Budget neither ‘prudent’ nor ‘pragmatic,’ Tory says

Following the tabling of the Ontario budget yesterday, the leader of the Opposition accused the provincial government of ignoring the warning signs of a declining economy.

Finance Minister Dwight Duncan presented the 2008 budget at Queen’s Park yesterday afternoon. The McGuinty Liberals’ budget builds on a five-point economic plan, which includes skills training, infrastructure and innovation. It also attempts to lower business costs and develop and strengthen government partnerships.

Progressive Conservative party leader John Tory views the budget as short-sighted. “When you spend like there is no tomorrow, whether you are a family, a business, or the Government of Ontario, there is always a day of reckoning and we are there,” Tory said.

The Liberals’ first budget of their second mandate expects to see revenues of $96.9 billion and will spend $96.2 billion principally on health, education and paying down Ontario’s debt. It is the government’s third balanced budget in a row.

“This budget is about making sure people have jobs and Ontario’s economy grows,” Duncan said. “It is a balanced approach that is prudent and pragmatic.”

But Tory sees the budget as anything but balanced.

“When tens of thousands of jobs are lost and thousands are leaving Ontario, there is something seriously wrong … Ontario is on the wrong track and everyone knows it,” Tory said. “There is nothing in this budget that will get the economy going and save the jobs that are disappearing from this province at an alarming rate.”

Although Duncan made it clear that the U.S. economy, oil prices and the Canadian dollar could all affect Ontario’s economic future, he still expressed his confidence in the budget because of the careful planning that went into it.

“We have the right plan,” Duncan said. “We have the plan to respond to whatever transpires in the coming year. We have confidence in the future … and the people of this province.”

Tory’s concerns focus on what he called the government’s excessive spending habits. In the 2008 budget, he had problems concerning the end-of-year spending.

“Much of this money is required to be spent by March 31 of this year,” he said. “This one-time injection of money into things like transit provides false hope. It is all smoke and mirrors.”

Tory expressed his disapproval of “rushing” money out the door in a two or three-week period because of the lack of long-term advantages.

“The money will be here for them today and gone tomorrow,” he said. “No security, no consistency, no ability to plan.”

Instead, Tory suggested the implementation of consistent programs that would allow for planning and continuous upgrades year after year.

Tory, who supported federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s strong recommendation the day before the budget to reduce the business income tax rates, expressed disappointment in that regard.

“He (McGuinty) has chosen to leave our overall business taxes the highest in Canada,” he said.

But Duncan said the choice not to implement corporate tax cuts had to do with the manufacturing sector’s immediate need for money. He also said that eliminating the Capital Tax allowed a faster return on the money.

Tory remains unconvinced that the budget will benefit Ontarians and agrees with Flaherty’s statement about the possibility of Ontario becoming a “have-not” province in the next three years.

“It is a very real possibility. I think Ontario is going to have many difficulties,” he said.