The much anticipated Ontario Budget was delivered on March 27 and it looks as though we may be waiting a while longer to see just how the Ontario Government, (assuming it survives the budget vote), plans to “reform Ontario’s Public Services” as recommended in the Drummond Report. The focus on any budget shouldn’t be just on saving money, but doing things better. And, in order to do so, we need to take a look at the bigger picture today, and down the road.
Short on specifics, the budget is rich with language that could signal substantive reform if the government remains in power long enough to deliver on this change agenda.
Environment gets scarce mention in the budget because the priority is a focus on limiting government spending and achieving a balance of revenues and expenditures by 2017. Besides, spending on the environment could be eliminated and the government would still have a huge deficit problem – we just don’t spend a lot of the budget on the environment despite some pretty serious, long term, growing challenges particularly around water and climate change.
However, there is a significant reference to saving taxpayers’ money, disentangling services and streamlining the regulatory burden, all of which are not only laudable, but essential in a climate of low economic growth and increasing health care costs.
One recommendation of the Drummond Report that is mentioned has to do with the disentanglement of services that are currently delivered by multiple levels of government. “
wants to work with the federal government to disentangle programs where policy areas are shared to remove duplication, saving taxpayers’ money and providing better services to citizens.” As agencies that have direct experience with the waste and inefficiency that results from shared and overlapping jurisdictions, especially in water and natural resources management, Conservation Authorities are optimistic that this vision is achievable, provided the right players are at the table with a serious mandate to fix the system. Ontario
Of course, the federal government could decide to pre-empt such discussions and recent reports of impending changes to the Fisheries Act, the Species at Risk Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act suggest that might happen. The province might consider steps to engage the federal government sooner rather than later so that ‘disentanglement’ discussions aren’t simply a matter of provincial ministries agreeing on ways to streamline services and regulatory compliance!