Yikes — education sector in Ontario responsible for half the deficit

Oh, I know, parents love the full-day JK/SK program, also referred to as the ELP (Early Learning Program). But, think about it. Before it started a few years ago, the same 3 1/2, 4 and 5 year olds did very well attending school for only half a day, with the other half of their day in daycares or with grandma. In fact, they likely did better because a full day for a 3 1/2 year old is very long indeed.

Anyway, one of the reasons young parents like the ELP is because it is ostensibly free. But, like all those entitlements we hear about in Greece, they are not free at all because all Ontario taxpayers are paying for the program — actually going into debt to pay for it. Meaning, it is far from being a free program. Meaning, those same kids who are attending ELP now will still be paying for their pre-school education when they are retired.  

Yes, Early Childhood Educators were supposed to run the program, which would have made it somewhat less expensive.  But the teachers’ unions insisted that only a “qualified” teacher during the entire day would suffice. Never mind that individuals with an ECE diploma are actually better qualified to teach such young children. I know, I used to train both!

Anyway, Christina Blizzard tells us that Don Drummond, a former TD bank economist, is about to unleash 362 recommendations for the Dalton McGuinty Government to get out of deficit. (H/T Joanne)

But, do the Ontario Liberals have the stomach to do the right thing?  Think about it. There is allegedly a $16 billion deficit. According to Blizzard’s calculations, the full-day ELP will be $1.5 billion annually once fully implemented. It is also known that it will costs a couple of billion dollars to maintain the Teachers’ Pension Plan, payments which are guaranteed under legislation. There is another $3 billion outstanding for teacher sick-leave pay outs upon retirement. And, none of those potential savings, now or in the future, involves a pay freeze for the education sector.

You have to laugh though, just how Drummond expects McGuinty to implement any of these savings. Blizzard says he’s — wait for it — critical of the way Mike Harris made his sweeping across-the-board cuts to public services. So, just how does Drummond think you can make cuts without cutting services?

Magical thinking because it can’t be done. Imagine, for example, when McGuinty’s “jewel in the crown” for his time in office — the ELP — is cut. Thousands of Ontario parents and their children would be disrupted which would have far more impact than any cuts Mike Harris ever made.

I know because I worked for a Harris era MPP. The only real cuts were to welfare payments and public programs that were duplicated throughout the province. For example, Housing Help programs were cut in communities where there wasn’t a housing crisis. For the most part, the rest of the cuts were out of each ministry budget.

And, no there were no cuts to health care or education between 1995 and 1999. As I have stated in other posts, the $400 million cut from hospital budgets was re-allocated to long term care and home care. Similarly with education. The actual annual budget went up. What happened was that the funding formula was changed so that both Catholic and secular systems received the same per pupil dollar. That was about fairness, not cuts.  

Anyway, it will be interesting to see what the McGuinty government actually does about the (and our grand-children’s and great-grand-children’s) Ontario deficit, if anything, apart from wringing their hands and blaming Mike Harris.

Endnote: Remember, in the spring of 2003, the Ontario PC government of Erne Eves balanced its budget. Between then and the October 2003 election, a few months later, we had the SARS crisis, which is why the Liberals were handed over a $5 billion deficit. That deficit was not due to over spending or mismanagement, as is the case with the McGuinty deficit.  It was because of a contagious health crisis.

Yet, the Liberals have tripled that debt and they and Drummond have the nerve to blame Mike Harris, when he had already retired in 2002, at the time of continuous balanced budgets. Here is a link regarding the 1999 balanced budget. 

Note also this CBC source about the 2003 budget tabled outside the Legislature and critiqued by none other than Don Drummond. I note that the media distrust was very similar then to the way it is now about all things federal Conservative Government.


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Sandy is a retired educator, author & former conservative political strategist. She operated the first "Crux of the Matter" from 2006 until 2017 and opened this "Crux of the Matter 2.0" blog in late August, 2018.

32 thoughts on “Yikes — education sector in Ontario responsible for half the deficit

  1. I had a conversation with an acquaintance of mine who until recently worked for a Liberal MPP, who insisted the government would eliminate the deficit through efficiencies without cutting public servants.

    I pointed out that being efficient means doing more with less resources, in this case less human resources.; therefore, we’d have too many public servants and not enough work.

    He couldn’t get it though his head that efficiencies would lead to layoffs and descended into gobbly-gook Liberal-speak insisted they’d create a better more equitable society society where nobody would ever be laid off…


  2. Cool Blue, its pure magical thinking. Cutting $16 billion dollars that don’t involve cuts to someone or some group’s services or programs? Just ask the Greeks. They’ll tell you all about more equitable societies. Blah, blah, blah.

    Look, I get a modest reduced teachers pension (because I was always sessional at the university level meaning no pension for the last half of my career). I also recently started receiving the OAS. If there are cuts, so be it. That’s life. We are not all entitled to specific entitlements.

    Speaking of Greece, I have my worries. The EU keeps calling for ever more cuts. However, at some points, the cuts have to stop because the Greeks have to eat and they need health care and basic education. The last thing the world needs is the Greek equivalent in 2012 of the Irish potato famine of 1845 — when millions died because of the financial folly and greed of others.


  3. Not all parents like the full day K program Sandy. It rolled out very differently in rural and small town Ontario than it did in larger urban centres and caused more grief that it did anything else. With a declining enrollment in our schools and fewer children period this was the wrong program at exactly the wrong time and as has been discussed here more than a few times unsustainable once the unions got their mitts on those ECEs. It also pit municipalities against their schools and boards, pretty much creating disruption where there was community peace and harmony BEFORE this program rolled out.

    From the day that McGuinty stumped out his announcement of this program even he admitted that it was going to cost more than we could afford…yet they went full steam ahead anyway.

    I expect that what will happen is that boards might be given the green light to opt out of the program if it’s not working for them.

    I also expect that with an aging population that in the coming years, with fewer families having school aged children there’s going to be a need for that aging population of taxpayers and voters to decide what’s more important? I know that in my own community, last time I checked, I was told that fewer than 26% of families have kids in school but we have WAY more elderly and 50+ baby boomers making up our population that are wanting their money to go to assure that they get good healthcare.

    If the full-day K had been rolled out anything close to what Charles Pascal envisioned we wouldn’t be here now in this position.

    Have you also heard that boards are now finding it difficult to allow students to take an extra year to graduate. Remember that good old Victory Lap? I can see the gov’t putting an end to that practice too. Maybe even turning school boards into LHINS type of groupings?


  4. If Hudak runs on or even speaks against the ELP his support will start dropping. If McGuinty even slows it down he will bleed votes to the NDP. The part you are quite correct about is that it is very popular. It is also highly educationally valuable, the literature on this is rock solid. The OECD says best reform a country could possibly make.

    There is only one way out of the vice grip for McGuinty, revenue enhancement AKA tax increases. Any other path is suicide.


  5. Doug — You may have missed Catherine’s point at 3:15pm. Not all communities or schools want the ELP.

    Tax increases? I just did my taxes. They are back up to 58% of federal, the top end like when Bob Rae was Premier. And, you want them higher? All that will do is kill investment and job creation and make Ontario even more of a have-not province.

    Socialism just doesn’t work Doug. Strange that you, of all people wouldn’t know that. It takes away all personal ambition.

    Yes, you are a former OSSTF guy and high school teacher. But, your wife also depends on the private sector being strong because she owns a Toronto area university prep school for Asian students. You will surely kill that business with high private tuitions and high taxes, particularly since our dollar is now at U.S. par

    Your head must be like a wind vane, flip, flip, turning left or right depending on what you are doing.

    Look, I am not making fun of you. You have been commenting here for years. I keep your Little Education Report link on my favourites. I have watched you on TVO. But, man, I have never meant anyone who is so “not” congruent. Well, now, there is at least one other, such as that fellow on the National the other night, the CAW economist. Here he works for people who earn huge salaries and pensions and he only talks about the very poor and how bad the federal Conservative government is to even consider reforming OAS.

    Yes, we need to take care of the poor, but you’d swear you and he were hard done by.

    It’s called hypocrisy!


  6. I particularly like this second to last paragraph when Gunter says:
    The reason Ontario has fallen behind in the last decade or so is that federally and provincially it has too often supported politicians (mostly Liberals) who have pursued the sort of daft ideas you often see advocated by the Star’s editorialists. High taxes, cumbersome labour regulations, green energy schemes and favouritism for unions are choking Ontario’s growth by encouraging the province’s employers to move new jobs elsewhere.”



  7. He didn’t miss my point Sandy…he avoided it and spun his own opinion. Nothing more.

    The writing’s on the wall, has been for a long time. You knew it, I knew it and most others knew it too…don’t forget Kelly McParland’s column…..Alberta’s in for a trap too if they stick with the progressives (that’s got to be the new “f” word).


  8. “If Hudak runs on or even speaks against the ELP his support will start dropping.”

    Wrong. He can’t lose Doug, given that when McGuinty acts on Drummond’s recommendation Dalton will be the one losing votes and credibility. Shot himself in the foot he did. Try as you might, it’s the unionizing of those ECE that sunk the ELP from the very beginning. Sustainable.


  9. “Tax increases? I just did my taxes. They are back up to 58% of federal, the top end like when Bob Rae was Premier. And, you want them higher? All that will do is kill investment and job creation and make Ontario even more of a have-not province. ”

    Yes Sandy. In McGuinty’s Ontario it’s cost us all more to get considerably less.


  10. To be honest, my daughter is in full-day junion kindergarden and we love it. I’m very impressed by her school and the education she’s getting so far. She’s only 4 and she can already read and write basic words.

    If they got rid of full day kindergarden that would put a big dent in our plans. With the cost of daycare for both of our kids one of us would have to stay home because daycare would be more than my income.


  11. There are parents who like full-day K. Making it mandatory was the mistake I believe, for the simple reason that not all families need it. Nor can all boards afford it based on the numbers of children in their community. We still have a large number of stay-at-home parents, and lots of private home daycares that people trust and are happy with.

    It’s a matter of choice I guess. It’s becoming clearer that to mandate anything in Ontario isn’t going to be received the same way in every part of the province.


  12. Cool Blue – could I ask you a question? Would it have mattered to you one way or the other if the full-day JK person who taught your daughter to read and write basic words was an ECE or certified teacher?

    What I like to read in your post is that your daughter’s getting the basics…which many kids still don’t get once they hit SK or Grade 1.


  13. Is it mandatory? I thought it was optional for parents? I know not all the schools around here offer it.


  14. Mandatory for all boards to offer the program…not mandatory for all parents to choose it. Sorry.


  15. Cool Blue — As Catherine says, likely communities will have a choice, to keep the ELP or not. Likely the bigger centres will keep it. However, it might be a good idea to have an alternative arrangement in case. Mind you, nothing will happen immediately.

    My great-grandson is 3 1/2. His mother, my oldest granddaughter, just signed him up last week for full-day JK next September. I look at him and cringe. He is just out of babyhood for goodness sake. He’ll be exhausted by the end of the day, nap or not — and knowing how active he is, likely not.

    Bottom line — long term we can’t afford the ELP. So, at some point, tough love will be necessary and a majority of Ontario voters will make sure there is a change in government.


  16. What Cool Blue wrote at 4:03pm is similar to what any of us could say, depending on where we are on life’s continuum. I could complain about possible changes to teacher’s pensions, the CPP or OAS. Others, like Cool Blue, could complain about the free day care available via the ELP. Still others something else, say farmer or green energy subsidies.

    Whatever. We all want to keep our entitlements.

    Which means, reform in Ontario and Canada is not going to be easy but it will have to be done if those little kids we are talking about are going to have the opportunities we have had.


  17. It’s not just entitlements, like I said, I find my daughter is doing very well educationally with it.

    I think it’s good to give the parents a choice to do ELP or not.

    IMO, there’s A LOT more wasteful spending that doesn’t provide benefits like ELP does that can be looked at.


  18. FYI: if education is responsible for half the deficit, how much of that is ELP responsible for?

    I suspect one of the major problems has been the huge wage increases McGuinty has given teachers.


  19. Your daughter may have done just as well educationally in another setting..one outside of a school proper though. Many parents who opt for nursery school or who manage to teach their kids the basics themselves get similar results.

    I asked you what I did because I think it’s proven a costly error to unionize ECEs….the unionizing doesn’t make them any more or less capable to teach the basics.


  20. Cool Blue — The ELP costs 1.5 Billion dollars out of the 16 billion because the Liberals have been in deficit since it began.

    The problem with any entitlement programs, and the ELP is definitely one of those, they affects individuals or families in some way. So no one wants to give up what they benefit from. It’s human nature.

    As a former teacher and teacher of teachers, I can concur with what Catherine is saying. Your daughter could have learned to read in nursery school as well — not simply a child care facility but a nursery school. ECE are excellent and have more training in cognitive development and play learning than regular teachers.

    When I say education is half the deficit, I am not even talking about teachers’salaries or money that pays for schools and boards of education. They are set costs. I was just talking about the ELP, because it is new and part of the fiscal problem, the teacher’s sick leave gratuity and the amount the taxpayer contributes to the Teacher’s Pension Board by law. In other words, the Gov’t of Ontario financially guarantees teachers their pensions in perpetuity. While I appreciate that benefit (entitlement), like you do the ELP, something is going to have to give and I know it and am planning ahead.


  21. He’s critical of Harris and doesn’t recommend the sweeping, across-the-board cuts to public services Harris brought in.

    Good catch on that point Sandy. So Drummond has lots of ideas but no clue how to implement them? Yeah, that’s helpful. Good grief.


  22. ELP is popular because it moves the cost and responsibility for day care away from a large percentage of parents. Do all parents like ELP? Of course not, but it is impossible to please the parents of every single child in the province.

    One has to remember, that the push to equalize education around the province occurred during the last PC governments. People complained about the high education costs with their property taxes, but that money was going into their local school boards. School boards had more freedom to run programs to suit their local communities rather than being overly mandated to run education based on a provincially created funding formula. There was a time that many school boards did not offer Junior Kindergarten because there was not a need or interest in it in some communities.

    There are people that will also complain that they don’t want to pay for some programs like ELP, but they also don’t want others to have the programs either even if other communities would like them. Perhaps a return to less provincial money (but greater local control) and more local funding might work in some areas. The province could fund the necessary programs and other programs would have to be funded by local communities if wanted.


  23. We still have to pay for it Matt. It’s not a free service.

    The failed promise of the McGuinty gov’t has little or nothing to do with what Harris did or didn’t do. Although some will still try and spin it that way. You know why my community ended up with JK? It was because of board amalgamation. It was imposed on us from the board we amalgamated with, even though it wasn’t offered when my kids started school. Even when it was many parents still opted not to send their children because it simply wasn’t needed. Some parents used it and didn’t need it, and found it a nice break for themselves during the day.

    School boards in this large province still DO run programs to suit their communities. Take the individual TDSB and other boards running alternative schools and ones based on culture or religion. The running of prayer services over lunch hours was a case of meeting the needs of the community. Northern boards also serve their own communities based on their location and needs.

    The prescriptive and mandatory nature of the roll-out of the ELP was a mistake and it was the wrong program at the wrong time for those boards struggling with enrollment or who were working well and in partnership with other childcare service providers.

    I hesitate to give one more dime to local boards until they get much better at accounting for what they get now. That’s still a black hole of spending in this province. Perhaps McGuinty should start looking at nixing school boards too…maybe he will. Wouldn’t hurt my feelings, as most trustees in my region would not be missed because they’ve become the school closing toadies of the gov’t.

    School boards don’t guarantee any local control or consideration any more Matt.


  24. Catherine said: “School boards don’t guarantee any local control or consideration any more Matt.”

    For the most part, that’s true. We have one or two trustees in the Niagara Region that stand alone — occasionally.

    You know why don’t you? When I was going to run for trustee in the fall of 2010, I changed my mind once I was given the “booklet” that the McGuinty gov’t provided for potential trustees.

    Rule # 1, once elected you must NEVER discuss or argue any issue publicly, i.e, with your constitutents, that has already been voted on by the whole board.

    In other words, trustees will be seen and not heard. Translated, that means no local control at all.

    For example, the ARC Committee is looking to close two high schools. There are seven high schools in St. Catharines and one in the City of Thorold. They are close to closing the one in Thorold. Now, how fair is that? Take the heart out of an entire city, as they did the Town of NOTL a year ago, while the main city keeps its high schools — although there is talk of closing one St. Catharines high school — Kernahan — the least popular one because, for most of its history, it was either a tech school or dedicated to those with special needs.

    So, because the ARC Committee is making the decision, the trustees will only have to rubber stamp that decision.

    It’s truly unbelievable what a Liberal government can get away with.


  25. Sandy, you hit on an important point I think when you talk of those two trustees who stand alone in defense of their local school communities. They are fast becoming a rare breed. Too many trustees become deer in the headlights and succumb to the thrill of becoming a pawn for the government and doing it’s dirty work, ie – closing schools and essentially carrying out the prescriptive dictates of Dalton McGuinty (I say Dalton McGuinty and NOT the Education Minister because I believe that Dalton has controlled the last two meek and mild Education Ministers since Kathleen Wynne….purposely.) Those stand-alone and stand-apart trustees are the ones doing the job they were elected to do. We need more of those.

    Ah, yes, the McGuinty doctrine of how to be a trustee. What a joke. I remember wondering how long it would take before trustees started to fight back for their schools and authority. Hasn’t happened yet that I can tell.

    Although, perhaps McGuinty had a hidden agenda all along to minimize trustees so that school councils could take over the running of their local schools? Wasn’t that the fear-mongering of the Annie Kidders and teacher unions?

    Too many trustees have become part of the flock the public distrusts. Distrust trustees? Any wonder there’s little incentive for people to run, or support school boards these days.

    Your post is making me chuckle Sandy because it’s all coming full circle for the McGuinty gov’t now.

    The money wasted by boards on things like memberships, magazine subscriptions, conferences, bribing parents to “engage” with their schools and yes, even the money that it costs to run ARCs has to be looked at VERY carefully. I remember that a trustee told me how shocked he was that school boards had to pay to belong to OPSBA…and it wasn’t cheap either. I think the fellow said that for our board the cost to belong to their own umbrella organization was upwards of $30,000 a year. NUTS!

    NOTE TO DALTON MCGUINTY – want to save money? I know a good place to start looking for savings. Rightfully, school boards should be declining in their numbers as student enrollment declines. Then again, how’s that going to work when in some small communities the school board office is the largest employer? How much sense does it make to close schools in small towns but keep the admin. running in the same town?

    A great snowy Saturday Sandy. I hear (from someone I just spoke to in your area that you’re snowed in too)


  26. Yes Catherine — We are snowed in too. But, it looks absolutely beautiful. We’ll wait for awhile before we shovel. Winter wonderland.


  27. Unfortunately in my area there’s only one true “nursery” within 60km and it has a two year waiting list.


  28. Sorry Catherine, I missed your question the first time.

    I don’t really care if its office teachers or ECEs doing the job.

    In fact, in our case we’ve got both teaching our daughter. The way the program works in our school is that one day she’s with the teacher and the JKs are mixed in with the SKs. The following day she’s goes to the room across the hall and she’s with an ECE and it’s just the JKs.

    Not sure if this is typical. For reference she’s in a French Catholic school.

    Again, I’m super impressed with this school. They even have time in the computer labs and science class. The class room has a computerized smartboard that the students operate by touch.


  29. Catherine mentioned that amalgamation was imposed on her community and subsequently some programs that her community did not want. If I remember, the fewer school boards act was created and implemented during the Harris years. The quest for standardized education means that communities may get programs that they do not want implement. It also increases the cost of education. Perhaps we need to look at the old system or a modified system.


  30. The problem Matt is not amalgamation. The problem is that boards did not even try to find efficiencies and there were plenty of them, starting with joint bus routes. For example, in my husband’s public board, we ended up with two of all the administration and their support staff from the Director on down. It was ridiculous. Plus, as Catherine says, some programs they didn’t want.

    The City of Toronto still, to this day, has not sold any unused property. The fact that the Harris gov’t made these changes was not simply for change sake. He was trying to find efficiencies. But, he couldn’t force anyone to do anything and they didn’t because they figured the Liberals would undo everything. As you will note, even after promising to undo amalgamation, McGuinty has done zip. Yet you and others still blame Harris. Look a little deeper.

    Not long ago my sister-in-law and her husband were visiting, both retired principals. She said “Harris ruined the education system.” My husband said that is pure B.S. and she was shocked. He went on to say you have bought the union propaganda. The only people who ruined the system are those in the system and their push towards passing everyone in the name of political correctness. Harris did not do that. Harris only implemented some new curriculum and amalgamated the boards. What went on in schools he had NOTHING to do with. Nothing. Zip.

    So, I am sick of the bitching and lies. I heard them all when I was working for the PC MPP and figured my colleagues wouldn’t believe the crap they were getting, but they did and that still sickens me.

    The PCs need to have an ad campaign setting the record straight. Because until they deal with those lies, they will not win government.

    The old system was not any more effective or special than the current one because those involved stonewalled all efficiencies. All it will be to go back to the old system or some type of modified system is more expensive.


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