To fix Ontario’s finances, Drummond ‘absolutely’ has to consider health care, education – by Richard Blackwell (Globe and Mail-March 29, 2011)

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The economist in charge of figuring out how to wrestle Ontario’s budget deficit to the ground says he will look at every aspect of the province’s spending, including the key sectors of health care and education.

Don Drummond, a former Toronto-Dominion Bank chief economist who has advised federal and provincial governments many times in the past, has been appointed chairman of a commission with a mandate to figure out how to rejig the province’s public service so it is more efficient.

The province, in its budget tabled on Tuesday, said the Commission on the Reform of Ontario’s Public Services “will not make recommendations that would increase taxes or lead to the privatization of health care or education.” And Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said Mr. Drummond has “rejected the slash and burn approach.”

But in an interview on Tuesday, Mr. Drummond said he will consider almost anything to fix the province’s finances. He said health care and education are such huge components of the Ontario budget that he “absolutely” has to consider them.

With health care making up by far the largest proportion of government spending, and growing at about 6 per cent a year, it clearly is crucial to rein in spending in that sector, he said, even though it is the most sensitive politically.

“You can’t just waltz in there and say, ‘I’ve got a brilliant idea. Here’s how you can take money out of health care.’ If it jeopardizes access and quality, no one is going to stand up and applaud,” he said.

While it is clear that politicians and citizens want a single public payer for health care – in other words, a publicly funded system – “people are much less troubled right now by private-sector delivery,” he said.

The medical sector already has some private-sector players, such as laboratories.

Last year, Mr. Drummond co-authored a TD Bank report that suggested public health care in Canada is unsustainable the way it is currently organized. The sector would be taking up 80 per cent of total program spending in Ontario by 2030 if left unchecked, the report said.

Mr. Drummond said he considers his overall mandate on the Ontario commission is to figure out “how to deliver the best public services for a given amount of money.” With the government in a deep deficit that it is not planning to shed until 2017-18, “there is obviously an element of cost cutting involved in it.”

Mr. Drummond said the province’s fiscal position is “not desperate” but “needs to be addressed.”

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