TORONTO – Doug Ford vowed Thursday to keep seeking so-called efficiencies to balance the budget after the province’s financial watchdog said Ontario had limited opportunities to cut already low government spending.
The Progressive Conservatives have said the deficit for 2018-19 is projected to be $13.5 billion, although opposition politicians have accused the government of inflating the figure to justify cuts to programs and services.
A report from the Financial Accountability Officer released Thursday said the Tories would be limited in how much government spending they would be able to cut, noting that in 2017 the province’s per capita spending on programs was already the lowest amongst all the provinces.
Ford said, however, that he believes his government can achieve its plan.
“No one will ever convince Doug Ford … that there isn’t waste in government,” the premier said. “No matter if it’s municipal government, federal or provincial, we’re going line-by-line to find the efficiencies.”
The FAO said the province takes in the lowest revenue per person in Canada and also receives the second lowest level of federal transfer payments. That, combined with comparatively low levels of government spending and the Tories’ approach to balancing the budget will make eliminating the deficit a challenge, it said.
“The burden of eliminating the deficit falls mainly on reducing program spending,” the report says. “However, since Ontario’s program spending is already the lowest in Canada, opportunities for achieving additional spending restraint or reductions may be limited.”
Ford said his government would balance the budget in a responsible way.
“I’ve said over and over again, I’m not going in there hacking and slashing and with a chain saw cutting it up,” he said. “It’s not going to happen under our administration.”
Ford also ruled out raising taxes to bolster government program spending or to help eliminate the deficit. The Tories have not said when they will balance the budget.
The FAO noted that in 2017, Ontario spent the lowest amount per person on health care.
NDP finance critic Sandy Shaw said in a statement that the FAO report shows more must be invested in health care.
“Doug Ford continues to demand that people in this province make sacrifices, and accept deep cuts from their government,” she said. “What this FAO report proves is that the people of Ontario deserve to get more from their government, not less.”
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said the report highlights the need to find additional revenue sources to balance the budget.
“The premier continues to think that we can cut our way to prosperity,” he said in a statement. “What we need is an honest conversation about long-term sustainable solutions.”
© 2019 The Canadian Press