Pound foolish

Penny wise and pound foolish is a tired axiom, but it applies aptly to some recent moves of Ontario’s government.

In the aftermath of the provincial budget brought down earlier this month, we’re beginning to see the actual impact of the cuts announced to numerous ministries in the budget. 

The Progressive Conservative government announced in the April 11 budget plans to downsize the number of public-health units in the province from 35 to 10. Then last Thursday, Health Ministry officials told public health representatives from across Ontario that provincial funding for some programs would be cut by as much as 50 per cent, with municipalities expected to fund the gap.

Responding to questions about the cuts on a Toronto radio show, Premier Doug Ford explained, public health workers “… are the folks that go around and go into restaurants and put the little stickers on saying it’s safe to eat here…”

If that sounds a bit dismissive (maybe he was thinking about the folks that go around and put partisan promotional stickers on gas pumps), it could be because you’re among those who look at food safety inspections as fairly vital work. Public health units also:

– prepare for, detect, and respond to infectious disease outbreaks and environmental incidents;

– promote immunization, environmental and occupational health, infection prevention and control; and  

– deal with potential and actual health emergencies.

Also last week the government turned on Ontario’s beleaguered conservation authorities, cutting their funding for flood management programs in half. Conservation Ontario, which represents the province’s 36 conservation authorities, stated cuts will be felt immediately, particularly in smaller and more rural areas.

“Cutting natural hazards funding is particularly problematic right now in light of the fact that – like everywhere else – Ontario is experiencing stronger and more frequent flood events as a result of climate change impacts,” Conservation Ontario general manager Kim Gavine said in a statement.

The move comes only two years removed from devastating floods that struck this region, particularly Minto and Mapleton, in June of 2017, sparking a wave of local concern about adequacy of existing flood protection measures.

The province had been providing $7.4 million to conservation authorities for flood prevention. On its website, Conservation Ontario points out flooding is Ontario’s “leading cause of public emergency” and Conservation Authorities prevent more than $100 million per year in flood damages.

Cuts to flood prevention funding seem a lot like cancelling your insurance policy to save the premium cost, which you can afford, and crossing your fingers you won’t be hit with a disaster, which you can’t.

The same goes for nickel and diming public health agencies, which both prevent and react to emergencies. The cost of failure is likely to eclipse any short-term savings.

It’s true that Ontario faces a fiscal deficit and that reducing it would be beneficial, but nobody said it would be easy. Or did they?

During the election campaign that brought him to power Ford promised to bring the books toward balance by finding $6 billion in “efficiencies,” while at the same time promising, “Under our government … not one single person will lose their job.”

Could it really be that simple? Time will tell.