Polls suggest voters don’t want to see provincial deficits, but can parties produce?

An Ipsos poll released by Global News this week suggests that 71 per cent of voters would rather see spending cuts than higher taxes or continued deficit funding. The support also appeared to come from across all party lines.

While it is reassuring to hear that Ontario residents are concerned about the province’s rising debt load and are wary about the need to continue to spend money the province doesn’t have on programming and services, it is concerning the major parties in the current campaign are promising new spending initiatives to curry favour with voters. There’s also a lot of finger pointing between the parties on calculations and costings of the new spending being proposed.

Given these findings, it’s also interesting to note the range of criticism lobbied toward Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford when he speaks of finding efficiencies in the way government operates. Almost immediately, accusations flew about a hidden agenda to cut front-line workers in health care and education. After the party’s former leader Tim Hudak boasted about job cuts last election and lost ground and given Ford’s previous comments about service cuts, it’s easy to why opponents would use that threat to chip away at him.

At present, Ford and the Progressive Conservatives are the front-runner in the polls — presumably because there is a desire from the public to see spending reined in, coupled with relief on their own expenses — but also because the NDP and Liberal parties will split a vote based on some of their shared desires to spend for social programming. Come election day, there will be a question of what people can stomach and what they believe they can trust each party to do.

What should be abundantly clear is Ontario is in a mess given payments to service the debt are the government’s third largest line item behind education and health care. Both of those systems remain in a crisis, no matter how much both revenue and spending has increased. The province also has a massive infrastructure debt that will continue to get worse without some form of new investment.

It would appear for the next government to be successful, change has to come from within. Whatever premier and cabinet are elected, they have to commit themselves to looking at systemic efficiencies and the reduction of red tape. With a real effort toward streaming bureaucracy and eliminating duplication of services across ministries and agencies, Ontario could benefit by investing more of what it is already spending in front-line services. If that leads to better outcomes, the public would rely less on government for costly payment for more acute problems down the line.

Auditor general Bonnie Lysyk has been clear in her recent reports there have been opportunities to find these efficiencies that haven’t been effectively explored over the past term. The question now is who, if anyone, can be trusted to change course and deliver the change Ontarians need to see while innovating to also address their wants. It might be a tough choice to make, but the numbers suggest many believe the province can do better and do it with the revenues they have. Decision time looms ahead. It’s time to decide what people want to be and put faith in someone to lead that charge.

-Adam Bramburger