Queen's Park Watch: Premier Stays Mum On Coming Cuts
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Queen’s Park Watch: Premier Stays Mum On Coming Cuts

In a speech this week, the Premier talked about change, but offered no detail on what that might look like.

We’ll have to wait a little longer to find out where the provincial government plans to cut the fat. Dalton McGuinty’s Tuesday speech at the Canadian Club was short on detail and long on… well, not long at all.

To be fair it’s a lunchtime gig, and the assembled captains of industry were already sacrificing valuable meeting minutes; even a Premier doesn’t want to ramble in those circumstances. Nevertheless, with some minor buzz on the speech going around ahead of time, you’d think that McGuinty would provide some tangible insight into how we’ll be tackling Ontario’s $16 billion deficit.

Instead, the first two thirds of a 16-minute speech were devoted to some painful humour (including an economist joke; take that Don Drummond!) and self-congratulation (“Your kids were stupid! We made them smart!”). When the Premier did get to the meat of the thing, it was principally to explain why deficit reduction was important, and assure everyone that the Liberals were committed to it.

Still, at least one clue to what lies ahead could be sifted from all the politalk: McGuinty has no idea what he’ll do about the public sector unions.

With compensation comprising more than half of the Ontario budget, it’s impossible to find savings without touching public service salaries, which the Premier said will be handled by “respecting the collective bargaining agreement” while “negotiating firmly” on the way to a balanced budget. He also referenced his previous good relations with the workers, waxing hopeful that good will and good luck would prompt OPSEU to play nice.

Sorry, what? While it’s not necessary to bust into a Fordish rant every time the word “union” is mentioned, a little less timidity would inspire more confidence. For eight years, labour peace in Ontario has been bought with taxpayer cash, not loyalty to the Liberals, and there’s no evidence that a global economic crisis has changed that dynamic. Moreover, the minority Grits can’t afford to antagonize the union-backed NDP too much.

Lacking specifics, McGuinty spoke of “efficiencies” to be gained. Efficiencies, as Torontonians have learned the hard way, are the magic beans of budgeteering; easy to buy but rarely delivering as promised.

Still, the government can’t stall forever. With Don Drummond’s report on recommended cuts due out soon, and a budget only a few weeks away, choices will have to be made. It remains to be seen whether the Liberals have the cojones to do what’s necessary.

The video of McGuinty’s speech is available at the Canadian Club website.