It’s now been one year since Ontarians elected the Ford Conservatives to a majority mandate, and it’s been a whirlwind of a first year. We’ve seen cuts all over, we’ve seen petty attacks from government ministers and members against those who dare to speak out against them and we’ve seen the kind of turmoil we hadn’t seen in the province since the Harris years.
All in all, it’s been a lot and so much has happened that it can sometimes feel hard to keep up with everything that’s happened. So now that we are at this point, it’s a good time to take stock of the record of this government so far to help remind us of everything that’s happened. The National Observer today has done a good part of this, putting out a piece today that gives a good list of everything this government has cut:
Out of this list, which is long and depressing, there are some things that really leapt out that me that need to be repeated and highlighted for many reasons, some of which I’ll come back to. Here is my highlight/lowlight list:
- Ended electric and hydrogen vehicle incentive programs
- Removed electric vehicle chargers from GO stations parking lots
- Cut flood management funds to conservation authorities by 50%
- Eliminated funding for the 50 Million Tree Program
- Cut funding to public health authorities
- Cancellation of funding for the installation of efficient wood stoves in homes
- Cut $1 million in funding from “Leave the Pack Behind”, an agency that helps young people quit smoking
- Eliminated $100 million for school repairs (was paid for from Cap and Trade fund)
- Removed $25 million from the Education Programs-Other fund, which funds grants for programs like after-school jobs for youth, tutors in classrooms, daily physical activity in elementary schools and more
- Cut legal aid funding by 30%
- Planned to cut funds to repair social housing units
- Cancelled the Indigenous Culture fund
- Cut 50% from grants for the Ontario Music Fun
- Cut funding to regional tourism organizations by $17.5 million
- Cut $1 billion from social services across the board
- Cut library services funding by 50%
- Cut $84.5 million in funding for children and at-risk youth, including to children’s aid societies
- Cut funding to MaRS Discovery District
- Eliminated funding for public policy think tanks
- Cut funding to two artificial intelligence institutes by $24 million
- Cut $5 million in funding from stem cell research
- Eliminated funding for the Gambling Research Exchange Ontario
That is a long list of cuts and a lot of pain that’s been spread across the board in Ontario. And those cuts still resulted in “record high spending” in the budget that the Ford Conservatives tabled this spring, something they were quick to point out in their own defence. Most of that new spending is going to pay for massive tax cuts that are coming, and to balance the budget like they say they will do, you know that more cuts and a lot more pain is on the way. For a track record for year one, this is very dismal, which helps to explain why Mr. Ford and his government have become so unpopular so fast.
But here is the thing folks that I’d hope that some wise progressive parties on the Federal side might look at here. We all know that we have a big election coming this Fall, and parties are putting all their ideas together to pitch to Canadians to try to win their votes. While we are facing pain in Ontario right now thanks to cuts like those listed above, those cuts also provide an opportunity to progressive parties to step in and fill the void. All progressive parties in Ottawa have been vocal in their opposition to the Ford cuts in Ontario, so it would make sense for those same parties to offer to pick up that slack here, right?
And here is the kicker folks; a lot of those cuts I’ve listed, but also others on the list, were funded by Ontario’s Cap and Trade program. So in theory, it would be very easy for the Government of Canada to offer federal equivalent programs to do the same thing. We’ve already seen the Liberal government offer a similar electric vehicle rebate program and they also recently promised to fund the 50 million trees program. With pretty much everything I’ve listed above, there is no clear jurisdictional roadblock to stop a Federal government from stepping into this void and maybe even do it better than was done before. Most of the programs that were cut could be replicated easily and of the funds that were cancelled, the Federal government is free and clear to do what they want there.
The big thing about this past year in Ontario that I think most Ontarians have come to notice was that we really didn’t understand the scope and number of programs that we had that helped us in our day to day lives. Many didn’t know the extent to which Ontario’s Cap and Trade funds were being spent. Basically, it wasn’t until the “drip, drip, drip” of these cuts started to hit that many Ontarians realized it all. Whether it be big things like the cuts to autism funding, education funding and healthcare, or smaller things like the cancellation of the inter-library loan program funding, the majority of Ontarians are feeling this at home.
So if any federal party decides to take up the mantle and replace those funds and programs with federal equivalents, I believe they stand to be big winners in Ontario as Ontarians will appreciate getting those things back. And given that we are in a state right now where deficit funding is not issue that it has been in the past, the price tag to do this all doesn’t seem so bad. If done right, the record of the first year of the Ford Conservatives could very well help to pave the election or re-election of a progressive Federal government in the Fall. The opportunities are there to make that happen but the question remains if those parties in Ottawa will take it in their hands and make the best of it.