Rivers: Does it really matter how high the fiscal debt goes once we’ve destroyed our way of life here?

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

May 21st, 2018



Mr. Ford says he’ll cut the gas taxes at the pump by 5.7 cents? And perhaps the oil companies will reduce the price of gas after he kills the cap-and-trade carbon program, maybe giving him the ten cents he’s promising to deliver. That may sound pretty good but I already get three cents off just for using my credit card at Petro-Canada stations. And then there’s another 5-10 cents off when I use my Petro-Points.


It’s just the old shell game, playing pennies, taking from transit and giving to the auto crowd, robbing the mayors to pay the Premier.

And big deal, I saved all of $1.47 on my last fill up. Oh, and to fund this promise Mr. Ford will be cutting the gas tax transfers the province gives municipalities for public transit – some billion dollars or so – meaning it’ll cost you more for that next bus ride. It’s just the old shell game, playing pennies, taking from transit and giving to the auto crowd, robbing the mayors to pay the Premier.

But it’s the climate change stupid! National geographic has reported that the last two decades have been the hottest in over 400 years. The earth has had the warmest consecutive 400 months of record high temperatures. And the accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere is higher than it has been for almost a million years.

Don’t believe the statistics? Look at the melting polar ice caps and glaciers, the world’s declining coral reefs, the rate at which desertification is happening and the rate at which species are becoming extinct, including the polar bear, sooner than later. Look at the weird winter we just had and the near hurricane strength freak windstorm a couple weeks ago, which took several lives and kept parts of Burlington in the dark for over three days.

Climate change - polar bears on flows

Evidence based decision making – what does one do if they don’t like the evidence.

Higher gasoline prices are economic disincentives – they encourage people to shift to less polluting transportation, like hybrid cars, electric vehicles (EV) and public transportation and to reduce their carbon emissions. And incentives are needed beyond the pump. Ontario’s cap-and-trade system forces all large emitters to reduce their emissions to become more competitive.

Subsidies and rebates on home insulation and efficient windows help reduce energy use and save the consumer money as well as reducing greenhouse gases. And the development of renewable electricity is critical to replace coal and other fossil fuels as Ontario has done in shutting down the largest point source of carbon emissions in Canada.

The value/cost of Mr. Ford’s election promises dwarf those of the other two main parties. Yet, Mr. Ford has been the strongest critic of the current government for not balancing its budget sooner and reducing Ontario’s public debt. Indeed, there are a number of good reasons to knock down the size of our fiscal debt. But most folks end up arguing that it is about fairness. “How moral is it to bequeath the next generation a whacking big financial bill?”

student demonstration

Our youth are not marching about, nor protesting, Ontario’s relatively high debt levels.

Young people can and do speak for themselves when it matters. When I was young we marched for civil rights and against the Vietnam war and nuclear weapons. After the last recession (2008) our youth led the protests over financial power and misuse of that power by Wall and Bay streets. More recently high school students have marched across the USA to protest the obscene number of school shootings. In the UK those who were too young to vote against Brexit feel cheated by the outcome and are demanding a new referendum.

But our youth are not marching about, nor protesting, Ontario’s relatively high debt levels. Perhaps they understand that incurring debt after the last recession was the price we had to pay for Ontario to get back on its feet, achieving the lowest unemployment in nearly two decades and the strongest economic growth in the G7.

Perhaps they appreciate that debt helped finance the free tuition, youth pharmacare, and extra costs for early education which will better prepare Ontario’s youth for the future. And they no doubt can grasp that much of this debt has gone towards investing in transportation and other capital infrastructure which they will also inherit.

Perhaps they understand that the debt is only money after all – and if we really wanted to, we could eventually pay it down much as we did the large stranded $40 billion Ontario Hydro debt. And perhaps they understand that we could have paid off those annual deficits except for the recurring chant of ‘more tax cuts’ by those best positioned to pay them.

Indeed If we asked them, our youth would likely hone in on what they are most concerned about – their most important inheritance – the state of health of the planet we live on. Even though the climate experts can’t predict the fate of the planet with absolute certainty they are warning about higher ocean levels, loss of species, more severe storms, droughts and flooding as strong possibilities. And the list of potential benefits is extremely short.

sunrise + youth

Whatever we do today – it will be in their hand tomorrow.

And so it is unsurprising that youth would be more concerned about this starship earth, rather than balancing the budget and eliminating the debt. Does it really matter how high the fiscal debt goes once we’ve destroyed our way of life here? For this reason, youth tend to dominate the membership of political entities, like the Green Party, which are unequivocal in their demands to protect the environment and mitigate climate changes as best we can.

One provincial MPP recently proposed that we lower the voting age to 16. After all, those 16 year olds have more at stake, come election time, than any 50 or 60 year old. It’s just mathematics – they will be around longer and policies like those affecting the environment, education and even the fiscal debt will affect them more than it will the elderly. And they are unlikely to be bribed, nor to sell their vote to Mr. Ford for the couple of lousy bucks he’s offering them at the gas pumps.

Rivers hand to faceRay Rivers writes regularly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking.  Rivers was once a candidate for provincial office in Burlington.  He was the founder of the Burlington citizen committee on sustainability at a time when climate warming was a hotly debated subject.     Tweet @rayzrivers



Background links:

Ten Cents Maybe –   Ontario Gas Tax –   Highest Carbon

Highest Warming –   Monthly Warming –   16 Year Old Voting

Green Party

Return to the Front page
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

9 comments to Rivers: Does it really matter how high the fiscal debt goes once we’ve destroyed our way of life here?

  • Ray Rivers

    Thanks for your comments all – Mike I have never liked the ‘fair tax plan’ – the ide of subsidizing the cost of electricity on the one hand and promoting and subsidizing electricity conservation on the other. In fact expanded demand for electricity would help reduce the financial liabilities associated with the guaranteed and feed-in-tariff contracts, since it would ensure that what is paid for is closer to what is actually being used.

    And the defence of those contracts from a public policy perspective is the infant industry argument. Rate payers are effectively subsidizing the electricity supply system to ensure there is adequate capacity of clean energy to keep the lights on and for the greater needs of tomorrow. It could have been managed better perhaps – as for example bringing back Ontario Hydro.

  • Larry

    Ray, eloquently put

  • Mike

    Ray, I guess my several comments relating to debt and deficit are getting traction as it this article seems to distract that topic by tying in climate change.

    As I said in my last commentary (part 2) on the HydroOne article. The Green Energy plan had promise. It was the way this government set it up that was wrong …not disclosing to Ontarian’s how many $billions this was going to cost and setting aside a fund to pay for it. This certainly could have been directly linked to change behaviour for transportation and would need to be fully transparent to get buy in but none of that was done.

    And in a sign of true hypocrisy to climate change from Wynne and her colleagues, they borrow another $40 billion off our credit card to defer hydro payments on everyone’s behalf in an attempt to save the election. They don’t care about the environment in the least. All they care about is being in power to tell us how to live by spending money they don’t have.

    Who doesn’t want all drugs, childcare, all medical, etc. paid for on their behalf. The reality is our capability to provide services in healthcare, or drugs, or social services of every kind, has far outstripped our collective capability to pay.

    That said, if we are serious about getting better funded daycare, let’s get our portion back of the equalization payment going to QC ($9 billion last year). That would fund a fantastic daycare service. QC’s economy can’t be that if they can give Bombardier a billion $, who then in turn gets itself bought out. I wonder where that billion $ went?

  • D.Duck

    Way to tag Ford with causing Climate Change.

    As for today’s youth, they “are not marching about, nor protesting, Ontario’s relatively high debt levels.” Perhaps that is because the majority of today’s youth live at home and don’t pay taxes as they are 16yo? Perhaps today’s older youth are living in their parents’ basements as they can’t find full time non-contract jobs even though Ontario has the lowest unemployment and the strongest economic growth in the G7 (Statistical semantics). Perhaps today’s youth don’t understand what debt and the deficit (which you truly don’t mention at all) are and what it will mean to them in the long run if they stay in Ontario? Perhaps today’s youth don’t understand the bureaucratic quagmire and fiscal mismanagement caused by this gov’t and what could have been done with all the BILLIONS of wasted and misspent tax coffers? Perhaps todays’s youth don’t understand the deplorable healthcare crisis this gov’t has perpetuated as their age group rarely needs chronic care.

    Today’s youth do understand what climate change is and are proactive in this cause. Thanks be to God, Jehovah, Allah or whoever. Today’s youth will always go Green in whatever they purchase. Burlington Green is an outstanding grass roots organization that examplifys youth engagement, education and community involvement. It is our age group that needs a smack upside the head for driving gasoline cars into TO instead of taking the transit.

    As for Wynne’s voting buying with free tuition (it does not cover full tuition, nor does it cover full room & board or books even if you meet the criteria), youth pharmacare (OHIP+ is already being abused by individuals >24yo using scripts given to their younger sibling or offsprings for their own needs) helps with common generic meds which stymies research and innovation into new drugs. Nor does OHIP+ help today’s youth who have chronic debilitating disease(s) needing expensive medications.

    My hope is that ‘Ontario Election Watchdog’ finds Ford in breech of the Elections Act and he is forced to resign! This would hopefully place either Ms. Elliott or Ms. Mulroney into the candidate race. Either one of this individuals has more integrity and common sense than Ford or Wynne combined. But I am sure that you, Ray, will find a way to link them to the Biblical Flood or perhaps to Ebola??

  • Donna Z

    Terrific article Ray.

  • Ebsers

    Well said!

  • Hans

    Until governments start forbidding the sale of propane fired “patio heaters” and “outdoor fireplaces”, I won’t believe that our society is taking the climate change problem seriously.

  • craig gardner

    Excellent column with lots I hope for everyone to think about. Great job!