Exaggerating the size of last year’s provincial deficit has earned Premier Doug Ford a chiding from Ontario’s auditor general.
On Thursday, Ford claimed his Progressive Conservatives “inherited a $15-billion disaster” from the previous Liberal government they defeated in June 2018.
The premier added that “we confirmed it with the auditor general, with third-party validation through an auditing firm, we confirmed it with the finance minister, the president of the treasury, and we all agreed.”
But Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk always maintained the provincial deficit that year was at most $11.7 billion.
That’s $3.3 billion lower than Ford’s figure, which is largely based on a 2018 Tory attack line used against the Liberals immediately after the election.
Further complicating matters is the fact Finance Minister Rod Phillips concluded in September that the final shortfall was $7.4 billion for that year — about half the inflated tally the premier cited.
Lysyk took to Twitter to correct Ford within an hour of his claim in the legislature.
“Public statements questioned Ontario’s 2018/19 deficit figures. Our audit of province’s books concluded $7.4-billion deficit was fairly represented. 2018/19 budgeted deficit of $11.7 billion calculated using same methods, and was reasonable based on info available at the time,” she tweeted.
At the time of the election, the Liberals insisted there was a $6.7-billion deficit. Lysyk arrived at her $11.7-billion calculation because of a $5-billion account dispute over whether to include the value of government co-sponsored pension assets.
The auditor and her predecessors had booked the value of the province’s share of Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union Pension Plan and the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan until a 2015 tiff with premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals.
Prior to last year’s election, Lysyk also disputed the Grits’ accounting surrounding their “Fair Hydro Plan” electricity subsidies. The Tories cancelled that scheme and now subsidize hydro through the provincial treasury instead of electricity ratepayers.
Interim Liberal leader John Fraser demanded to know why Ford “manufactured a phoney $15-billion deficit.”
“The public accounts of this province said it was $7.4 billion. So we know … that ($15-billion) number was never real,” said Fraser, warning the premier did so “to create a context for cuts: cuts that hurt families in Ontario.”
“We are spending less per student than we were before. We’re going to spend less in post-secondary education and on community and children services in real dollars,” he said.
“Why does the premier continue to use … an inflated number, that he knows is not right?”
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NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said “it really is a farce” when it comes to calculating deficit projections.
“We all know that none of those numbers stand up to scrutiny. It’s all a big shell game to justify whatever agenda the government has,” said Horwath.
The Conservatives ballooned Lysyk’s $11.7 billion figure to $15 billion by bundling in Liberal campaign promises — such as expanded daycare and new university campuses — that the Tories cancelled upon taking office.
That, combined with the pension and hydro accounting changes, led to the $15-billion tally that the auditor general insists never was.