Ontario Premier Doug Ford is surely celebrating his decisive re-election victory. But Ford should not be complacent. He was re-elected despite his record, not because of it.
It’s worth remembering former premier Kathleen Wynne won re-election in 2014. She wrongly took her re-election as a go-ahead from voters to pursue her spend-happy agenda. But four years later, she was turfed out of office, with her Liberal party not only losing government but also official party status.
It should be a cautionary tale for Ford.
In 2018, Ontarians elected Ford to clean up the wreckage that was Ontario’s finances.
The situation was so bad that Ontario’s credit rating had been downgraded, the budget was full of red ink, and government spending was out of control. Wynne’s lack of restraint finally caught up to her.
Ford was sent to Queen’s Park with a record of championing taxpayer interests at Toronto city hall. He arrived at the legislature with a mop in hand.
Sadly, Ford threw his mop in the trash. Rather than undoing Wynne’s legacy, he built on it.
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While Ford did face challenges during his first mandate, including dealing with a pandemic, his fiscal record was no better than that of the Liberal government he replaced.
Like Wynne, Ford jacked up spending and has shown no concern about running record deficits.
Prior to the pandemic, rather than reigning in government spending, Ford increased the size of the budget by $5 billion over and above what Wynne had planned.
During the pandemic, Ford increased government spending in literally every ministry. He could have taken a targeted approach to spending like many of his counterparts in other provinces. Instead, he spent more on everything.
And when Ford had a chance to balance the books, he took a pass.
Ontario’s Financial Accountability Office released a report just before Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfavly’s pre-election budget. It showed that, due to increased revenue, the Ford government was in a position to balance the books as soon as 2023.
But instead of taking the responsible approach, Ford decided to go on a spending bonanza.
The most shocking headline that emerged from the spring budget is that the deficit number for this year is actually projected to be higher than deficits run during the height of the pandemic. That’s a page right out of Wynne’s playbook.
Hardworking Ontario taxpayers sent Ford back to Queen’s Park this week because he was the best of the worst. All of Ford’s opponents were promising the spend even more money and run even larger deficits than the incumbent.
But Ford now finds himself in the same place Wynne did. He has a majority government and a reckless agenda. Ford needs to change course if he doesn’t want to be shown the door four years from now in Wynne-like fashion.
Ford should recognize that, despite his wasteful spending, voters saw him as the most responsible spender out of a bad bunch. That’s not a recipe for long-term success.
When Ford recalls the legislature, he needs to learn the lesson Wynne ignored. Borrowing a record amount of money to fund the most bloated budget in the province’s history should be kiboshed. Ford should present a serious plan to get Ontario’s finances back on track, as he promised to do in 2018.
Ford now has a second shot at accomplishing what he said he would do in 2018. It’s time for Ontario’s newly re-elected premier to seize the moment and build an enduring legacy. If he does so, he can avoid the fate of his predecessor.
Jay Goldberg is the Ontario Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
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