Opposition sees red over Ontario deficit

Ontario Minister of Finance Dwight Duncan dared to utter the “d-word” in his recent fiscal update to the province.

In his address to the Ontario Legislature Wednesday, Duncan announced he expects the government to run a $500-million deficit for the 2008-2009 fiscal year. The admission provoked a swift and harsh response by both opposition parties.

Progressive Conservative finance critic Tim Hudak said a return to deficit spending was shameful, unnecessary, irresponsible and harmful

The NDP’s Michael Prue went further, attacking the McGuinty government’s entire approach to the deepening global economic crisis.

“In good economic times, they had a bad plan, and in bad economic times, they have a worse plan,” he said.

Prue went on to say that he feels that the government is going into deficit without good reason, criticizing the Liberals for failing to announce new initiatives for tackling Ontario’s faltering economy.

“If you’re going to (make new commitments to) stimulate the industrial, manufacturing or commercial sector, and you’re going to get people out of poverty, then yeah, there’s a reason for a deficit,” he said. “(Don’t) just announce you’ll do nothing (and say) ‘we don’t have enough money’ to do whatever else you’re going to do.”

Duncan said this year’s deficit would be eliminated in the next fiscal year, but Prue accuses Duncan of seeing the economy “through rose-coloured glasses.”

“(Duncan) is still forecasting the same amounts of money to come in from the PST and general income tax from ordinary individuals,” Prue said. “I don’t see how he thinks that’s going to happen with declining consumer confidence and job losses.”

Prue feels that Duncan and the rest of the McGuinty cabinet were unnecessarily blindsided by the economic meltdown that began weeks ago in the United States and now are merely reacting, instead of having proactive policy solutions. This, Prue suggests, erodes Duncan’s credibility.

“I’ve been asking (Duncan) repeatedly about (the impact of the economic problems in the United States),” he said.

“It’s the same answers all the time: ‘our fundamentals are strong’ and ‘we’re going to be fine through all of this’ and so on. He’s been saying that for a whole year until today – and now he’s saying everything’s going to be fine next year. I find that hard to believe. The biggest deficit we saw today was in (Duncan’s) credibility.”