An election Wynne-ing budget?


“To Wynne or not to Wynne: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to pardon the slings and arrows of some unfortunate Liberal policy decisions we don’t like, Or to take arms against  her and end up drowned in the sea of troubles to be flooded upon us by Brown’s bitter Conservative policies?”

Does Premier Wynne’s 2017-2018 budget deserve our forgiveness for her missteps and our support for her re-election next year?

Those who answer “yes” to these last two questions will argue that the contents of the budget presented by Finance Minister Charles Sousa last week are, in the main, highly positive.

Included in those contents are a budget that is balanced for the first time since 2008; a $7- billion increase in health care funding over the next three years; $465 million  for a new youth pharmacare program for all persons aged 24 and under; $190 million over three years for the “Career Kick-Start” job experience program;  $100 million over three years to help people with dementia; 24,000 more affordable child care spots for children  up to age four; a measure for rent increases to be limited to inflation; and the recently announced 15 per cent “non-resident speculation” foreign buyers’ tax, to ease the sharply rising cost of houses and land in southern Ontario.

In fact, the Liberals have been rolling out similarly “corrective” policy measures in a series of announcements over recent months. The announcements have been widely interpreted as urgent steps meant to reverse the Wynne government’s dismal electoral fortunes as reflected in recent polls.

In that regard, both the Conservatives and the NDP have been pouncing on the perceived policy missteps of the Liberal government, on the latter’s admission of occasional errors and on the remedial measures it adopted.

The most highly publicized example of those instances of misstep/atonement/ remedy started was the ill-fated sale of two tranches of shares in the province’s electricity company Hydro One and the admittedly high electricity rates that created a public uproar in 2016. The Wynne government did not reverse the privatization but has since put in place a de-facto 25 per cent reduction in electricity charges, in the hope that this political storm will pass.

While the Liberals are still busy rowing their boat out of those stormy waters, two aspects of the new budget are being attacked with particular vigour.

The first of those two criticisms is that the budget makes no provision for funding to address the massive program of repairs that is required in the current stock of affordable housing units.

This social housing crisis is so great that the only credible, political option for the Liberal government may be to find a way to pay a fair share of the repair program. Shame or no shame, the political cost of reversing course is surely worth it.

The second criticism is that the priority given in the budget to financing prescribed medication for the 24-and- under age group is misplaced. It is being argued that the 50-and-over age group is the one that most urgently needs help for medical care that includes prescribed medication.

Is it that the Liberals have come to the conclusion that the funding of the younger cohort will yield more electoral dividends?

One also wonders why the Wynne government waited so long to roll out its more socially supportive policies.

Why did the Liberals allow themselves to fall so far down, even into third place in voter support, behind the Conservatives and the NDP?

Who was paying or advising the Liberal piper?

It certainly was not Toronto Mayor Tory, his earlier bromance with Premier Wynne now being smashed against the rocks by the two tories.

A word to the wise, and to the bruised, is in order here.

We Ontarians should not forget the nature of Conservative policies in general and the legacy of precarious employment, inequality and poverty still being rained down on us from the Mike Harris deluge.

We will do well to hold on to our chastened Wynne-ings, rather than to risk betting our destiny on the dubious offerings of the Brown boy in the ring.