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'Profoundly gloomy' road map to balance in Ontario includes utility hikes

TORONTO, Ont. – Don Drummond’s “profoundly gloomy” vision for austerity in Ontario includes bigger class sizes, higher electricity and water bills and new parking fees at GO Transit stations.

They’re among the 362 recommendations the former TD Bank chief economist insists must be implemented to save Canada’s most populous province from plunging into a debt crisis that’s gripped countries like Greece.

He says we’re currently not in crisis, but even if the governing Liberals stick to their current plan to slay the deficit by 2017-18, the province will still end up with a $30-billion shortfall.

It will also be saddled with a staggering net public debt of $411.4 billion — about half of Ontario’s gross domestic product.

Drummond says the province needs to take “unprecedented” action by cutting program spending by 16.2 per cent for every man, woman and child.

He says annual spending growth in health care must be capped at 2.5 per cent and education by one per cent. This can be done, he says, with a greater focus on home health care, by calling on doctors to recommend patients try diet and exercise before giving them a prescription, letting pharmacists give routine shots, and letting paramedics provide home care in between emergencies.

Asked why health care is a major focus, Drummond answered “for one reason, it is the most dear valued public service to people, and as you can see from our recommendations, it’s an area that needs to be reformed from absolute top to bottom.”

Drummond says the government will need to cut spending in all other programs — except for post-secondary education and social programs — by 2.4 per cent.

As for primary and secondary education, he has recommended cutting the number of teachers, resulting in larger class sizes, in addition to 25 per cent less funding for books, computers and other supplies over six years.

“Classroom sizes of course is going to be a controversial recommendation. We’re suggesting an increase of between 1.5 and three students per classroom,” he said.

The province’s $1.5 billion all-day kindergarten is also on the list, and Drummond says if it isn’t cut, “all we would say is, you still got a 32 billion dollar problem, the 1.5 is part of that problem. Something else has to be done.”

Other recommendations include selling one of the Niagara casinos, closing one of OLG’s head offices, and aggressively expanding the number of LCBO stores. This would bring in more cash, crack down on contraband tobacco and outstanding taxes.  

Reaction from 680News political specialist John Stall:

“Given what we all know about how unwieldy governments are by nature compared to the private sector, it would seem impossible to adopt these recommendations. It simply couldn’t move fast enough, even if it had the political will, which of course is the difference between striking this kind of business plan without regard for the political consequences and the very real political consequences that the McGuinty government has. What Don Drummond has done here is to begin playing the music Ontario has to eventually face. The Premier now has to decide which tunes he’ll dance to, and which ones he’ll sit out.”

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