Doug Ford’s government unveiled on Thursday plans to cut a number of social service watchdogs, environmental initiatives, and curb the expansion of rent control measures in Ontario.
In its first fiscal update, Finance Minister Vic Fedeli told reporters that the province’s deficit has been reduced to $14.5 billion from $15 billion since the Progressive Conservatives took over from the previous Liberals earlier this year.
“The deficit is real, our debt is real, the challenge ahead of us is real,” said Fedeli, adding that, “we will balance the budget,” without providing specifics as to when that would happen.
While Fedeli said the government had no plans to cut its own employees, the government is planning to scrap three legislative oversight positions, and fold them into other areas such as the auditor general and ombudsman offices by next year. This includes the environment commissioner, children’s advocate, and the French-language commissioner.
Fedeli framed these moves as bolstering the auditor general and ombudsman roles. “You’re going to see everything strengthened and expanded,” he explained. “The premier has promised, he continues to say we want efficiencies not cuts.”
But the moves were met with skepticism and concern from the unions that represent them and advocates.
“The Government's decision to eliminate the independent Ontario Child Advocate and French Language Services Commissioner is an extremely disappointing one,” their union said in a statement. However, it said it takes solace in the government’s effort to allow their work to be carried out through other offices.
NDP leader Andrea Horwath argued that the Ford government does not want to be accountable to the environmental commissioner. Earlier this fall, the commissioner slammed Ford for slashing much of the province’s climate change initiatives, including repealing the cap-and-trade program.
In the midst of skyrocketing rent prices across the province and limited affordable housing options, especially in Toronto, the government also announced it would do away with rent control measures on newly built rental units.
“Everybody who is an existing tenant today is protected,” Fedeli, when asked why the government would pursue curbing the expansion of rent control. “The challenge for the future is that there is no supply. Once rent control was put in, the supply dried up … [we need to] open the market”
The province’s plan also includes providing a tax credit for people who earn around $30,000 a year, and halting a proposed French-language university.
Fedeli also faced questions regarding accusations of sexual misconduct made by previous Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown in a new memoir released this week entitled Takedown: The Attempted Political Assassination of Patrick Brown. Brown, who was recently elected mayor of Brampton after facing his own allegations of sexual misconduct, alleged that accusations of inappropriate behaviour were brought against Fedeli in a handwritten note from a female staffer in 2017.
In a sign of solidarity with Fedeli on Thursday, PC MPPs donned yellow ties at Queen’s Park, Fedeli’s tie colour of choice.
Also on Thursday, Ontario announced it would extend the hours of the provincial liquor retailers to 9 a.m. and 11 p.m., seven days a week, and allow wine and beer to be sold in other chains.
Cover image by Chris Young/The Canadian Press