On November 26, Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa delivered the 2015 Ontario Economic Outlook and Fiscal Review. This ‘mini-budget’ is a mid-year update of the provincial government’s 2015-16 fiscal performance and is an opportunity for the Minister to provide important policy updates and introduce new initiatives. Having said that, there was very little new policy announced, although a few important themes for the government were emphasized.

We discuss the six most important themes in the Fall Economic Statement, with our own H+K analysis below. And in the spirit of lively family discussions of big issues over the holidays, we included two other voices: Grumpy Old Man and Downtown Hipster Environmentalist.

Deficit

The government is committed to balancing the budget by 2017-18, and will continue to beat our deficit targets in a way that is both fiscally responsible and fair.”

“The Province is now projecting a lower deficit of $7.5 billion in 2015–16, reducing further to $4.5 billion in 2016–17, and a balanced budget in 2017–18. This marks an improvement of $1.0 billion in 2015–16 and $0.3 billion in 2016–17.”


H+K Analysis
The government continues to exceed its budget targets and is on track to shave $1 billion from this year’s deficit—down from $8.5 billion. Nevertheless, much remains unanswered: Where will further savings come from? Did the government in fact put the proceeds from the first tranche of the Hydro One IPO towards plugging a deficit hole and not infrastructure investment (Table 3.9)? Does the fiscal plan assume new revenues from the implementation of a cap-and-trade system to bring the budget to balance in two years?


Grumpy old man

These numbers are just a lot of hooey. It’s a shell game with a bunch of them there fancy accounting tricks and an army of spin doctors.


Downtown hipster environmentalist

The government may not, you know, have a perfect plan to balance the budget. But we’re building a shared vision for a bright future, and the government totally gets high marks for that.

Infrastructure

Ontario has committed to making the largest investment in public infrastructure in its history.”

“We are investing more than $134 billion over 10 years in priorities such as roads, bridges, public transit, hospitals and schools.”


Infrastructure investment was a central plank of the successful 2014 Liberal campaign. And, it has been a driving theme for Premier Wynne and her ministers throughout the first year of her mandate. The impetus for unpopular and challenging policy decisions, these investments have the potential to reshape the province. The word “infrastructure” appeared 10 times in Minister Sousa’s speech, and it’s clear that the Premier hopes this will be a large part of her legacy.


 Left-wing pinkos with all their spending and borrowing.


Transit is a moral imperative, bro. Ontarians need to get out of their cars. We only have one planet, and we’ve got to love it.

Strategic Investment Funds

“Launching a new Business Growth Initiative that will focus on supporting the scale-up of small firms, promoting an innovation-based economy and modernizing regulations for business.”

“The government [will invest] $325 million in 2015–16 through a Green Investment Fund that will be targeted at reducing GHG emissions while strengthening the economy.”


The Liberal government has a long track record of success with these types of funds. The initiatives point to tangible outcomes, quantified by jobs and economic output, and are popular among individuals and organizations that receive the support. While information was released about the new Green Investment Fund, details—like dollar figures—about the Business Growth Initiative are sparse.


These ain’t nothin’ but some slush funds for the government to pay back their cronies and play a little jiggery pokery with some key ridings.


I call $325 million for a Green Investment Fund a good start, man. You can’t put, like, a dollar figure on reducing the emissions that are killing us.

Equality Agenda

The government will establish a steering committee, co-chaired by Minister Sousa and the Minister Responsible for Women’s Issues, Tracy MacCharles, to improve representation of women on boards and in senior executive positions.”

We are taking action to combat sexual violence and harassment and improve supports for survivors. Our plan, It’s Never Okay: An Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment, will help build a province where everyone is free from the threat of sexual violence and harassment.”


The Wynne government prides itself on a strong social justice point of view. The Premier seeks to “build a fairer society” with policies that include indexing minimum wage to inflation, increasing the Ontario Child Benefit, efforts around equal pay, and the celebrated “It’s Never Okay” campaign against sexual violence. Premier Wynne has brought Ontario to the forefront of the fight against sexual violence, with a plan that’s seen as the most robust in the country. The Ontario government’s pledge to increase the representation of women in leadership roles in the business arena has been echoed by news that the Prime Minister Trudeau government will be mindful of gender parity with its appointments to boards and commissions.


You know what? This actually makes some good old fashioned sense.


The conversation like, totally changes when there’s more women around the table. Add women, change policy!

Federal/Provincial cooperation

Ontarians are ready for a new collaborative approach to federalism in Canada that is driven by a set of common goals and values. The Province looks forward to working together with the federal government on a number of initiatives.”


Premier Wynne in particular, and her government more broadly, were very critical of the previous Conservative federal government and very supportive of Prime Minister Trudeau both before and since his election victory in October 19. Apart from the close relationship between the Prime Minister and Premier, both leaders share very similar visions. On the other hand, there are a couple of areas of potential tension. First, on a smaller scale, a number of staff are leaving Queen’s Park to work for the new government in Ottawa. Second, and more important, ‘partnership’ is often a provincial euphemism for ‘more money’—and notwithstanding Trudeau’s commitment to deficit financing—the federal government will never have enough money to please the provinces.


Pfft. What this country needs isn’t group hugs. Hugs don’t pay the bills. Back in my day, we just got stuff done.


It’s totally awesome that two people committed to equality and environmental protection and hope and positive energy are leading Canada’s two largest governments.

Climate Change

Our government recognizes that strong environmental policies present an opportunity for businesses to drive technological innovation and find new, low-cost solutions to reduce emissions and become more competitive in a global economy.”


Climate change has become a clear theme and trend in Canadian politics. Last week, the Wynne government released its cap-and-trade strategy—the hastily convened announcement followed Alberta’s announcement of its own provincial plan. Ontario pledges to work with Quebec and California on executing their climate change fighting efforts, while the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) made a similar promise to its Quebec counterparts. There are many details to be finalized, and with those details there will be varied stakeholder reactions—depending on the direct cost every organization will pay. But the government’s commitment is firm that more will be done to address climate change.


Wynne thinks she can change the weather but she can’t even balance the budget.


The winds of change are blowing, man. There is literally nothing more important than our planet—amen to this kind of leadership.