Far from delivering a “line-by-line” accounting of provincial funding, the PC government’s $500,000 Ernst and Young (EY) report on the province’s finances “is gun for hire advocacy for downsizing public services, the sale of profitable provincial assets, user fees, means testing and increased privatization,” says Michael Hurley, president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions/CUPE (OCHU).
Ontario’s financial shortfall is driven not by too high levels of funding services, but by having the lowest corporate taxes of any jurisdiction in North America, says Hurley. “The Liberals cut corporate taxes much too deeply and, despite spending the least of any province on health, there is a budget shortfall in the face of a growing and aging population. There are two budget levers, income and expenditure. Corporate taxes need to increase.”
With a deficit in this fiscal year now calculated at $15 billion, tax cuts of $7.5 billion promised and accounting changes of
$6 billion, Ontario faces major cutbacks. A recent study by the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) predicts that the PCs will need to cut 3,500 hospital beds and 16,500 hospital staff to fulfill their promises to balance the budget.
While the report provided little in the way of actual line-by-line accounting, it is clear it will be used by Premier Doug Ford “to set the stage for forging ahead with fewer government services and privatization schemes. Regrettably, this would mean less care and less access to services locally,” Hurley says.
Ontario funds hospitals at $400 less per person than the rest of the country. Yet, the EY report compares Ontario’s funding for services, like health care, against only BC and Quebec, provinces with low levels of funding, and ignores the seven which are higher. “This selective accounting is deceptive. It shapes the debate by pretending that our health care funding is relatively generous, when it is the most frugal of any developed economy in the western world,” says Hurley.
The EY review encourages privatization using P3s introduced under Mike Harris. This is a model that Ontario’s Auditor General identified as costing $8 billion more than publicly financed projects. “This exposes the ideological bent of this review. P3s deliver far fewer services, with far fewer staff and at a much higher price than traditionally funded infrastructure – they are unaffordable,” says Hurley.
“The PCs are setting the stage for a massive transfer of wealth through corporate tax cuts, asset sales and privatization and cuts to socialized programs like health, education and social services. There will be resistance beginning with a large demonstration on October 23 at noon at Queen’s Park, sponsored by the Ontario Health Coalition, as defenders of our public health care system travel from across Ontario to commit to protect it.”