"It's dangerous to go down a path of looking at reducing government expenditures and dealing with the deficit, in terms of public sector's programs and services, without talking to people." - Judy Wasylycia-Leis, Public Services Foundation of Canada chairperson.
By Peter Hendra, The Whig-Standard
Simply trimming public services isn't the only way the Ontario government can reduce its deficit, the head of a rival commission says.
Judy Wasylycia-Leis, a former MP who heads the Public Services Foundation of Canada's Commission on Quality Public Services and Tax Fairness, said Thursday the Ontario government-appointed commission headed by economist Don Drummond is simply looking at ways of saving money through cuts rather than also looking at how more money can be generated.
"He has not been given a mandate to looking at revenue options at all," Wasylycia-Leis said in an interview. "He's really operating without half the equation."
The Drummond Commission's report is expected by the end of the month. It's expected that the report will recommend some budgets be slashed by as much as 30%. Nothing will be spared, Drummond has told the media.
Wasylycia-Leis and the Public Services Foundation feel differently, however. It's important, she said, "to pursue revenue options so the Ontario government isn't locked into simply cutting back, downsizing, outsourcing and offloading as a means to deal with their fiscal requirements."
A number of guest speakers addressed the 50 or so people in attendance Thursday afternoon at a public meeting held upstairs at the Kingston Frontenac Public Library's central branch. Kingston was the first stop on the commission's 12-city Ontario tour to solicit public opinion of how to get the provincial deficit under control.
Another major flaw of the Drummond Commission, Wasylycia-Leis said, is that it hasn't bothered to hear what the public has to say.
"It's dangerous to go down a path of looking at reducing government expenditures and dealing with the deficit, in terms of public sector's programs and services, without talking to people," she said.
The presenters at the public meeting focused on flaws in the current tax system.
"Today, we heard primarily from folks who believe that there should be a levelling out of tax responsibility in terms of the corporate sector versus the individual sector," Wasylycia-Leis said, "and in terms of closing the wage gap between the wealthy and the poor.
"Those are very important suggestions that will be taken into account, but bear in mind it's the first day."
Wasylycia-Leis, who unsuccessfully ran to be mayor of Winnipeg in 2010, said that she isn't on the foundation's payroll, and that she is simply there to gather information with which to produce a report. That report is to be submitted before the Ontario government presents its budget.
"Of course, I come in, and this foundation comes in, with a perspective around the defence and the preservation of valuable public services, but that doesn't mean we're not open to receiving presentations and ideas for reform of those public services, for how the services are delivered, and if there are better ways we can meet the needs who, without them, would be forced into poverty and dire consequences," she said.
Wasylycia-Leis was encouraged by the turnout during the afternoon meeting and hoped it was indicative of what was to come in the coming weeks.
"We believe that the power of people speaking in such numbers as we saw today and with such passion as we saw today will have an impact on the government's final decisions and, if there is any kind of direction to try to focus only on reducing public services to deal with the deficit, that this will temper this," she said.
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