Even before its bookkeeping practices were called into question this week, the Ontario Liberal Party was a long shot to win the upcoming general election.
Carrying the burden of 15 years of scandal-plagued government under premiers Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne, and stung most recently by the criminal conviction of a former chief of staff to Mr. McGuinty, the odds of the Liberals returning to power in June were close to nil.
And now the odds are even worse. Ontario Auditor-General Bonnie Lysyk says the Wynne government’s budget, tabled in March and packed with new spending on social programs, badly underestimates the amount of debt it will create for the province and its taxpayers.
The Finance Minister, Charles Sousa, projected deficits in the range of $6.5-billion a year for the next three years, but Ms. Lysyk says those deficits will be almost twice as big.
Every governing party tweaks the books in order to put its spending in the best light. But the gap between the government’s projections and those of the Ontario A-G is unusually large and impossible to explain away convincingly.
It will add to the perception that the Liberals are callous and cynical about their spending – just like they were in 2011 when they cancelled the construction of two gas-fired power plants as a last-ditch electoral gambit and stuck Ontarians with almost $1-billion in costs.
The A-G’s report will also make it harder for the Liberals to campaign on a platform of deficit spending to pay for election goodies like pharmacare and free tuition. It can be awkward selling a budget whose numbers don’t add up.
This is a dire time for Ontario taxpayers. The PC Party leader, Doug Ford, is trying to elevate the Auditor-General’s report into “one of the largest financial scandals in Canadian history.” He is promising, if elected, to call a commission of inquiry into the Liberal budget.
That’s a lot of grandstanding from an untested party leader who hasn’t presented a costed platform and won’t say when he will. Ontario taxpayers don’t need expensive political theatre and empty words. They need a premier prepared to take the job seriously.