TORONTO - The Canadian Taxpayers Federation urged the Ontario government Monday to slash $13 billion in spending to balance the books in 2014 and start paying down some of the province's record debt.
Ontario's debt doubled under 10 years of Liberal rule to $272.8 billion, which cost $10.6 billion this year just to pay the interest, said CTF director Candice Malcolm.
"There are real consequences to carrying this much debt," she said. "This is the third largest, and fastest growing expenditure in our budget."
The government can't afford to keep shelling out more in interest charges without actually making payments to lower the debt, added Malcolm.
"This is just a small part of the debt that we owe, which also includes federal debt and most of us owe municipal debt plus any personal debt," she said. "When you look at the larger debt component, for people in Ontario it's quite scary."
The government could save $2.7 billion by ending "corporate welfare" â€” grants to businesses â€” and could save even more by killing the full-day kindergarten program for four- and five-year-olds, said Malcolm.
"We call on the government to scrap dumb policies like the $1.5-billion full-day kindergarten program, which was hastily introduced ... against the advice of child development doctors," she said.
"There are unfortunately no shortage of dumb policies here in Ontario."
The taxpayers' lobby also wants the government to end the 10 per cent rebate on electricity bills, which cost $1 billion a year, and to kill the 30 per cent tuition discount for most college and university students. It also wants the controversial Green Energy Act repealed and the Liquor Control Board privatized.
The Progressive Conservatives applauded the CTF for focusing on the need to eliminate the deficit as quickly as possible.
"Finally we have people standing up and joining our party, quite frankly, in pitching a balanced budget," said PC finance critic Vic Fedeli.
"Certainly the government has no intention to balance as we saw in the fall economic statement when they talked about going on a spending spree."
The Liberals signalled last fall that they would try to stick to their deficit reduction schedule, but said they would not stop spending on new programs to get the economy back on track.
The cuts the CTF is proposing would be more than enough to eliminate Ontario's projected deficit of $11.7 billion, and leave some to make a payment to lower the actual debt, added Malcolm.
However, Finance Minister Charles Sousa says "zero deficits mean nothing if we have zero jobs and zero growth," and the Liberals remain on track to balance the books by 2017-18.
But the Conservatives said it's the debt and deficit that is hurting businesses today.
"Companies like to locate where there's good management and they are leaving Ontario," said Fedeli, pointing to recent plant closures announced by Kelloggs, Heinz and Caterpillar.
"They're still making cereal, they're still making ketchup, they're still making earth-moving equipment," said Fedeli. "They're just not making them in Ontario any more."