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From Windsor Star, Jul 30, 2014
Column by Fred Hahn

After three months and a provincial election, Ontario’s new majority government just passed the same budget it introduced back in April.

With this self-proclaimed “progressive” budget, the government says they plan to “build Ontario up, invest in people and move us forward.”

I want to believe our premier’s intentions to be true, but the budget details suggest it’s the spin doctors who can claim victory from this budget – not the people of Ontario.

What Ontarians desperately need is courage, long-range thinking, and a dose of reality.

With the passing of this budget, Ontario continues to be the province that invests the least per person on public services – long-term care, childcare, education, transit, water, infrastructure – the things we all rely on for strong and healthy communities. Is this really a point of pride? Don’t the people of Ontario at least deserve to be in the middle of the pack?

And with the passing of this budget, Ontario continues to collect less revenue per resident than all other parts of Canada.

We have a revenue problem in Ontario, not a spending problem.

Am I suggesting that the average Ontarian should be paying more? No.

On the good side, this budget does increase taxes on the wealthiest two per cent of us – those who can well afford to pay more in taxes. But profitable corporations are paying the lowest corporate tax rates since the 1930s, while, according to the Bank of Canada, they are sitting on more than half a trillion dollars in profits that they refuse to invest in job creation. This is not a recipe for building Ontario up.

New Brunswick’s Business Council recently stepped up and pointed out the emperor has been running around buck-naked. They’re now denouncing the corporate tax cuts they’d formerly demanded, calling on the government to restore its corporate tax rate because cutting didn’t help their economy, and restoring it will provide much-needed government revenue.

Positive moves in this “new” budget, like support for lowwage workers in child care and home care, and investments in infrastructure, are ultimately undermined by planned cuts of up to six per cent in other ministries and plans for increased privatization – in other words, the continued practise of short-term gain for long-term pain.

What’s that definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?

Across Ontario, families are struggling. Using the mantra of “no new money” to push wage freezes on all workers, while simultaneously proposing hikes for only a few, sets up a strange dynamic of “deserving workers” versus the rest of us. This is neither helpful nor particularly progressive.

Announcing a new plan to fight poverty, while ensuring the minimum wage locks workers into poverty, freezing social assistance and disability payments, and building no affordable housing, sounds more like spin than a plan.

And designating billions for infrastructure spending to address the ever-growing needs across Ontario, only to have these investments linked to plans for public-private partnerships that cost us in the long run, doesn’t demonstrate the long-term vision we so desperately need.

The reason cancelling the gas plants cost us over a billion dollars is that our private partner not only got the money they would have received for completing the project, they also got their projected revenue for the next 30 years. The reality is public-private partnerships funnel public money that could be used to serve the people, into corporate bank accounts.

Rather than looking to corporations to pay their fair share, this budget looks to selling off the government’s revenue-generating assets – like our Hydro system, the LCBO, even the lottery. But hey, why not kill the goose that laid the golden egg – or burn the furniture to heat the house? Pick your metaphor.

While corporate profits continue to soar, we’re on a collision course with a future where the government’s only means of generating income will be to raise our taxes. That will be difficult when most of us have had our incomes frozen so long we can barely make ends meet.

Don’t get me wrong, paying down the deficit is important to our province’s long-term financial health. But setting an arbitrary date and then financing it off the backs of our collective future is no way to build Ontario up.

If you won’t take my word for it, at least consider what the International Monetary Fund (that’s right, a union guy is referencing the IMF!) has to say – that cutting our way to a balanced budget doesn’t help to solve the problems of deficits. In fact, it only makes matters worse.

Fred Hahn is president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Ontario.