To understand how deeply Ontario’s now-defeated tax-and-spend Liberal government buried us in debt, we have to look back over their 15 years in power.
When the Dalton McGuinty Liberals took power in 2003, Ontario’s public debt was $138.8 billion.
When the Kathleen Wynne Liberals were defeated in June, it was $325 billion, a 134% increase, according to their own numbers.
In the 16 annual budgets the Liberals delivered, they only managed balanced budgets in three years, with an average surplus of $1.1 billion in those years.
By contrast, they delivered 13 budgets in the red, with an average deficit of $8.7 billion.
Some of that was due to the 2008 recession, but 10 years later, the Liberals’ books were still a mess.
In their last budget for 2017-18, they claimed a $642-million surplus. Turns out, it was a $3.7-billion deficit.
If instead the Liberals had kept spending in line with population growth, their 2017-18 expenditures would have been $31.9 billion less and $331 billion less over 15 years, enough to pay off the debt.
As Finance Minister Vic Fedeli noted, when the Liberals were defeated, they were spending $40 million more per day than they received in revenue.
Paying interest on debt now costs taxpayers $12.5 billion annually, which doesn’t reduce the principal amount by a penny.
If interest on debt payments were a government ministry, it would be the fourth largest after health, education and social services.
Imagine what having $12.5 billion more annually to spend on those priorities could do to improve the lives of Ontarians.
That’s why deficits and debt matter.
That’s the damage the Liberals did when, as Fedeli notes, they turned Ontario into the world’s most indebted non-national borrower.
It puts in perspective Financial Accountability Officer Peter Weltman’s report this week that Ontario’s current deficit is $12.3 billion, $2.2 billion lower than Fedeli’s $14.5-billion prediction.
Weltman counts a $1 billion reserve fund in Fedeli’s estimate as an asset, and he’s more optimistic about revenues.
But whether it’s $12.3 billion or $14.5 billion doesn’t change what the Liberals did to us.
Digging ourselves out of this debt trap isn’t going to be easy, or painless.
But it must be done, because as the numbers show, the status quo isn’t an option.