And new chiefs on deck
ABOVE THE FOLD
THE UPSHOT FROM PUBLIC ACCOUNTS — Call it Christmas for financial wonks. Newly shuffled Treasury Board President CAROLINE MULRONEY and Finance Minister PETER BETHLENFALVY tabled the latest Public Accounts, the actual spending for 2022-23 — and they’re chockfull of juicy fiscal nuggets.
— Making it rain for Tory-tied firms: A bunch of Ford government-friendly consultants got big payouts from the quasi-partisan, taxpayer-funded Progressive Conservative Caucus Services Bureau.
While that’s not unusual — governments of all stripes have hired from their own camps to do internal polling, advertising, speechwriting and beyond (recall the Liberals gave more than $2 million to the Gandalf Group, Bensimon Byrne and more) — at this moment, it’s not the greatest optics for a government that’s still roiling from the Greenbelt debacle.
Case in point: Atlas Strategic Advisors, the firm run by AMIN MASSOUDI — Premier DOUG FORD’s former-principal-secretary-turned-lobbyist who was on that sketchy Vegas trip — received $237,300 from the bureau last year. Massoudi, who left his post in PO in 2022, continued to work for the PCs and provided comms and speechwriting support.
The usual suspects: As this newsletter has pointed out every year, PC pollster NICK KOUVALIS’s companies — Campaign Research and Campaign Support — continues to get PC cash, raking in a combined $566,240.
Creative Currency — headed up by DENNIS MATTHEWS, a former manager of advertising for then-PM STEPHEN HARPER whose firm helped produce the PCs election campaign — including the “Get it Done” slogan, catchy jingle and colour scheme — earned $565,000.
— A not-so-rosy deficit: What is more unusual about the Public Accounts, according to BRIAN LEWIS, the province’s retired chief economist, now-senior fellow and lecturer at U of T’s Munk School, is that the deficit clocked in at $5.9 billion.
That’s up from the latest quarterly report, which pegged the budget-hole at $2.2-billion. It’s “very unusual for the finalized deficit figure to be higher than the interim estimate” and “is surprising given the prudence that was embedded in the spring document interim estimates,” Lewis told me. Still, it’s lower than the nearly $20-billion shortfall that was projected in the 2022 budget.
The government’s line: Bethlenfalvy said the change was “pretty reasonable” and owed in large part to higher tax revenue, a result of sky-high inflation and strong economic growth post-pandemic.
Big contingency fees fuelled higher-than-expected spending, including $6.3 billion for liabilities related to Indigenous Treaty rights. Another $2.5 billion earmarked for contingent liabilities is — according to the Liberals — proof that wage-capping Bill 124 withheld “hard-earned pay from Ontario’s critical frontline workers.” (That figure corresponds with a potential retroactive backpay estimate from the Financial Accountability Office.)
And the rest: Health spending came in at $1.4 billion less-than-planned, thanks to decreased demand for Covid vaccines and testing. Education and children’s services spending was up, to $34.5 billion, owed mainly to increased demand, including implementing Ottawa’s new daycare deal.
SCOOP — MEET THE CHIEFS
The post-shuffle chiefs-of-staff shakeup continues, with the Premier’s Office putting out names piecemeal. The latest: