The growth in interest payments must be offset with revenue increases, expenditure control (program cuts), or new debt. When budget balance is achieved through new debt, as it is now, Ontario's annual interest payments continue to grow. Ontario's interest rates will also rise in that scenario as the province's lenders demand higher rates to counter the risk of our diminishing creditworthiness.
The interest on Ontario's debt is money that could have gone into program spending or tax relief each and every year if the province had been running balanced budgets. It is a figure that the government's own 2011-12 budget projections predict will be $16.3 billion in 2017-18. The Drummond Report predicts the interest on Ontario's debt will reach $19.7 billion in 2017-18 under the status quo scenario.
Eliminating Catholic school funding and the massive duplication and overlap it entails will take a significant bite out of Ontario's deficit. It won't singlehandedly slay the deficit, but it is a reform that will help arrest and eventually reverse the growth in the amount of money lost to interest on Ontario's debt every year.
Ontario is paying for sectarian Catholic education, amongst other things, with borrowed money. It has been doing so for some time. As a result, the annual loss of provincial revenue to interest on our debt represents a significant opportunity cost. That loss is already impacting our ability to adequately fund the programs that are truly essential: those that alleviate pain and suffering, contribute to a well educated workforce, and help the genuinely disadvantaged among us. Government inaction on the deficit will only worsen those impacts.
The Ontario government has already rejected the most significant of the education reforms proposed in the Drummond Report. As Drummond warned, however, alternatives must then be proposed to produce equivalent savings.
We propose the amalgamation of Ontario's public and Catholic school systems into a single public school system for each official language. Ontario needs to embrace this idea now more than ever.