The Ontario government will set up a committee of MPPs to find savings every year until the books are balanced, The Globe and Mail has learned.
The measure, to be announced in Thursday’s budget, is meant to partly offset billions in new spending and to deflect criticism Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals aren’t serious about getting the province back in the black.
The committee will have to hit hard savings targets every year, a government source said. For this fiscal year, it will be $250-million, followed by $500-million for the two years after that. These spending reductions will be in addition to whatever Finance Minister Charles Sousa outlines in the budget.
Mr. Sousa will chair the group, with a handful of other MPPs who sit on the Treasury Board working under him.
The Liberals have walked away from austerity over the past year, instead embracing new spending as a necessary method of growing the economy. The budget will contain $29-billion for transit and roads, partly offset by tax increases, plus $2.5-billion for business grants, pay raises for personal-support and daycare workers, and $800-million for developmental services.
The deficit will be higher than last year’s $11.3-billion and will miss by a mile the government’s own reduction targets, government sources say.
The big spending came under heavy fire from the Progressive Conservatives Wednesday in the legislature.
“You’ve utterly given up on trying to even pretend to balance the budget. You’re going to spend money. You’re going to increase taxes,” Tory Leader Tim Hudak told Ms. Wynne. “You’re going to actually increase both the deficit and taxes, which is an incredible feat.”
Ms. Wynne fired back: “If the Leader of the Opposition suggests that there is no need for investment in roads and bridges and transit, in education and talent and skills, if he’s suggesting that partnering with industry and business to make sure jobs come to this province, if he’s suggesting that’s not what’s needed, then he’s just dead wrong.”
The Grits still insist they can balance the books by 2017-18, despite missing interim deficit-reduction targets.