A little over a month after assuming office, the Doug Ford government initiated a line-by-line review of provincial spending over the previous 15 years under the governments of Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne. The accounting firm Ernst and Young was contracted to conduct the audit, and their report, “Managing Transformation: A Modernization Action Plan for Ontario,” was submitted to the government on September 21 and released to the public on September 25.
The report is as much a political document as a financial inquiry. The analysis itself is selective, clearly calculated to paint the darkest possible picture of the province’s finances. Much is made, for example, of the fact that public spending in Ontario has increased by 55 per cent since 2003. The Ford government would like us to accept this as evidence of outrageous and wasteful spending on the part of the previous government, but buried within the report’s pages is the fact that the province’s economy outgrew the rate of that expenditure growth over the same period. In other words, government expenditures as a portion of GDP actually shrunk during the period in question.
The excessively bleak portrayal of Ontario’s finances, however, is not the most disturbing aspect of the report. That bleak picture simply sets the stage for a series of recommendations that are carefully crafted to align with the Conservatives’ ideological leanings and pave the way for a whole variety of potential government actions. And these actions would not be subtle. The directions suggested by the report would have devastating impacts not only for OSSTF/FEESO members and the public education system in Ontario, but for virtually every public service provided by the province and for everyone who works to deliver those services. In its recommendations the report muses about everything from “modernizing” the government’s relationship with labour—code for undermining the role of unions—to the adoption of “alternate arrangements” that would provide government funding for services directly to individuals, who would then “choose their service providers through a form of market activity.”
If the government acts on these recommendations, we will be confronted with a host of serious developments, not the least of which could be the introduction of a voucher system to allow parents the use of public money to access private schools. The introduction of such systems in the US has almost invariably resulted in a significant drain of resources and a devastating impact on the quality of public education.
The Ernst and Young report has provided the Ford government with a made-to-order rationale for an agenda of service cuts, privatization, and ongoing attacks on the rights of workers and the unions that represent them. It is not we who are drawing these battle lines, but should the attacks come OSSTF/FEESO will be ready to stand in defence of public education in Ontario and uphold the rights of all of our members in schools and universities across the province.