Premier Ford—one of the biggest spenders in Ontario history
As the policy community and other observers prepare to assess the Ford government’s upcoming budget, it’s worthwhile to consider the government’s record in historical context, and compare its performance on spending to its predecessors.
Let’s start with the growth in program spending (all government spending excluding debt interest payments). As noted in a new study, on this metric the Ford government lands in the middle of the pack. During Premier Ford’s time in office to-date, spending has significantly outstripped the combined effect of inflation and population growth. In fact, inflation-adjusted per-person spending has increased by 2.4 per cent annually during his time in office.
This is not the highest rate of spending growth among recent premiers. Ernie Eves, David Peterson and Dalton McGuinty all increased spending at a faster rate than Ford has so far.
But several premiers increased spending at a slower rate than Ford including Bill Davis, Mike Harris and, perhaps surprisingly to some, Kathleen Wynne and Bob Rae who both had spending growth rates that were meaningfully lower than Ford’s.
The rate of spending growth, however, is not the only measure of a government’s commitment to fiscal restraint. The spending level a government inherits is also relevant. For instance, Wynne and Rae both inherited spending levels that had been recently significantly increased by their predecessors (McGuinty and Peterson respectively).
To account for this factor, it’s useful to consider not just the rate of growth, but also the level of spending during each government’s term in office.
The infographic above shows that Premier Ford has been one of the biggest spenders in Ontario’s history. In fact, spending under Premier Ford has consistently been higher than it was under Wynne—who the Progressive Conservatives criticized frequently in Opposition as a big spender.
If we extract emergency COVID-related spending, we see that 2021 (under Premier Ford) was the second-highest year on record in terms of inflation-adjusted per-person spending. The only year when spending was higher was 2010 under McGuinty, when a surge of stimulus spending pushed program expenditures to an all-time high.
This analysis shows that if we exclude emergency COVID sending, McGuinty is the only premier who has outspent Ford in recent years, and then only in one year (2010). With inflation-adjusted per-person spending growing at 2.4 per cent annually, Premier Ford is closing the gap and could soon overtake McGuinty as having the highest year of spending in Ontario’s history.
Comparing premiers in terms of real per-person spending and its growth rate sheds light on their approach to an important dimension of fiscal policy. In terms of spending growth, the Ford government lands in the middle of the pack of recent premiers, but has significantly outspent its predecessor Wynne and is closing the gap with McGuinty’s record-setting spending level in 2010.
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