Remarks By Dalton McGuinty, Premier Of Ontario To The Economic Club Of Toronto
Check Against Delivery
Good afternoon and thank you.
And thank you to the Economic Club of Toronto for welcoming me back -- this time as Premier.
I'm enormously proud to be Premier because I am enormously proud of the people of Ontario.
As I told Ontarians at my swearing-in, we're proud to work for you, because we've seen you work.
Our government will work as hard as you do.
The other day, I moved into the Premier's Office.
At Queen's Park, the Leader of the Opposition's Office is on the third floor, directly above the Premier's Office, on the second floor.
If you take the stairs, it's 30 steps down.
As I took those steps I thought to myself: It's taken seven years to walk 30 steps. Next time, I'm sliding down the banister.
When you come out of the stairwell, you see the official portraits of your predecessors hanging on the walls. The portraits remind you that serving as Premier is an enormous privilege.
I am the 24th Premier of Ontario.
That's a good number. It's small enough to put you in very select company, but it's big enough to remind you that you do nothing more than hold office. You do not own it.
You work for the people, not for yourself. You have a responsibility to put the public interest ahead of political interests.
Now just before you enter the Premier's Office itself, on your left-hand side you'll see the historic room where you'll meet with members of your Cabinet.
It's a reminder that while you have a singular responsibility as Premier, you're not alone.
You can only succeed if you work together with your team and with Ontarians.
And there to greet you outside the Premier's Office are reporters from our press gallery.
This is a reminder that ours is a vibrant democracy in which people have a right to know the facts.
It's the Premier's job to give people the straight goods.
For me, these are three important guiding principles.
Put the public interest ahead of political interests, work with Ontarians and give them the straight goods.
These are the principles that will guide our government as we overcome our first major challenge, the Tory deficit.
To begin, we're giving people the straight goods.
I want to thank the former provincial auditor, Erik Peters, for giving us the facts so we can pass them on to Ontarians.
Mr. Peters' report reflects its author. It is marked by honesty, integrity and clarity. It is entirely independent.
Mr. Peters tells us that Ontarians face a budget deficit of $5.6 billion.
That's the truth, unvarnished.
Telling the truth when it comes to our province's accounts represents real, positive change in Ontario.
For too long, our predecessors produced budgets the way the circus puts on an act with smoke and mirrors and spin.
Tory budget after Tory budget contributed to the problem and none took steps to correct it.
Assets such as the 407 were sold at fire sale prices, putting short-term political interests ahead of the public interest.
The government treated tax cuts like magic beans that would somehow sprout and grow money. The truth is those tax cuts cost money.
And then there was the so-called auto parts budget.
The budget that became infamous for its birthplace is now also becoming infamous for its gross distortion of reality.
Never has any provincial budget so inaccurately represented the state of the government's finances.
To be off by $1 billion or maybe even $2 billion is one thing, but to be off by $5.6 billion is incomprehensible and unforgivable.
I mean what happened to the truth here?
Because the truth is revenues are $4.4 billion lower than what they said they would be.
The truth is expenditures are $1.5 billion higher than what they said they would be.
The truth is the hydro debt is up hundreds of millions of dollars because of mismanagement and a rate cap that they said would pay for itself.
The truth is the province's contingency fund of $800 million and a reserve of $1 billion have been drawn down to zero.
The truth is the asset sales that were to generate $2.2 billion in revenues were fictitious, and that's why they could never tell us what it was they were going to sell.
The truth is this: The Tories have left us, the people of Ontario, with a $5.6 billion deficit.
And by the way, our best estimate of SARS-related costs is $720 million. That's what the $1 billion reserve was there for, for emergencies. But there's no money left in our reserve.
Here's the bottom line: After eight years of Tory government, our schools are worse off; our health care is worse off; our environment is worse off and we've been left with a $5.6 billion deficit.
It's a devastating record given these have been years of often spectacular economic growth, but it gets worse.
Not only were the Tories spending more than they were taking in. Spending has been growing at a faster rate than revenues.
Let me tell you what that means.
If we did absolutely nothing. If we didn't spend a penny on new programs and we left all the legislated tax cuts in place and spending continued to grow at the average rate it has for the last five years, the deficit would continue to grow, reaching $8.6 billion by 2006-2007.
That doesn't even include the billions in uncosted promises they made during the election campaign.
The Tories didn't just throw caution to the wind. They tied it to an anvil and threw it over a cliff.
We're going to do what needs to be done.
We'll bring responsible management to the government's finances.
We will act quickly and decisively.
The legislature is going to resume sitting in a few weeks.
We will immediately introduce legislation that does the following four things.
One: We're going to roll back the latest portion of the tax cut for corporations, generating $1.2 billion in 2004/2005, our first full fiscal year in government.
Two: We will maintain personal income tax rates at the current level, generating $900 million by 2004/2005.
Three: We will eliminate the seniors' property tax credit; that's worth $450 million.
And four: We will eliminate the tax credit for private schools. That will save us $195 million in our first full fiscal year.
Beyond that, we're going to take the first step this year towards raising the tobacco tax to the national average.
That should generate $140 million in the coming year.
We will also collect from corporations that have not been paying their taxes, in keeping with the recommendations of the provincial auditor.
Our action will also include immediate restraints on discretionary spending.
We're going to put in place a government-wide hiring freeze.
We're going to eliminate the waste of millions of taxpayers' dollars on self-promotional government advertising, and we're going to reduce what the auditor has described as often wasteful spending on highly paid consultants.
We're bringing a responsible approach to government.
And we're going to act in a responsible way when it comes to electricity.
Since the Tory price cap was put in place a year ago, it has cost all of us more than $700 million.
That's almost $2 million every day.
Now it's one thing to take this sort of approach when the province is in surplus and it's quite another to do that when we find ourselves bleeding red ink and compromising our abilities to adequately support our schools and our system of health care.
I want a price regime that better reflects the true cost of electricity.
This may not be popular.
It may not be in our immediate self-serving political interests, but we firmly believe that it is in the public interest.
We firmly believe that it's the right thing to do, so we're going to do it.
I've asked the Minister of Energy to present a plan to Cabinet within 30 days to achieve our goal of a price regime that better reflects the true cost of electricity in Ontario.
And I've told them it is my view it is time for an independent body to regulate the price of electricity, not politicians.
A responsible approach to electricity pricing will improve the investment climate of our province, attract new generation and strengthen the economy.
Being responsible as a government also means being accountable. Our government will be accountable.
We're going to give the provincial auditor brand-new powers, powers to examine not just the government itself but all of our funding partners, including hospitals, school boards, colleges and universities.
We will leave no stone unturned.
Taxpayers' dollars will be defended more vigorously than ever so that we can ensure they are put to the very best use in their schools, hospitals and communities.
Now as long as we're giving people the straight goods, let's be honest about another thing: The federal government can and must do more when it comes to helping Ontario.
During the election campaign, I signalled my determination to work with Ottawa, putting an end to that incessant bickering and wrangling that has held us back for years now.
I've taken a new constructive approach with our federal counterparts when it comes to funding for health care, including SARS, and I'm encouraged by the response thus far.
Now the action plan that I've outlined today will take us a long way towards defeating the Tory deficit.
We'll put it in place during the first sitting of the legislature in November and December.
But there's more to do, much more. We need to eliminate the balance of the Tory deficit and implement our plan for real, positive change.
This is not an either/or proposition. Ontarians want and deserve better schools, better health care and a balanced budget.
We're going to get this job done by working together.
The new year will see the biggest provincewide pre-budget consultation in our province's history.
My Cabinet colleagues and I will travel the province to lead and to listen.
We're going to give people the straight goods and we'll expect straight answers in return.
We want your ideas, your energy, your commitment.
At the same time I am challenging our hard-working, innovative public service to bring forward their best ideas for the budget we're going to introduce in the spring.
Let me be very clear about one thing: We're going to hold the line on taxes. Ontario families and businesses didn't create this mess. The Conservative government did. Our shared responsibility now, it's to work together and clean up the mess.
Today I've told you what we are going to do. I've outlined the real positive changes we are going to put in place this fall. We will tour the province, leading and listening in the new year.
I've told you how we are going to respond, by putting the public interest ahead of political interest. By working with Ontarians, and by giving them the straight goods.
Let me finish up by telling you why this is so important to me.
I didn't run for premier because I was inspired by the thought of balancing budgets.
I ran for Premier because I want smaller classes for our children, I want shorter waits for our health care, I want cleaner, safer more liveable communities for all of us. I want a dynamic growing economy that assures opportunity for all.
I want a strong caring society where we embrace helping those who through no fault of their own can't help themselves.
That's what I want for Ontarians.
That's why it's so very important that we get our fiscal house in order. Because failing to do so, puts all that we want for Ontarians at risk.
Together we are going to do what needs doing.
Let's get started.
Thank you very much.