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April 6, 2012

Drummond and the Ontario Budget

Reuel S. Amdur

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There is a disconnect between the Drummond Report which the Liberals requested and the Ontario budget which has just been brought down, and in many ways that is a good thing.

Drummond argued against reducing class size, arguing that the evidence was that it was not effective in promoting greater achievement.  Recent studies say otherwise. 

For example, there is the study by Peter Blatchford et al., “The effects of class size on the teaching of pupils aged 7-11 years,” in School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 2007. 

Even more important for achievement is early childhood education.  So much for Drummond’s recommendation to cancel junior kindergarten.

The McGuinty government fortunately ignored these two recommendations.  Junior kindergarten has the additional benefit of allowing more women to participate in the workforce, as well as serving to encourage more births in an aging population.

One measure that would save large sums of money in education would be the elimination of denominational schools.  Quebec and Newfoundland have done it.  Why not Ontario?

Drummond and his commission were told to come up with proposals that would address a serious deficit by cutting expenditures, without increasing taxes.  That direction is the fatal flaw of the whole exercise.  Drummond refers to the Saskatchewan crisis of 1991.  When the NDP was elected that year, it inherited a financial situation where it found itself on the edge of bankruptcy. 

“The Romano government’s solution involved a mix of spending cuts and tax increases, which it called ‘The Saskatchewan Way.’” Indeed, it was only the fact that Premier McGuinty leads a minority government that he was forced to heed the NDP’s demand that he cancel a corporate tax reduction.

Health care is an area where restraint was imposed, allowing only a 2.1% increase.  However, there are difficulties in maintaining that cap.  While physicians are to be flat-lined, doctors under fee-for-service can simply work more, to defeat the cap.

The McGuinty government is cutting back on hospital construction and putting more emphasis on home care, which is sorely needed.  It is also beginning to establish birthing centres manned by midwives, far less expensive than hospital deliveries.  However, to expand birthing centres it will be necessary to train more midwives.  There should also be a curtailment of unnecessary medical procedures, such as many of the ultrasounds.

Drummond wants more effective use of nurses, using the example of giving injections.  He calls for a reorganization of primary care, moving away from physicians in sole practice toward a system integrating doctors in an interdisciplinary form of practice.  Ontario already has such integrated services, community health centres.  Why not expand these?

Of course, health is much more than health care.  Here is Drummond: “Only 25 per cent of the population’s health outcomes can be attributed to the health care system.  Yet amazingly, the three-quarters of environmental factors that account for health outcomes, such as education and income, barely register in the health care debates.”  So McGuinty refuses to increase public assistance rates.  Is that good health policy?

The field of crime and corrections presents Ontario with a major challenge, as the federal Tory tough-on-crime agenda is bound to place a heavy burden on the provinces.

Drummond wisely suggests a greater use of civilians for much of what police do, a move that would reduce costs.  The report also calls for more cooperation between provincial and federal governments to address the challenges produced by the new federal legislation.  Not likely. 

There is, however, another strategy Ontario could employ: a heavy emphasis on diversion prior to and instead of the laying of charges.  Petty theft? Have the offender pay and apologize.  Minor assault?  Again, an apology and some possible compensation, either financial or other.  If a person is charged and the matter goes to court, Harper rules and the jails fill up, so act in ways to keep the cases out of court.

When it comes to infrastructure costs, Drummond calls for “full cost pricing for water and wastewater services.”  However, the issue is wider.  Much of the cost of maintaining public infrastructure is borne by municipalities, which are forced to rely on the inequitable and difficult-to-manage property tax.  The province should give municipalities the power to levy an income tax.

In the final analysis, the Ontario Liberal budget is based on shaky assumptions, such as the effectiveness of measures to cap physician incomes.  It opens the door to major conflicts with public servants whose pay is to be frozen.  It harms the poorest of the poor by freezing social assistance rates.  And most serious, as opposed to “The Saskatchewan Way” of combining restraint measures and tax increases, it relies only on restraint.

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On July 7, 2024 in Toronto, Canada, Dimitri Lascaris delivered a speech on the right to resist oppression.

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