By Jack Hauen
The province’s fall economic statement will come out on Nov. 6, Finance Minister Rod Phillips announced Thursday in a speech to the Canadian Club, promising the government is “on track” to achieve its fiscal plans.
Phillips, a past president of the club, spoke to a crowd of mostly businesspeople about his plan for the economy, taking questions from reporters afterward. He did not give many details about the economic statement when pressed on whether Ontarians can expect more cuts — something the Financial Accountability Office has flagged will be necessary to achieve the government’s fiscal targets.
“I don’t think that Ontarians anywhere need to be worried,” Phillips said when asked whether Francophone-Ontarians should prepare for more cuts. He said the government is taking “a balanced approach — an approach that understands that there are expenditures that we need to make in strategic areas, but that also … understands that for the medium- and long term we have to address the deficit.”
Asked whether that means more cuts are possibly in store, Phillips paused, nodded and said, “Yup.”
The finance minister promised the fall economic statement would show that the government will beat its deficit target of $10.3 billion, but would not say whether the fall economic statement will show a deficit higher than the $7.4 billion it stood at last year — far lower than the $15 billion initially claimed by the Doug Ford government.
In his speech to a receptive crowd, Phillips took shots at the previous Liberal government and touted the Ford administration’s plans for tax cuts and deregulation.
“As Ontario’s minister of finance, it gives me no joy to say, within the global competition for talent, innovation and investment, we have not been punching at the weight that we need to, to be the successful economy that we can be,” he said.
Phillips noted that Ontario’s per capita GDP is 45th in North America, just behind Montana. “I don’t have anything against Montana. It’s a lovely place. But we can do better. And we need to do better,” he said.
NDP co-deputy leader Sara Singh told reporters the government’s penchant for painting a bleak picture of the province’s current state is in order to “lay the foundation to make these deep and devastating cuts here in this province.”
The government is “continuing to focus on the deficit rather than talking about the services that people in this province need,” she said.
Singh also criticized the government’s pattern of making cuts only to reverse them after facing significant pushback.
“This whole cut-first, consult-later approach is having really detrimental impacts in our communities. We’re seeing those services cut, then restored, cut — people don’t know,” she said. “I think this approach shows us that this government is not considering the needs of people in this province. It isn’t, frankly, listening, and when people do raise dissenting views, they’re put into a category of being protesters or special-interest groups when, in fact, these are people who are raising real concerns that are having real impacts in their daily lives.”
Phillips ducked a question about whether consumers will be able to buy beer and wine in corner stores in time for Thanksgiving. The government made a promise in the spring to open up the alcohol market, but has yet to give a firm timeline for delivering on it. Phillips noted people in Ajax could buy beer in some grocery stores, an initiative the previous Kathleen Wynne government was responsible for.
When pressed for a timeline, Phillips said the promise was “one of the many priorities we have, but there’s many, many other things we’re focused on.”
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