Ontario government continues ‘party’ with taxpayer money

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Appeared in the Hamilton Spectator, March 23, 2024
Ontario government continues ‘party’ with taxpayer money

The Ford government will table its next budget on March 26, but Ontario taxpayers might be more optimistic if the premier’s chair was occupied by the 2018 version of Doug Ford instead of the one running the province today. In March 2018, before becoming premier, Ford said there’s “billions of dollars being wasted” by the then-Liberal government, and when he gets in office, the “party is over with the taxpayers’ money.”

But if former Liberal premiers Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne were expert at wasting billions of dollars, Ford has outdone them both. In 2017-18, Ontario government program spending under the Liberals was 17.3 per cent of GDP, but according to the Ford government’s latest economic statement, program spending including reserves will be 17.9 per cent of GDP this fiscal year and 17.8 per cent in 2024-25. Put another way, if the Ford government spent at the same level (relative to GDP) as the former Liberal government, taxpayers would save between $6 billion and $7 billion this year alone.

But again, if the Ford government really wants to reverse course, it can start with its upcoming budget.

How? One area ripe for savings is post-secondary education where government spending is rising from $11.6 billion in 2022-23 to $12.1 billion in 2023-24 and $12.5 billion in 2024-25. It’s far from clear that government ought to subsidize post-secondary education at all, and particularly in Ontario, government spending, bureaucracy and operational interference of universities has not served the sector well. Less government, not more, would pay a double dividend—a healthier post-secondary sector and savings to taxpayers.

The government should also end corporate welfare. The Volkswagen and Stellantis multi-billion dollar battery plant subsidy infamies of last year may have drawn the biggest headlines, but even though 2024 is less than four months old there’s already been plenty of corporate welfare action this year.

In January, the Ford government announced (via the Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade) $3.3 million for a manufacturer of food packaging and $1.3 million for a refrigeration company in Niagara Region, $2.3 million for a silicone molding company, $1.5 million for an Italy-based pasta manufacturing company to open a facility in London, and $1.4 million for a medical technology company in Kitchener.

Other government departments are in on the corporate welfare action, too. At the end of January, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry announced $5 million for a pulp and paper mill in Thunder Bay, and a combined $4.4 million more to 13 other “research, innovation and modernization initiatives” to “increase forest sector job creation and regional economic growth.”

Similarly, the province’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs announced in January that, along with the federal government, it will give up to $8 million in corporate welfare to dairy producers and up to $25 million to food processing companies. This was followed in the first week of February by corporate welfare announcements of $6 million for farmers and agri-food businesses and $13 million for meat processors.

All this corporate welfare and other excess spending should make one thing clear—the party with taxpayer money is still raging. Ontarians can hope, but should not expect, the Ford government to stop the party with its upcoming budget.