I'm writing from within the budget lockup. Mike just left to go to Queen's Park for the budget speech, and we've finished our news release, so I'm left with about half an hour until I'm once again allowed to communicate with the outside world.
I thought I would use the time to share one insight about Liberal priorities: they are still terrified to be honest with Ontario about the cost of electricity. The "Clean Energy Benefit" - at $1 billion per year - will continue unchanged.
So much for fighting the deficit.
Reading through Wynne's budget, it never misses a chance to mention that the deficit is $5 billion less than previously projected. Everytime I read that, I can't help but mumble, "why not make it $6 billion less than projected?"
At $10 billion a year the deficit is still huge. Servicing our debt remains the third largest budget cost after health and education. Perhaps Premier Wynne should add a new minister to cabinet: Minister of Debt. They would immediately have a huge portfolio.
Ironically, the Liberals do recognize that not all benefits should go to all Ontarians. The budget will change the Ontario Drug Benefit in August 2014 to be "income tested". This means high-income seniors will get no benefit (or perhaps less - the budget is not specific). Why not apply the same thinking to the Clean Energy Benefit? Consistency would be nice - especially for a $1 billion/year budget line-item.
The province even has a simple path forward. We could eliminate the Clean Energy Benefit entirely then increase the Ontario Trillium Benefit, paid monthly, so low and moderate income families get the help they need. We could also use the money to fully fund every recommendation from the Social Assistance Review. The budget falls short there too - spending only $133 million instead of the $340 million the reforms need.
As I've blogged extensively, my household is lucky to not need help paying for electricity. I'm lucky to be a far cry from poor - the current Clean Energy Benefit is wasted on my daughter and I. Meanwhile there are thousands of families that make hard "rent vs. electricity" or "electricity vs. new running shoes" decisions.
The Liberal plan to keep the Clean Energy Benefit puts the lie to any promises of creating a fair society. What is fair about shifting wealth from the poor to the rich? There is nothing fair about it.
Bev Oda was drummed out of Stephen Harper's cabinet because she expensed a $16 orange juice. Yet each month every member of Premier Wynne's cabinet gets somewhere between $7 and $20 to help pay their hydro bill - even though all of them earn over $100,000 a year.
It's time to wean Ontario off the orange juice.