Battle over the Drummond Report starts at Queen’s Park

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Dalton McGuintyQUEEN’S PARK – “Ontario has racked up $302.4 million in new debt and, based on current trends, will have lost another 1,800 full-time jobs in the week since the Drummond report’s release – yet all Ontarians have heard is more vapid rhetoric from their Premier”, charges Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak. “Tuesday’s return of the Legislature was a chance for Dalton McGuinty to explain how he plans to act after months of dithering in the face of a mounting crisis. And what did we get from the Premier? Talking points.”

Hudak, in a media release shares these “talking points” from the Premier:

“I want to take the opportunity to thank Don Drummond and the other commissioners for the important work that they have done.”

“I believe we can in fact achieve that destination by working together…”

“Our shared responsibility now is to debate the best way for us to move forward together.”

“We look forward to hearing from Ontarians.”

“All those opportunities will, I’m sure, provide us with even better advice with respect to the best way to move forward, and we look forward to doing that.”

“Our responsibility at this point in time is to continue to listen… We’re on track to doing that and will continue to do that.”

“There are all kinds of stakeholders present but not so many when it comes to representing the future.”

“But again, it’s all about making choices, choices informed by our values.”

Hudak said that “At a minimum, Dalton McGuinty must explain how he will compensate for the single recommendation he has rejected – terminating the $1.5 billion full-day kindergarten program – and still achieve Drummond’s overall balanced budget schedule. Ontarians are looking to Queen’s Park for leadership and for a plan. They want an end to tinkering and ad-hockery when it comes to managing the size and cost of government and the state of our economy.”

Hudak pledged to continue tabling ideas for turning Ontario around and restoring hope: “A legislated public sector wage freeze, for example, that would net $2 billion in savings and offset the cost of full-day kindergarten is just one of them. Above all, Ontarians shouldn’t be misled that it took a Don Drummond for the Liberals to wake up to their spending crisis. They are the government – they have known it all along.”

From the Hansard at Queen’s Park:

Mr. Tim Hudak: Premier, today the Legislature is returning after a considerable break in the shadow of another eHealth-style spending scandal at Ornge, the air ambulance service, and we also are returning with the government seemingly paralyzed in the face of a growing debt crisis in the province of Ontario.

The Drummond report, which is supposed to be your silver bullet to address all the spending problems, was released last week, but you’ve not indicated a single measure that you will implement. Premier, of the entire 700 pages, which recommendations will you actually implement?

Hon. Dalton McGuinty: I thank my honourable colleague for the question. I want to take the opportunity as well to thank Don Drummond and the other commissioners for the very important work that they’ve done.

Speaker, as you know, this report flows from a directive we put in last year’s budget. We anticipated the need for some profound changes, not only in terms of individual programs but also in terms of how government goes about its work. I think it’s very important that, in the coming days and weeks, we understand that we can and should engage in the best way for us to balance that budget, but we cannot debate—I certainly am not prepared to debate—our shared objective, which is surely to ensure that we balance the budget by 2017-18, ensure that government is more affordable and that we improve the quality of services. I believe that we can in fact achieve that destination by working together.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary question?

Mr. Tim Hudak: Premier, here’s the concern that the Ontario PCs have and that Ontario taxpayers have: We’re worried about this troubling paralysis on the government side when it comes to addressing the growing debt crisis in Ontario. Let me tell you why I say that.

The deficit is actually up, not down. While you say you’re going to control spending, spending has actually gone up in every government ministry except two since last year, and since the election, you’ve announced an additional $2.5 billion in expenditures and no savings to match them. Premier, we’re worried that you actually haven’t learned the lesson from the last election, which indicated that we need to get spending under control.

Let me ask you this: You’ve had the Drummond report for some time, I believe. You’ve been briefed all along. When will we actually see your plan to balance the books and get spending under control in the province of Ontario?

Hon. Dalton McGuinty: Speaker, I want to speak to the issue that is raised by my honourable colleague about spending. I think it’s important to reference the Drummond report. I’ll quote from a specific passage, where the commission says:

“Spending is neither out of control nor wildly excessive. Ontario runs one of the lowest-cost provincial governments in Canada relative to its GDP and has done so for decades.” He goes on to say, “And we must recognize that some important steps have been taken in the past few years to help manage costs, improve our prospects for future economic growth and enhance services to the public.”

I say to my honourable colleague and to all members of the opposition that our shared responsibility now is to debate the best way for us to move forward together. Any responsible advice that my colleague would care to offer in that regard would be gratefully received.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Final supplementary?

Mr. Tim Hudak: Again, Speaker, a very troubling response by the Premier. The Drummond report gives 362 failing grades to the Liberal government; 362 ways to reduce spending. He says that if we don’t act today, we’ll face a $30-billion deficit, not a balanced budget, as you promised, in 2017, and you’re en route to almost tripling the debt—and the Premier pats himself on the back for controlling spending? Just how out of touch is that response, Premier?

Let me ask you again, because I’m troubled by your response that says you’re doing a good job when the report says the opposite: Can you tell me one thing from the Drummond report—just one thing, Premier—that you actually will implement?

Hon. Dalton McGuinty: Again, we’re very pleased with the work done by the Drummond commission. I think it is exceptionally thorough. I think it’s the most thorough set of recommendations of its kind, I would venture to say, in the history of our country.

I’ve made it clear, Speaker, that while the commission’s responsibility is to provide us with advice, our job in government is, of course, to make the final decisions. We will incorporate the recommendations made by the Drummond commission in our budget, but before that point in time, of course, we’re looking to the advice of our honourable colleagues opposite in opposition. We look forward to hearing from Ontarians. The Minister of Finance will consider his pre-budget consultations, and we hope that there will be a legislative committee that will take a closer look, as well, at the Drummond commission. All those opportunities will, I’m sure, provide us with even better advice with respect to the best way to move forward, and we look forward to doing that.