No one has ever accused Doug Ford of lacking chutzpah. But the sheer nerve of the Ontario Progressive Conservative leader can still astound. His so-called election platform is a case in point.
Here is a document that bills itself as a blueprint for a “practical, affordable and responsible government” – and contains no deficit or surplus projections;
— a fiscal plan from the frontrunner to form government in Canada’s largest province that was published online barely a week ahead of the province’s June 7 election and well into the early-voting period;
— a pledge to restore “respect for taxpayers” that is full of spending promises but says virtually nothing about hikes in government revenue or cuts in government service;
— a campaign manifesto that contains a promise to be “up front and honest about what I’m going to do” but contains so little detail about his intentions for Ontario’s roughly $150-billion budget that its already-scanty 24 pages could easily be reduced to 10, with the removal of large fonts and splashy stock photos. (The NDP’s, by contrast, is a dense 97 pages.)
This is Ontario’s party of fiscal probity? As Inspector Clouseau might say, Not anymore.
The most disappointing fact about this thin offering is that its defects don’t derive from a philosophical change of heart in the party. Mr. Ford’s only consistent position in political life has been reducing government spending and balancing the books. No doubt he still believes in these things.
But rather than offering voters a candid assessment of how his party will accomplish balance – capping government salaries, layoffs, shuttering programs, tax hikes and so on – he simply waves his hands and refers to unnamed “efficiencies” that exist “all across the government.”
That leaves the party with a bloated prospective budget, on track, according to some estimates, to run bigger deficits in the next three years than the parties to its left.
Because the platform is so vague about deficits, promising only a return to balanced budgets “on a responsible timeframe,” common sense tells us the PCs are pursuing a cautious strategy. They learned a bitter lesson last election, when then-leader Tim Hudak vowed to slash 100,000 public sector jobs and promptly lost a winnable race.
This time, to avoid spooking voters, the party seems to be simply hiding the nature of its planned cuts. Pressed to specify what kind of efficiencies he would look for as premier, Mr. Ford has offered ludicrously small-bore items like foolscap paper and, in his platform, “pricey tables.” That won’t wash. He isn’t running a family business anymore.
Without any way to assess how Mr. Ford would cut or tax, we are left with his spending promises and social policy decisions. Some are better than others. We agree that it should be legal to sell beer and wine in corner stores. Not taxing the income of minimum-wage earners is a good way to encourage economic mobility while sparing employers the next scheduled hike in the minimum wage. Business-tax cuts are a good way to encourage investment.
Some promises are too nebulous to judge. We are promised “aggressive reforms” to stabilize industrial hydro rates with no further explanation.
We also get ideas in line with the party’s new populist image under Mr. Ford that are downright harmful. Lowering gas prices while renouncing any price on emissions – whether in the form of a carbon tax or cap-and-trade – gets rid of the best and least intrusive government levers for fighting climate change.
An attack on “millionaires” working at public utilities, meanwhile, is the sort of thing that will drive away top talent and cost ratepayers in the long run, as any market-oriented conservative could tell you.
It’s hard to take anything in Mr. Ford’s “Plan For The People” too seriously. That the candidate maintains the plan is costed – “My friends, go online and look at our promises. Each one has a cost beside it,” he said last week – makes the whole exercise even more farcical.
Listing what you will spend does not a platform make. Responsible parties also explain how they will pay for the spending. Instead, the PCs are asking voters to trust the acuity and judgment of their leader, a man whose brief political experience to this point largely consists of running interference during the chaotic mayoralty of his brother.
Count us among those who would prefer receipts.