For an alternative view, read the response from former Progressive Conservative policy chief Mitchell Davidson.

 

“Show me their budget, and I’ll tell you a government’s values.” Or so goes the adage. It’s a worthwhile lens to apply to the budget tabled by the Province of Ontario on Wednesday.

Does this government value health care? Health-care spending continues to grow at an impressive clip, and not just for COVID-19 response. This budget offers new investments in long-term care beds and hospitals — needed spending that this government had ignored pre-COVID-19, but also investments that the previous Liberal government I served in too often failed to make at the necessary levels.

Whether the government is competent on health care, and whether it values a healthier population — which depends not just on spending commitments, but on the government’s approach to actually preventing and reducing illness — is another question. It was good to see one step in that direction — a planning grant from the province to Ryerson University toward a new medical school in Brampton, with a focus on primary care and population-based health.

Does the government value economic growth? It does not seem to have a theory of how the economy will grow post-pandemic.

In too many other areas, there’s little sign of commitment. Education and post-secondary education were short-changed. Social assistance rates were again frozen. COVID-19 support payments will go to many people who don’t need them, such as middle- and upper-class families. Inequality will get worse coming out of this budget.

Does the government value economic growth? It does not seem to have a theory of how the economy will grow post-pandemic. Most of the economic measures in this budget — job-training tax credits, renewed grants to small business, some other sector supports — are pretty short-term measures. The economic measure with the most foresight behind it might be the expansion of broadband.

And while I’m no fiscal hawk, the growth in debt (especially in comparison to Quebec) creates a concern, with no plan except austerity in the later years of the plan. The best way to reduce debt is with an economic plan. The absence of a plan, or the articulation beyond “a plan to have a plan,” is troubling. Even during a crisis, governments are supposed to do more than one thing at once. Especially when we need some hope about what the economic future will be like.

All in all, this budget is only about the now. Perhaps that’s where Ontarians are at, what the politics suggests. But there’s a public policy opportunity to at least chart a path to an opportunity-driven province, with all talents being drawn on to build back post-pandemic. Ontario did not describe it. Maybe the federal government will have to articulate it instead.

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Karim Bardeesy is Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Ryerson Leadership Lab and co-director of First Policy Response.