On Wednesday, we shall see the unveiling of Don Drummond’s recommendations for the repairing of Ontario’s finances. Quite frankly, I was a little surprised that Drummond Day was not set for February 14th and advertised as a set of tough love policies to highlight the uncompromising bond between Ontario’s leaders and its people but I suspect there is little humor at Queen’s Park these days.
The Premier has promised a “relentless attack” on the deficit but one wonders if there are echoes of the Duke of Plaza Toro in all this. If you recall the Duke: “In enterprise of martial kind, when there was any fighting, he led his regiment from behind -- he found it less exciting.” The fact is it is difficult to visualize Ontario’s education and health Premier leading an attack on the spending programs he has built up over the last decade. Yet given that he has repeatedly stated he will not raise taxes, he is left with the options of expenditure cuts or economies via transformation and restructuring of government.
Of course, if he is waiting for the Drummond report to show him the way he is bound to be disappointed. Many of the recommendations and suggestions have already been leaked. They make eminent sense. The real question is how to go about implementing them and it will be interesting to see what suggestions if any Don Drummond has here.
For example, universities can possibly save money by having professors teach more courses and Drummond has said as much in the media. Yet most Ontario universities have collective agreements with their faculty that specify teaching loads. Will the Ontario government pass legislation suspending those agreements? Will the Ontario government simply create new “teaching only” universities but which entail spending more money now to save money later? Or will the Ontario government simply cut grants to universities with guidelines as to how the cuts are to be distributed and to increase teaching loads? Yet, the grant stick has gotten weaker over the years. Ontario universities now only get about forty percent of their revenues from government grants. Will they be allowed to raise tuition more? And finally, how will Ontario reconcile its research and innovation agenda at universities with more teaching?
How about health care? Can we transform its delivery by implementing electronic health records? Sadly, it has already been tried once via the E-Health approach and look where that got the government? How about more private-public partnerships to create efficient and innovative new service delivery? Have we not tried that with ORNGE in the case of transport medicine – and where are we now? How about efficiencies via regionalization in health care by dispersing more responsibilities to the Local Health Integration Networks? Interestingly enough, Alberta, one of the pioneers in regionalized health care delivery has gone back to a centralized model. One suspects it is easier to cut budgets when they are centralized.
In the end, there are really only three options for Ontario’s government after D-Day on Wednesday – raise taxes, cut spending or a linear combination thereof. While some of the recommendations Drummond makes may complement those three courses of action, there will be no miracle set of solutions.