Wynne says Ontario Liberals won’t cut and slash to eliminate $11.7-billion deficit

TORONTO – Premier Kathleen Wynne says Ontario’s Liberal government still wants to eliminate the $11.7-billion deficit within four years, but won’t slash programs and services to reach the goal.

Wynne says today’s fall economic statement will make it clear her government intends to invest heavily in infrastructure projects, which she calls a centre of the Liberals’ economic growth plan.

The premier says the Liberals have got spending under control, calling Ontario the leanest government in Canada, but adds she is “determined not to cut and slash the services that people need.”

Wynne also says the province needs to keep a lid on public sector salaries, warning there’s still no money for pay hikes for teachers, nurses and civil servants.

During a speech to a Toronto conference on public-private partnerships, Wynne said the economic statement will also include measures to make it easier for large pension funds to invest in public infrastructure projects in Ontario.

Finance Minister Charles Sousa will announce 11 new infrastructure and real estate projects that Wynne said could support more than 18,000 jobs when he delivers the economic update this afternoon.

The Canadian Press has learned Sousa will also announce changes to lower taxes for one million low- and moderate-income investors who hold stocks that pay dividends.

Sources say Ontario will change the way dividend tax credits are calculated to save shareholders an average of $145 a year. Investors who don’t pay Ontario’s income surtax, which kicks in at $70,000 income, will benefit from the change.

The initiative will be revenue neutral because about 100,000 higher income investors will pay more to offset the increased tax credits for others, including about 300,000 seniors, said the sources.

Sousa wouldn’t say if he’ll provide an updated figure for the deficit, which came in at $9.2 billion last year but was projected to rise to about $11.7 billion this year. Like Wynne, he said the Liberals would not slash programs or impose big tax hikes.

“We can ascribe to greater, massive across-the-board cuts, but that would hinder our recovery,” said Sousa. “At the same time, we can’t do reckless taxes that are going to deter business from investing, so we’ve got to find that balance, continue creating jobs and promote growth.”

Progressive Conservative finance critic Vic Fedeli is not convinced the government can balance the books in four years, and says the Liberals “are in la-la land” and won’t admit it’s their fault Ontario is in poor economic shape.

“The Bank of Canada only two weeks ago told us growth was not going to happen in 2013 or 2014, so they just will not admit that we’re in trouble in Ontario and that it’s their own doing,” said Fedeli. “We want to hear a jobs plan, and we just do not see it from this government.”

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath wants Sousa to announce plans to create jobs and make life more affordable, and says she doesn’t want to see anything that increases taxes, tolls or fees.

“The government has said that they’re going to do that, so if we see those in the economic statement, I guess for once we’ll see the Liberals keeping one of their promises,” said Horwath. “But I don’t think it’s the right direction for Ontario. There are too many folks that are still struggling.”

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.