“Just Sayin......” An editorial comment

By Kirk Winter

Doug Ford and the Ontario Conservative Party brought down their first provincial budget on April 11, and the document is a brilliant bit of sleight of hand that David Copperfield would be proud of.

Ford, who according to an Ipsos-Reid poll last month is the third least popular Premier in Canada, has seen his support stubbornly stalled at 38 percent. Even after all the populist public pronouncements of the last 10 months, 62 percent of Ontarians believe that Premier Ford and his merry band of Conservatives are on the wrong road to balancing the budget and protecting vital programming in the province.

Most political observers will tell you that the Ontario budget is health care, education and then everything else. It is very clear that Ford wants to talk a lot about the “everything else.”

This was a budget about loosening virtually every current provincial regulation on the sales and distribution of alcohol. I am surprised that Ford did not create a Ministry of Drinking, he focused so much time and effort in this budget on its liberalization. I am not quite sure who needs a drink at 9am or what the impact will be on corner stores who will see their ability to hire teenaged staff end once they sell alcohol. I still find it curious that a Premier who claims to be a true populist doesn’t lower Ontario’s aberrant drinking age to 18 to match the rest of Canada. If these young people are trusted with the vote and can die for our nation in the military they should have the right to have a drink. If Ford was truly looking to broaden the precarious base upon which Ford Nation is built, he stumbled badly by refusing to lower Ontario’s antiquated drinking age.

Casinos are about to become much more commonplace with one coming to a community near you. If your taste in athletics runs to MMA, Ford’s folks decided that “blood in the arena” was worthy of bringing to Ontario with regulations significantly altered to make more events possible right across the province.

Premier Ford’s unrequited love for the people of Metro Toronto, who first rejected him as Mayor and then as Premier, is positively Freudian. The province committed $11 billion to improve public transit in the largest city in the province while rural infrastructure dumped on underfunded municipalities crumbles before our very eyes.

If I am a Conservative from rural Ontario I am looking through this 300-page document wondering if I am being taken for granted. Ford claims to be fixated on job creation, forgetting that agriculture is one of the biggest employers in Ontario. Ontario’s farmers appear to be forgotten by this budget. At the time of writing this editorial, not a single farming group had publicly come out in support of the Ford document.

During public consultations with health care managers across the province, Ford was told that the system needed a 3.4 percent increase just to continue the services they currently provide. Ford and the Conservatives didn’t listen and only approved a 2 percent increase, putting health care behind the eight-ball with contract talks looming this summer for almost everyone who works in healthcare. One single proposed cut, the removal of anesthetic for colonoscopies, has an on-line petition currently with thousands of signatures volunteering the Premier to be the first to experience this procedure without benefit of sedation. That, and hundreds of other proposed budget “efficiencies,” will soon be shared by Ford’s Health Ministry.

Ford and his Education Minister rolled out their plans for massive change in Ontario’s education system pre-budget so the visceral public reaction from teachers, board employees and parents had hopefully blown over by Budget Day. Last Saturday, 25,000 education workers in the streets of Toronto suggested that this issue will not be going away anytime soon. As of August 31, not a single education worker will have a signed collective agreement with the province and labour chaos is all but assured in a system that is already underfunded by billions.

Ontario’s universities and colleges, with which the Premier only has a passing personal acquaintance, were hammered by a province that believes they only exist as an adjunct for job training and job creation. Upwards of 60 percent of future provincial funding will be tied to some kind of as of yet unannounced metrics regarding the school’s role in skills and job outcomes and economic and community impact. It will be interesting if the universities and colleges stand together against the monetarization of their programming, or allow themselves to be divided and conquered one by one as they compete desperately for a smaller piece of the available provincial pie.

Interested in protecting the environment and global climate change – massive cuts to that ministry!

Interested in more affordable housing – no announcements on that front!

A supporter of a better deal for our First Nations people – the budget there was cut by 50 percent!

Desperate for lower hydro rates – all the Conservatives have done is keep the supposedly awful Liberal energy subsidies that they railed against in the last election and drawn a blank on any new programming!

If you are the kind of voter who believes that government priorities should be beer in the corner stores, on-line and casino gambling available 24/7, and one city only receiving the lion’s share of all the infrastructure dollars, then Ford and his Finance Minister Vic Fedeli have put together a package for you.

If, on the other hand, you value a quality education for your children, health care, a clean environment and all Ontarians having a decent place to live, there is very little in this budget for you except job cuts, question marks and guaranteed labour strife that will make the protests against Mike Harris look like a walk in the park.

The greatest magician in the world is not going to make that disappear anytime soon.

PoliticsDeb Crossen