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Why the PCs think Mike Harris is a big-government union-lover

Many used to contrast the hard right policies of the former Mike Harris Progressive Conservative government with the milder PC policies of Bill Davis and the Big Blue Machine.  But Tim Hudak's PCs go much further.  Here's three examples.

[1] The PCs say they will cut spending on programs by $7.6 billion to $111.8 billion.  The Mike Harris PC government increased public sector spending in its first term  -- by their own account 6.2%. In their second go round, the Harris / Eves government increased funding much more  -- 14%.  

But Hudak's latest policies contrast even with the Hudak PC plan rolled out in the last election campaign in 2011. Then, Hudak and the PCs planned to increase program spending from $113.8 billion to $117.5 billion. That's a very modest increase of 3.25% over four years.  But it's quite different from their new proposal to cut spending sharply and to reduce provincial spending to $111.8 billion.    

This radical shift in PC policy occurred despite the fact that budget deficits shrank much more quickly than planned in 2011. Here's the plan from the 2011 Budget, not long before the 2011 election:
Ontario Budget
Source: 2011 Provincial Budget
Now we know that in 2011/12 the deficit was actually $3.3 billion less than planned, in 2012/13 it was $6 billion less than planned, and in 2013/14 the deficit was $2 billion less.  

So over just three years, the deficits were $11.3 billion less than planned. 

One might think that $11.3 billion might encourage the PCs to at least keep their previous funding promise.  But, instead, the PCs have decided that not only do they have to renege on their former funding plan but that they actually have to cut spending sharply. 

If we imagine for a moment that this new policy shift is correct, we then also have to conclude that Hudak and Co. got it very, very wrong in their last set of election promises. That doesn't exactly raise confidence in Hudak's judgement.

Another explanation might be that Hudak and the PCs are just bouncing from one funding policy to another, without much reason or even rhyme.

Policy Contagion to the Liberals? The PCs say the $7.6 billion cut they propose is a 6% reduction in program spending. In fact, here as elsewhere, their math is a little off -- it is really a 6.4% cut. Moreover, given the PC claim they will protect certain areas from cuts, the other non-protected areas will have to be cut proportionately more than 6.4% to make up the difference.

As you might expect from a pre-election Budget, the Liberal's proposed to increase funding this year a little more quickly than they had in the immediate past: a 2.5% increase  in program spending compared to a 1.1% increase in their previous Budget.  Neither increase will offset population growth and inflation.

But the story gets much worse in the years ahead, according to the Liberal Budget. For 2015/16 public spending would increase only 0.6% , and the year after that, less than 0.1%.  For 2017/18, they plan an absolute cut in program spending of 0.7% , to bring program spending back to this year’s proposed level ($119.4 B).  While this is $7.6 billion more than the PCs now promise, it is not much more than the PC plan in the last election.

Ontario already has the lowest per capita public spending of any province. These plans are going to put Ontario further behind.
[2] Another radical step from the PC platform concerns their claim on interest arbitration, the system used to settle collective bargaining disputes for public sector essential service workers, like hospital workers: 
"The public shouldn’t have to pay a premium for every government job, though the arbitration rules we have now pretty much guarantee it." 
In fact the previous PC government of Mike Harris (which was, in fact, renown for its anti-worker policies) re-wrote the interest arbitration rules to favour employers. But, if you took their policy platform seriously,  Hudak and the PCs now must see Mike Harris PC government as a faithful tool of the unions that guaranteed premium wages for public sector workers!

[3] The Hudak PCs also promise to impose their wage bargaining demand on public sector workers -- And if the unions don't get on board with this, the PCs will impose it by legislation.  The PCs simply set aside free collective bargaining and dismiss worker rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Mike Harris was a hard bargainer, and he did fight unions.  But he did not over-ride free collective bargaining for all public sector workers.  Hudak is planning to attack the very core of trade union rights.


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