Governments know how to start spending money on glamorous projects. What isn't certain is whether they know how to stop. In particular, Ontario's Liberal government, in power now for 11 years, keeps demonstrating that it doesn't have a clue how to close a tap after money starts pouring out of it.
Case in point is the Pan Am Games, which take place in Toronto next year and, at $2.4-billion, are the most expensive in history. When Winnipeg hosted the Games in 1999, the total cost was $150-million – 16 times less. The Toronto Games are a costly, showy venture that is taking place in an era of fiscal restraint. But, okay, they are what they are, and it's too late to scale back now.
But instead of insisting that the organizers make do with the funding already allocated, Ontario announced last week that it is bailing them out with an additional $74-million – and that the money will be spent on additional services not originally planned for. Among them: back-up ambulances, more television coverage and additional participants in the torch relay.
The government also now says that the $239-million budgeted for security during the Games could rise again, even though it has already doubled from the original estimate of $113-million. Remember, Winnipeg spent a total of $150-million to host the Games. Toronto is talking $239-million for security alone.
Meanwhile, on MaRS, or rather MaRS Phase II, the largely empty research tower that goes by that extraterrestrial acronym in downtown Toronto, the provincial government made it official last week that it will spend $309-million to take over the failed project.
All this from a government that has projected a $12.5-billion deficit this year, and which has said it intends to keep program spending and public-service wages flat for three years starting in 2015. That's going to be hard to do, if it doesn't first learn to turn the tap in the opposite direction.
Editor's note: A previous version of this editorial said incorrectly that a loan by the Ontario government for the MaRS building in Toronto had been forgiven.