Recently, I tweeted the following prediction: That the government will table a ‘balanced budget’ only for public accounts to report back and say that there was an actual deficit. The Liberal spin trust responded by saying something like ‘after the Tories left a $4.7 billion deficit, the Liberals introduced the Fiscal Transparency and Accountability Act so the auditor looks at the books before an election.’ Fair enough. I expected such a response.
It’s a response we’ve heard before. Tories hate the response because of the sheer lie it tells, which is that the $4.7 billion is not a Tory deficit but a Liberal one. I’m not going to rehash what is right or wrong here. The ship has sailed on that one.
However, what remains is the bill itself. Has anybody looked at this thing?
S. 3 Ontario’s fiscal policy must seek to maintain a prudent ratio of provincial debt to Ontario’s gross domestic product.
Right, prudent. What does this mean? Hopefully, it doesn’t mean a 10 consecutive year increase in debt-to-GDP ratio. Oops, that’s what we have. Hopefully, it doesn’t mean a 50% growth in debt-to-GDP. Oops, that’s what we have. Looks like the government is missing out on most measures of prudent here.
For each fiscal year, the Executive Council shall plan for a balanced budget unless, as a result of extraordinary circumstances, the Executive Council determines that it is consistent with prudent fiscal policy for the Province to have a deficit for a fiscal year.
So, yeah. Oops, forgot about this one too, I guess. The budget hasn’t been balanced in more than 10 years. In e-mails, government bureaucrats mocked the ‘balanced budgets’ that the Liberals said they passed and said ‘they weren’t real.’ So much for missed opportunities.
S. 5.If the Executive Council plans for a deficit for a fiscal year, the Executive Council shall also develop a recovery plan for achieving a balanced budget in the future and the recovery plan must specify the manner in which and the period within which the balanced budget will be achieved.
Enter, Don Drummond. Who? Don Drummond. What did he do again? Oh yes – that report! That plan to get us back on track! Whatever happened to that report? Collecting dust probably.
Within two years after each provincial election, the Minister shall release a long-range assessment of Ontario’s fiscal environment.
And, as you know, when I was at Queen’s Park, we complained that the mid and long range estimates were incomplete and not visible. Bureaucrats advised the minister that not releasing the forecasts wouldn’t be acceptable in the post-Drummond era. No matter. The minister directed his budget writers to not follow that advice and a budget was tabled without the forecasts. This wasn’t an oops.
S.In such circumstances as may be prescribed by regulation, the Ministry of Finance shall release a pre-election report about Ontario’s finances and shall do so before the deadline established by regulation.
Here comes the fun stuff. The pre-election report is all subject to regulation. The regulation for the next election doesn’t seem to be posted yet. I checked. Yet, given all the stuff ignored in this bill already, who is to say we’ll actually have a decent regulation at all.
If the Minister does not release information required by this Act on or before the specified deadline, the Minister shall release a statement on or before that deadline in which the Minister explains why the required information was not so released.
Again, I’m not sure we had a satisfactory answer as to why the mid-/long-range estimates were missing. Not sure there was total compliance with this law. Never mind that, section 11 starts by saying “If the Minister does not release…” which leaves open the possibility that the Minister may choose to ignore. Open possibility here.
S.No action or other proceeding may be brought in respect of a requirement of this Act.
Ahhhhhhhhhhhh… I was waiting for this. Immunity. No punishment for non-compliance.
As you can see, enough wiggle room exists here. The Tories are always mocked when they advocate for balanced budget legislation. They said we repealed it when the budget couldn’t be balanced. Well at least they had the gumption to go through the legislature. This is worse. Pass a bill, potentially ignore it, and if you do, nothing can be done. Transparency… riiiiiiight!
Prediction stands. Prove me wrong!