TORONTO – Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa was not ruling out tax increases as he headed into pre-budget consultations.
“I would prefer to talk about the budget on budget day,” Sousa said. “I recognize the importance of revenue as wel as controlling expenses.”
Sousa said he will deliver a budget this spring that keeps the government on track to eliminate its deficit by 2017-18, currently pegged at $12.5 billion.
The minister was in Toronto Friday for the traditional pre-budget consultations that take place throughout the province, giving stakeholder groups a chance to make a pitch for what they’d like to see in the budget.
Progressive Conservative finance critic Vic Fedeli said Sousa has already heard loudly through pre-budget consultations that last year’s budget hike in aviation fuel tax hurt the economy.
Sousa may not be talking right now about more tax increases but they’re on their way, Fedeli predicted.
“We know they’re going to be bringing a carbon tax at exactly the time when our fragile economy can’t handle any new taxes,” Fedeli said. “And we know businesses are bracing themselves for the Ontario Registered Pension tax. These are two job-killing taxes that the Liberals are bringing.”
Sousa said his budget will increase spending in education and health care, though at lower rates in the past, and continue to invest with business in initiatives that create and retain jobs.
Spending in general, including on public sector compensation agreements, will have to be restrained, he said.
“We must continue to provide for net zeros in the negotiations that we have with our partners to ensure that we continue to curb our spending in terms of out program spending,” Sousa said, referring to his government’s position that there be no increase in the funding envelope for doctors, teachers, government staff and other public sector workers.
Sousa said he’s also interested in continuing to pursue people through Canada Revenue who are not paying their “fare share” of taxes.
Fedeli said credit rating agencies have made it clear, even as they downgraded Ontario debt, that the only reason the province’s rating hasn’t dipped lower is because the government has shown a willingness in the past to pursue new revenue streams.
The Ontario Liberals brought in the health premium and more recently have increased taxes on high earners.
Fedeli said the government has also introduced $10 billion in new spending just in the past two years.
“Nobody believes them,” Fedeli said, of the government’s commitment to contain spending and balance the books.