Analysis

Adding up the cost of the PC party platform

PC Leader Doug Ford went into this provincial election campaign promising a "solid platform that is fully costed." But a few days into the race, analysts are still waiting to see a fully costed platform.

Unclear where money will come from to pay for Tory promises, or when they'll balance budget

Ontario PC Leader Doug Ford has made a number of promises, but has left it unclear how he will pay for them. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford went into this provincial election campaign promising a "solid platform that is fully costed."

But a few days into the race, the Tories have yet to release a fully costed financial plan for the province, though a party spokesperson told CBC News that one is coming.

When asked repeatedly Thursday whether the party would release a costed platform, PC finance critic Vic Fedeli would only say that "each of our announcements has a price tag attached to it."

He also couldn't say whether the PCs would have a third party evaluate the financial reasonableness of their platform, as both the Liberals and NDP have, and couldn't say when they might balance the books. 

"We'll need to see what the state of the books are," Fedeli said.

Where's the money?

"We are only on the second day of the campaign, and we are expecting more announcements about spending in the weeks ahead," said Jean-Paul Lam, an associate professor of economics at the University of Waterloo.

"I don't think you will see a fully costed platform because I don't think they know where the money is going to come from."

It's true that PCs do say what each of their promises will cost. But by bringing them out one at a time, it's more difficult to get the big picture of their spending plan, or how they'll pay for it.

Getting rid of cap and trade may save drivers some money at the gas pump, but it will also take $2 billion out of the province's revenues. (CBC)

Ford has already announced well over $7 billion of measures that may well save many Ontarians hundreds of dollars in income tax, hydro rates or at the gas pumps. But so far, there appears to be no plan to make up for the lost revenue from these election promises.

Here are what some of the major platform planks will cost:

  • $2.3 billion for an income tax cut for anyone making more than $46,000 (to come into effect in 2020).
  • $2 billion in lost cap-and-trade auction fees.
  • $1.3 billion to cut the corporate tax rate by one percentage point.
  • Around $500 million for a tax credit for workers making minimum wage.
  • $800 million to cut hydro bills by 12 per cent.

These promises will cost almost $7 billion. And that doesn't take into account Ford's promise to spend $5 billion in new transit money for the Toronto region, or the cost of uploading the infrastructure costs of that city's public transit system.

In the meantime, the only cost savings the PCs have announced is cutting four per cent of spending, or $6 billion. Even if one believes those savings can be realized without cutting services or jobs — and many don't — it's still unclear where the money to pay for the promises will come from.

Liberals, NDP have vetted platforms

That's a very tops-of-the-waves numbers assessment of the Tory platform so far. Of course, budgets for a government the size of Ontario are complex beasts, with all sorts of assumptions made about economic growth, future revenue expectations, possible consequences from external factors like lower corporate tax rates in the U.S and the outcome of the NAFTA renegotiations.

That's why voters have come to expect fully costed platforms from major political parties during elections. It brings all those promises and assumptions into one place to allow critics to have at them. And those platforms are usually reviewed by independent third parties to assess the reasonableness of what politicians are promising us.

Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk's report, which stated the Liberal budget understated the deficit by billions of dollars, has caused the party political headaches. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)
The Liberals' platform is essentially its 2018 budget, which calls for a $6-billion-plus deficit for the next few years. Under law, the auditor general must review a budget before an election, and when current AG Bonnie Lysyk  did so, she argued in a scathing report that the Liberals were understating their projected deficits by $5 or $6 billion a year.

Ford does not miss an opportunity to bring up this fact, and has called for a commission to study the provincial accounts.

The NDP, which is also proposing to run deficits though to 2022-23, also has a fully costed platform that was vetted by the Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy (IFSD), a think tank co-founded by former federal parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page.

The IFSD found that the NDP's "costing of individual measures appears reasonable," although it did include caveats, including that it did not explore promises that would cost less than $1 billion over four years.

Kevin Page's Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy was hired to vet the NDP platform and the former PC election plan. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

In fact, the IFSD was brought in last year by the PCs to review former leader Patrick Brown's election platform, a service they offer to all major political parties in Ontario free of charge.

Interestingly, that IFSD report cautioned that it could "not pronounce" on the Tories' plan at the time to cut two per cent of costs — or $2.8 billion in three years — let alone the $6 billion in savings that Ford is promising to find.

There are lots of other questions about the PC budget, including what $5 billion in transit investment will buy in the Toronto region, when a single subway stop extension to Scarborough costs more than $3 billion.

When asked about the importance of having costed platforms, Page wrote in an email that "all parties should be encouraged to provide a costed fiscal plan that supports its policy agenda" and that "fiscal responsibility is an important public policy issue in Ontario and should be debated in political forums."

Without a fully costed plan, it could be difficult for voters to compare the three major parties' overall plans.

"At least with the Liberals and the NDP, their numbers are out there" for anyone to criticize, said Lam. "Ford can't explain what he wants to do with the economy. The numbers won't add up."

All 3 parties to run deficits

Ford has said a PC government would run a deficit in its first year in power, but now the party says it doesn't know when it will balance the budget.

"There are so many unknowns," said Fedeli, adding that a PC government would take a "responsible and reasonable approach." He also said the PCs would want to wait for the commission's findings on the true state of the province's books after 15 years of Liberal rule.

This isn't the first time Ontarians have heard this story.

When the Liberals came into power in 2003 under Dalton McGuinty, they said that the previous PC government had left a hidden fiscal shortfall of $5.6 billion.

Clarifications

  • An earlier version of this story said it's "unlikely" the Ontario PC party will provide a fully costed spending plan. In fact, a party spokesperson has told CBC News that one is coming.
    May 11, 2018 1:15 PM ET

About the Author

Joanne Chianello

City affairs analyst

Joanne Chianello is an award-winning journalist and CBC Ottawa's city affairs analyst. You can email her at joanne.chianello@cbc.ca or tweet her at @jchianello.