Ontario steels itself ahead of Liberal budget release
Published Tuesday, March 27, 2012 10:13AM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 7:51AM EDT
Ontario taxpayers are bracing for wide-ranging cuts on Tuesday as the minority Liberals table a budget meant to tackle a $16-billion deficit.
"We'll be asking everyone to do their share," Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said on the eve of what will be his sixth budget.
Freezes to welfare and disabilities payments have already been identified as part of the government's fiscal plan, one of many potential moves drawing extensive criticism.
But there's no guarantee the budget will even pass, given that the Liberals will need at least two opposition members to vote with them on Monday.
Adding to the pressure, Tim Hudak's Progressive Conservatives have expressed plans to vote against it. The New Democratic Party has reportedly said it's reserving judgment.
The caveat has only exacerbated an already tense atmosphere at Queen's Park, where the government faces the possibility of another election if the budget doesn't pass.
For his part, Duncan has said he's willing to defend the budget in an election.
Among the cost-saving ideas in the budget is a review of all government employee pension plans, CTV Toronto's Paul Bliss has learned. Public sector pensions, the costs of which are slated to rise 70 per cent by 2017-18, are an area that economist Don Drummond zeroed in on in his contentious February spending review.
On this topic, however, the government is expected to recommend an evaluation -- rather than specific legislation.
Premier Dalton McGuinty's Liberals have already announced plans to delay increases to the Ontario Child Benefit, a move that would see needy families waiting an extra year for additional payments.
Also on the chopping block is support for the Ontario Northland railway service and the horse-racing industry, which employs an estimated 60,000 Ontarians.
About $345 million is slated to be shaved from the horse-racing industry, a proposal that had industry supports rallying on the lawn at Queen's Park earlier this year.
The government has also proposed increased fees between $4 and $10 for drivers licences, exams and for registering a vehicle. Permit fees for truck and bus operators, trailers, off-road and snow vehicles have also been targeted.
Residents of rural municipalities have also been incensed by McGuinty's announcement that promised funding for road and bridge repairs may not be possible as the government is looking to cut infrastructure spending.
"This is going to be a comprehensive, very large budget that will lay out the path to balance with some difficult choices in it," Duncan told reporters in mid-March.
In drafting the budget, the Liberals say they've also turned the mirror on themselves. Duncan said earlier this year that spending cuts are expected across many ministries.
While the health and education sectors will be spared funding cuts, about one million civil servants will be asked to accept a wage freeze. The Progressive Conservatives have challenged McGuinty to go one step further and pass a law that halts pay raises to police, doctors, teachers, nurses and all government workers.
"I'll remind you that you've added on more debt than John Sandfield Macdonald to Premier Ernie Eves combined," Hudak told the government earlier this week.
In preparing for the budget release, Duncan reportedly consulted U.S. President Barack Obama's senior advisers who told him to list each spending cut on paper.
Duncan is expected to heed that advice Tuesday by issuing a book to journalists that features every cut and spending change.
Ontario's budget release comes one day before Finance Minister Jim Flaherty tables the federal government's budget in Ottawa.
With a report from CTV Toronto's Paul Bliss