May 19, 2024
Mike Harris and Doug Ford: Both Ontario Conservative premiers pledged to cut taxes, but only one made good on that promise.

Build back common sense

Ontario and Canada both need a tax-cutting, budget-balancing, expenditure-reducing Mike Harris revolution like the one 30 years ago

Here’s a tale of two Ontario Premiers.

In May 1994, Progressive Conservative leader Mike Harris unveiled a Common Sense Revolution (CSR) election platform that promised to cut tax rates to produce more revenue for the government and more jobs in the economy while balancing the budget by the end of the first mandate. In June 2018, Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford promised tax cuts and a return to fiscal responsibility after years of Liberal “fiscalamity.”

Today, the Ford Conservatives have largely failed to cut taxes and instead have raised spending and deficits. Thirty years ago, however, Mike Harris Conservatives followed through on innovative policies that reduced taxes and spending and drove what the CSR document termed a “fundamental change” in government.

As we document in a chapter of a new Sutherland House book — The Harris Legacy: Reflections on a Transformational Premier — fundamental fiscal change did take place, the kind of change Ontario and Canada need to experience again.

The CSR’s fiscal goals were set out in bold, declaratory sentences: “This plan will cut your provincial income tax rate by 30 per cent . . . reduce non-priority government spending by 20 per cent . . . (and) fully balance the budget in four years.”

The Harris Conservatives were not alone in the neoliberal political arena, of course. They were local players in a global phenomenon. In Ottawa, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien was leading Canada through a major fiscal reform that culminated in a 1995 federal budget that set the federal government on a balanced budget path — four months before Ontarians elected Harris.

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