grouped pictures and rhetoric to the runaway spending and tax fiddles.

I should note one positive difference between the latest Queen’s Park budget and the typical sort you get from Ottawa. The actual table of expenditure and revenue appears early in the Ontario document, on page 6, whereas the feds bury it hundreds of pages deep. But what is not different is the trajectory of spending, from $183 billion actually spent in 2021-22 to $217.5 billion projected just four years later in 2025-26. So an 18 percent increase. Restraint? We don’t need no stinking restraint.

Especially not on health care, which is meant to rise from $69.9 to $87.6, or 25 percent. Sustainability? We don’t need no stinking sustainability. We just need to get re-elected so we can get re-elected. (As for interest payments rising from $12.6 billion to $15.1 billion, hey, what could go wrong?)

Another thing I find obnoxious about the Ontario budget is that it chirpily revises last year’s forecasts dramatically, including from a $19.2 billion deficit for 2022-23 to a mere $2.2 billion. Of course, it’s good that government isn’t plunging recklessly even further into debt given that Ontario is the most indebted subnational jurisdiction in the world (no chant of “We’re #1” ensues), although the projection of a surplus in 2024-25 has the usual “Free beer tomorrow” feel. But given that budgets deluge us with data about probable growth to convince us their creators are not just hucksters, the fact that last year’s projections were totally worthless doesn’t actually increase confidence in this year’s, now does it?

In his splendid brief “At The End Of An Age,” historian John Lukacs commented that “‘Conservatives,’ especially in the United States, are some of the most strident proponents of ‘Progress’; their views of the present and the future are not merely shortsighted but laden with a bellowing optimism that is imbecile rather than naive.” And Doug Ford is precisely this sort of conservative: entirely progressive in his outlook and only a progressive caricature of conservatism in his scorn for ideas and coziness with developers.

I spent time at the Canada Strong and Free Networking Conference this month, and heard many persons of wisdom insist that conservatism could be a winner if only it were more into big government and progressive values. But a few voices took a contrary position, including one saying we should value beautiful architecture and livable cities. Whereas Doug Ford and his “More Homes Built Faster” Bill C-23 are just into piling up cement in suburbs and “densification” from Kingston to Kitchener to Kapuskasing as progressive urbanists advocate. Cottage associations are mostly the kind of progressive people who’d hate provincial Conservatives regardless, but they’re up in arms about this one with reason.

There is another vision, skeptical of the state and inspired by private initiative. And curiously it’s one most Canadian conservatives claim to share while campaigning, including the Doug Ford of 2018. But his associates actually boast, or at least think they’re boasting, that he doesn’t think in abstractions. He has the common touch. As in retail politics which is about handing out goodies not addressing the common good based on principle. Including, I might add, a “10 percent refundable corporate income tax credit for manufacturers producing goods in Ontario.”

No free markets for Doug Ford. Heck no. Spend and meddle.

For this we elect conservatives?

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


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