The Hon. Ernie Eves, Deputy Premier and Minister of Finance
THE ONTARIO BUDGET
Chairman: Gareth S. Seltzer, President, The Empire Club of Canada
Head Table Guests
The Rev. Glyn Easson, Associate Priest, St. Paul's Anglican Church, Bloor Street; Edward Frackowiak, Vice-President, General Counsel Canada, First American Title Insurance Company; Dean Levitt, Partner, Coopers & Lybrand; John A. MacNaughton, President, Nesbitt Burns Inc. and a Past President, The Empire Club of Canada; Mrs. Vicki Eves, wife of our guest speaker; William Farlinger, Chairman, Ontario Hydro; Mary Byers, Author and Historian and an Honorary Director, The Empire Club of Canada; John H. Lee, General Manager, JMPM Enterprises Limited; Steven Belchetz, Vice-Principal and Principal, Ernst & Young Investment Advisors; Anthony S. Fell, Chairman and CEO, RBC Dominion Securities Limited; and Stanley H. Hartt, President, The Canadian Club of Toronto and Chairman, Salomon Brothers Canada Inc.
It is a pleasure to be back today. Some of you may recall that I was with you a year ago after our government's first budget. At that time I talked to you about our plan to set Ontario on a new course towards hope, opportunity and prosperity; a plan that laid the foundation for the budget I tabled on Tuesday.
At that time I talked to you about our goals: to remove the burden of debt from our children's shoulders; to let hard-working Ontarians keep more of their money; to focus on priority services like health care, classroom education and community safety; and to create a climate of sustainable economic growth and jobs. You might also remember that at that time the critics said we would never achieve our goals. They said our plan would not work. It would not stimulate economic growth or create jobs. They tried to steer us off course.
We did not waver. We did not blink. Why? We promised Ontarians that we are unconditionally committed to reaching our goals, that we are very open to discussing how we get there and that by achieving them together, we would create a better tomorrow.
Today I can tell you that the critics were wrong. The message we sent to Ontarians on Tuesday was that our plan is working and we are continuing on our course to invest in a more prosperous future for Ontario: a future free of the endless cycle of tax, spend and borrow; a future that will allow us to protect the priority services that the people of Ontario--the children of Ontario deserve.
Everyone knows that when we took office the government was spending $1 million every hour more than it was taking in. It was unsustainable. We promised Ontarians that we would fix that problem that weighs so heavily on the backs of the next generation. We are. In each of our two budgets in government, the deficit has been lower than was projected. The deficit this year will be $6.6 billion. Next year it will fall to $4.8 billion. That is a 58-per-cent decrease in the deficit since we took office. We are on track to a balanced budget by the year 2000-2001.
That is not just our view. Dominion Bond Rating Service--not exactly our biggest supporter before we assumed office--has confirmed that the province of Ontario is on track to meet our deficit-elimination target.
As the London Chamber of Commerce, said to us: "We must never return to those days when we gave permission to ourselves to jeopardise the standard of living for future generations of Ontarians." We agree and we are taking action now to ensure that we will not.
We are doing this by investing in tomorrow through wholesale structural changes to the way the province works and investing in today by creating a climate in which people can build their own lives and the private sector can get on with the business of creating jobs. We are paving the way for the small business sector to grow and create jobs by cutting red tape and taxes; improving access to capital; and liberating its spirit of entrepreneurship. We are taking initiatives to keep Ontario at the leading edge of science and technology. We are investing in research and development to help the private sector take advantage of our world-class research capabilities. All of this will enhance Ontario's competitive advantage and will create long-term jobs.
The best job-creation programme is a tax cut. We are cutting taxes. You may have heard of that!
We are not the only province to cut taxes. While the federal finance minister calls tax cuts "irresponsible," six other provincial governments of all political stripes have joined Ontario in cutting taxes to stimulate economic growth. Like Ontario they recognise that taxpayers' money does not belong to government. Government has no money. It only has the money that it takes from the people. That money belongs to the people. Paul Martin may think it is irresponsible to let hard-working, honest Canadians keep more of the dollars they earn, but I do not.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business calls a tax cut "the only way you are going to get consumers spending again...." We too have always said that if Ontarians were only allowed to keep more of their hard-earned money they would spend it.
But the cuts to personal income taxes are not the only tax cuts we are implementing. In our first budget we cut taxes not once, but 10 times. In Tuesday's budget we cut taxes not 10 but 20 times for a total of 30 tax cuts in less than two years. We are cutting taxes because hardworking Ontarians--employees and employers alike--deserve it.
We are cutting taxes because the evidence is clear. Tax cuts do create economic growth and jobs. Despite what our critics wanted to believe, since implementing the first phase of our tax cut, revenues from all forms of taxation have gone up by $2 billion. In March, fully 75 per cent of all jobs created in the entire country were created right here in Ontario: 46,000 jobs--the largest monthly increase in private-sector job creation in Canadian history.
Today, StatsCan reported an additional 14,500 jobs. All private-sector forecasts anticipate significant job creation in Ontario in the long term. The Ontario Help Wanted Index, which measures job ads placed by employers, is up almost 18 per cent over the past 12 months. The last time the Index grew that fast job growth accelerated to nearly 200,000 jobs per year.
Housing starts are at record highs, up over 20 per cent in 1996 and projected to increase by 29 per cent in '97. Consumer and business confidence are both up, and Ontario is cited to lead Canada in growth in 1997. In fact, the entire economy is responding with a renewed spirit of optimism in this province. It is called growth. It is called confidence.
This is what government must do if government is going to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. Sometimes government can achieve this by simply getting out of the way. Sometimes government must have the courage to change itself. Sometimes government must make the wholesale structural changes required to encourage growth and protect priorities for the future. That requires not only a touch of courage but a true commitment to creating a better today while investing for tomorrow. That is what Ontarians told us they wanted from their government. We are doing exactly what we said we would do.
As we embark upon this restructuring we have been ever cognisant of the needs of communities and healthcare professionals across Ontario. On Tuesday I reiterated our commitment to investing in the future. Over the next five years, we are investing in the largest programme of renewal of our health-care system ever undertaken in this province. Some $2.7 billion will be used to restructure our most important priority. Ontarians know that patient needs in 1997 are not being met by a system created for the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. We need to respond to the advent of technology and the requirements of an aging population. That is why we are restructuring the health-care system to put the needs of the patient first by creating the most comprehensive and effective community-based health-care system in the country. This includes networks of excellence that will make quality care in areas such as women's health and AIDS treatment and prevention available in more places than ever before. And we are ensuring access to essential services.
The key to improving quality care is the skill, expertise and caring of the people who work in the system.
Bureaucracy does not cure people. Bricks and mortar don't cure people. People cure people.
No one said that change would be easy. Will there be some adjustments and some growing pains? Absolutely. Is that any reason to accept the status quo and not move forward with these necessary changes? Absolutely not.
A colleague at Queen's Park recounted a story about a sermon he heard while attending a church service in Petrolia Ontario. The sermon was about the seven deadliest words in the world. The seven words that have stopped progress. "We have never done it that way before."
I can tell you that I did not get into public life over 16 years ago just to do the easy things. Nor did I watch 10 years of tax-today-and-borrow-from-tomorrow philosophy hobble our economy to simply muddle through the next four years and avoid making those decisions--decisions that will create as many jobs as possible in our province and give our children the opportunity that we owe them. For the first time in history we faced the prospect of leaving our children with a lower standard of living than the one we inherited from our parents. Today's youth are tomorrow's leaders.
As I said in my budget speech on Tuesday, my daughter Natalie and her generation will accomplish things that few of us thought possible. It is our responsibility--each of us here--to ensure that they have the tools they require to do that.
It is our responsibility to ensure they have an education system that is second to none. We are restructuring administration of education, reducing the number of school boards and trustees by half while directing funding to the classroom. Some $650 million in capital construction will be created in the province in education over the next two years. A $250-million offer has been made to the teaching profession to renew itself. We are asking them to make the same commitment--to provide a renewal in the teaching profession as well as renewal in the classroom itself.
Last year I announced the creation of a Student Opportunities Trust Fund. Our goal for post-secondary institutions was to raise up to $100 million and the province would match those funds. They achieved over $250 million which will now make half a billion dollars available to assist 166,000 qualified students to get a postsecondary education they would not have had because of financial limitations.
Financial barriers are not the only ones we are removing. Learning-disabled students in this province deserve the opportunity to fulfil their academic and life potential.
This is an area about which Vicki and I are all too familiar. Our late son Justin, upon graduating from high school, looked in Ontario and throughout Canada for a door to open. The doors were all closed. We had to look elsewhere. We found the answer in Massachusetts just south of Boston at a small university called Curry College where decades of experience had taught it to accept learning-disabled students who were capable. As a matter of fact it now has a requirement that 10 per cent of their freshman body has to be learning-disabled students. Literally thousands of students from all across the world apply to go there every year. Only a few hundred are accepted. Justin was fortunate enough to be one of those. It enables and trains students to overcome their learning-disability handicap, to live full and fulfilled lives and to utilise their talent.
We should provide that opportunity here, in the province of Ontario. In Tuesday's budget we set aside $30 million for a pilot project at both the college and university level so that thousands of students just like Justin can have the same opportunities that he had. Bette Stephenson who introduced Bill 81 when she was education minister will head the task force that will look at this important issue. If Bette Stephenson has anything to say about it, it'll get done.
You know our critics say that our government is all about cutting and slashing and number crunching. Let me tell you that last Tuesday's budget not only allowed us to invest in health care and classroom education but it also provided for a whole lot of social justice:
• A new $40-million Child Tax Credit will assist lower-income working families who are not benefitting from the current system. This will assist some 90,000 families and 125,000 children versus the 70,000 that benefit today. This will be expanded by an additional $100 million.
• The Ontario Tax Reduction programme will be enriched to reduce taxes for 30,000 families; 20,000 more families will pay no Ontario income tax as a result of this initiative.
• $15 million will be provided to respond to the Child Mortality Task Force and to protect vulnerable children. And there is more on the way.
• $5 million will be provided for enhanced child support enforcement under the Family Support Plan to enforce provisions against "dead beat dads."
• $5 million will be provided in tuition assistance for families of officers killed in the line of duty so that their children and their spouses can have the education they desire.
• $27 million will be provided over the next four years to increase efforts to prevent violence against women.
• A $30-million Rural Job Strategy programme will be provided to increase exports, with $3 million earmarked to help rural youth.
• $6 million will be provided to help 40,000 young people to get work experience this summer.
• $215 million will be invested in non-profit housing.
• A 10-year, $3-billion R and D Challenge Fund will be provided. Did you know that two out of every three jobs created in this province in the last 10 years were in the information and technology sector?
That is the future for our children. This budget is all about the things that Leslie Frost talked about in his 1944 budget speech: "We are laying the sure foundations for a greater and stronger Ontario."
In 1944 Ontario was on the verge of decades of prosperity. In 1997 our government's budget is delivering our plan to bring Ontario into a new era of prosperity. As a result of our government's plan, we are able to invest more money in health care, education and communities. By ensuring your tax dollars are spent more wisely, we are able to invest in priority services while continuing to reduce the deficit and cut taxes.
Our plan is about hope and opportunity. It is about restoring people's faith in government and in themselves and giving Ontarfans the tools they need so that together we can create a prosperous Ontario for all of us today and for our children tomorrow. To me this is what being a Progressive Conservative is all about.
I'd like to leave you with a quote from George Bernard Shaw: "You see things and you say why? But I dream things that never were and ask why not!" Thank you.
The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Stanley H. Hartt, President, The Canadian Club of Toronto and Chairman, Salomon Brothers Canada Inc.