TORONTO — Many were expecting Doug Ford’s first provincial budget to make major cuts and slashes. When it didn’t, one pundit was quick to say the PCs are halfway to being Liberals.
While the deficit was reduced from $15 billion to a projected $11.7 billion for this fiscal year, spending is up from $162.5 billion to $163.4 billion, with a promise to balance the budget by 2023-24.
Of interest to farmers, the April 11 budget includes a $315-million investment in broadband technology across Ontario, more consultation on risk management programs and reducing red tape. Ontario will now mirror the accelerated capital cost write offs announced last year by the federal government. “Ontario farmers are now on a more level playing field with U.S. farmers to be able to write off capital at three times the normal rate in the first year of purchase,” said Ontario Federation of Agriculture president Keith Currie.
The biggest agriculture impact was the hit to OMAFRA’s budget for 2019-20 at $878.2 million. That’s a 25 per cent decrease from $1.16 billion in 2018-19.
Here is what the pundits and farm groups are saying about the budget. Both the Grain Farmers of Ontario and Dairy Farmers of Ontario chose not to opine.
“We applaud the government of Ontario for taking a pragmatic approach to the province’s fiscal situation. We look forward to diving into the details and specifics of how the agricultural industry and our rural communities will fare with infrastructure investments. And we’re very pleased to see a solid investment in rural broadband. We are concerned with the OMAFRA budget cutbacks and will be reviewing these details carefully once spending estimates are available. We’ll also be advocating to ensure rural Ontario sees its share of investments in vital infrastructure including hospitals, schools and mental health care.”
— Keith Currie, president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture
“That politicians with such opposing views — led by Trudeau’s belief in a carbon tax and Ford’s legal challenge of it in Ontario — ended up in the same place on deficits and balanced budgets, suggests a reality of modern politics. That is: That election promises by any political leader in Canada on eliminating deficits should be viewed with skepticism.”
— Ottawa Sun editorial
“If there was any doubt before Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s first budget Thursday, we now know his Progressive Conservatives are nothing like Mike Harris’ common sense revolutionaries of 1995 to 2002. Ford’s PC’s are populists, not revolutionaries, and, alarmingly, are already displaying the spendthrift tendencies of the Dalton McGuinty — Kathleeen Wynne Liberal governments of 2003 to 2018 . . . Based on this budget, Ford’s PCs are halfway to being Liberals.”
— Lorrie Goldstein, Sun columnist
“Reading between the lines, it certainly looks like the Ontario government feels they could balance the books sooner but they’ve instead decided to focus on spending priorities, some taking the shape of direct program spending and others in the form of tax credits.”
— Anthony Furey, Sun columnist
“Give them credit, though: They are trying to move spending in the right direction, and not to inflict too much pain along the way (If you do think the cuts are too deep, well, they’re making it easier to ease your anxiety over a drink). In fact, there is modest help in some areas. The government proposes, for instance, a new tax credit for families, letting them decide how to spend their money. It will start helping low-income seniors with dental care. And while the PCs are seen as business-friendly, they held off this year on the corporate tax cut promised in the election.
— Ottawa Citizen editorial
The bottom line is that, although the Ford government is going slow on cuts, its plan to get to balance involves gradually ratcheting down the relative level of spending in what is already Confederation’s lowest-spending province. It won’t be easy. And as the next election comes into view, the temptation to spend a lot more — or lure voters with big tax cuts — will only grow. We have seen this movie before.
— Globe and Mail editorial
This budget is a refreshing return to what budgets used to be. The focus is on facts and numbers, not the political rhetoric that consumed recent Liberal budgets. Unlike the federal budget, there is not a gender lens in sight. This is not a balanced budget, in the fiscal sense, but it’s a politically balanced budget. There is limited public enthusiasm for a two-year slash to balance the books or a budget that makes everything worse.
— Randall Denley, National Post columnist and former PC candidate
“The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) applauds the Ontario government for delivering an ambitious, yet fiscally prudent provincial budget that directly addresses some of the most pressing concerns of small business owners across the province. With a deficit of $11.7 billion, the province has committed to balance the budget by fiscal year 2023-24 and has proposed legislation to outline a debt burden reduction strategy and report on its progress annually.”
— The Canadian Federation of Independent Business
“Over the next five years, net debt is expected to climb at an annual average rate of $9.6 billion per year. While that’s a slowdown, clearly Ontario will keep piling up substantial debt in the years ahead. Consequently, the province’s debt-to-GDP ratio (the best measure of the sustainability of a government’s debt burden) won’t budge downward for the next several years.
All this new debt will have real consequences for Ontario taxpayers. Specifically, it means more and more of their money will be spent on debt interest payments instead of other important priorities such as health care, education or tax relief.”
— Ben Eisen, Fraser Institute