The province has “a responsibility” to consider selling off public assets to cope with a record $24.7-billion deficit and looming demands of an aging population, says Premier Dalton McGuinty.

In his most candid comments yet on what would be one of the biggest policy flip-flops of the Liberals’ six years in office, McGuinty admitted yesterday privatization has its benefits.

“There’s never an easy way to do this,” the premier said at a hastily scheduled appearance on CHUM FM’s Roger, Darren and Marilyn morning show. “We’ve had to stimulate the economy like every other place, virtually, on the planet,” he said.

“We’ve put $32 billion into the economy over two years to build infrastructure and create jobs right now when we need them and we’re running a significant deficit.”

The budget shortfall has so spooked the Liberals that they are spending about $200,000 to hire CIBC World Markets and Goldman Sachs to determine the value of assets such as the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp., Ontario Power Generation, Hydro One, and the Liquor Control Board of Ontario.

“So one of the things that we have to do — and I think it’s the responsible thing to do — is you’ve got to take a look at what it is that we own and ask ourselves whether or not that’s the best place for our money,” said McGuinty.

“Or should it begin to go more into health care and education?”

McGuinty said that means the Liberals have no choice but to consider their options.

If the Liberals do press forward with privatization, it would be as significant a policy U-turn as the 2004 decision to raise taxes just months after promising not to do so.

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