Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Wynne’s First Budget

Premier Kathleen Wynne (OLP – Don Valley West) and her Liberal government released their budget last week. In a minority legislature the Liberals will depend on the backing of the ONDP to survive and avoid an election. To win support the Liberals made serious concessions to the NDP. In the Toronto Star Martin Regg Cohn referred to this budget as a “NDP budget”.

The Ontario Liberals agreed to the NDP’s demands to cut auto insurance by 15%, expand welfare benefits and increase funding to reduce youth unemployment. As a member of the NDP I’ve heard a great deal about the first and third point. They were definitely the main thrust of the NDP demands.

The budget also revealed deeper concerns. Economic growth is predicted to slow even further in Ontario. Finance Minister Charles Sousa (OLP – Mississauga South) projected only 1.5% growth in Ontario’s economy over the next fiscal year. This is largely attributed to the continuing sluggishness in the United States. I often look at the economy as a Keynesian, and so I cannot help but hope that if we figure out how to fund Metrolinx’s Big Move it could help stimulate the economy.

The deficit still exists, and is projected to remain until 2017-2018, at the end of which the province will have $300 billion in debt. That is a truly terrifying amount of debt. There are other sources for revenue. Regg Cohn points out that with the lowest corporate taxes in the region other subsidies should not be needed any more. Nearly a billion dollars could be recovered by ending subsidies.

While Andrea Horwath (ONDP – Hamilton Centre) and the ONDP have the make a decision, Forum Research released a poll showing 48% of Ontarians want them to back the government. I think the NDP have limited choice but to back the government given the concessions that have been given. I also believe it would be strategically wise for the NDP (my party) to hold off calling an election now.

This is a political budget, some of the policies in it may be less than wise because it is designed to be able to win multi-party support and be defendable in an election. It would be a bad time to have an election. The issue I’m most mindful of now, infrastructure and public transit, is about to move forward with Metrolinx’s report on how to fund the projects. I’m desperately hoping that the government will be able to find support in the opposition and advance a solution to the gridlock crisis. Basically we need to end gridlock to end gridlock.

I could be wrong. Perhaps we should have an election, clear the air, let one party get a false majority and rule without question. My fear is that majority governments are less swayed by public pressure, and at least in this moment if the people demand a solution at least one of the three parties can start pushing for it, and perhaps achieve it. In a minority the people are rendered effectively voiceless as politicians become less accountable. I still believe that minority governments can work, I hope our political leaders believe so too.

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