The McGuinty government unveiled an updated state of the province's finances today (Wednesday, November 23, 2011).
The deficit is worse. Growth rates are worse. Revenues to the treasury are worse than projected just a few months ago.
Yet, the premier remains buoyant about Ontario's future. Of course he does. That's his job..
He attended the Ontario Economic Summit today to remind people that the provincial government still intended to balance its books by 2017-18, but with the following provisos:
1. health and education spending would be preserved. The premier also promised to spend smarter ("why are we paying doctors $100 to give injections to patients, when nurse practitioners can do the same thing for $15?").
2. the government rejects across the board cuts.
3. there will be no tax hikes.
4. there will be no privatization with public health care.
At Question Period today, opposition leader Tim Hudak challenged the premier to bring in a mandatory, across the board wage freeze in the public sector.
"It'll save $2 billion over two years," Hudak said. "It's a reasonable proposal at a time when we've seen 75,000 private sector jobs leave the province since the election. Isn't it reasonable to ask our public servants to take a pay freeze in the years ahead?"
Premier Dalton McGuinty, in conversation with Toronto Star publisher John Cruickshank at the Ontario Economic Summit.
McGuinty was adamant. "We have not funded wage increases for the public sector," he said. "When it comes to negotiated settlements, we've made it clear to (public sector agencies) that if they negotiate something beyond zero, they'll have to find that money from within. So we have stood up for taxpayers in that regard."
McGuinty still plans to reduce the size of the Ontario public service by 7% (5% by the end of March 2012, and another 2% over the next two years beyond that). The premier put the savings at $500 million.
"It's done in a permanent fashion. It's a thoughtful, measured, responsible way," he said in the legislature today.
McGuinty clearly hopes that by taking a more measured approach, he can keep the largest chunk of Ontarians onside as we moved towards balancing the books. The larger question is, do Ontarians want something more dramatic, such as Hudak's wage freeze?
Liberals insist that's not an option because an attempt to do that in British Columbia was ruled illegal by the courts. The Tories say, that decision is a narrow one, applying only to BC, and that we should try it in Ontario before giving up on it as an option.
Meantime, we'll have Finance Minister Dwight Duncan on The Agenda tonight at 8 and 11 p.m. to answer questions about today's economic statement.