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Ont. to reveal next Thursday if deficit has grown beyond $18 billion

TORONTO - Ontario taxpayers will find out next week just how hard the recession has hit the province's economy.

TORONTO - Ontario taxpayers will find out next week just how hard the recession has hit the province's economy.

Finance Minister Dwight Duncan will deliver his fall economic update next Thursday, and unlike last fall, the government says this one will not be a mini-budget.

Instead, Duncan will reveal the size of the provincial deficit, last estimated to be $18 billion, and will detail the impact that an unprecedented drop in government revenues has had on the books.

In addition to the bad news, Premier Dalton McGuinty said the update will also reveal whether the economy grew in the last several months and his government's predictions for growth.

"It won't come as a surprise to Ontarians that, like the rest of the world, we have been affected by the global economic recession," he said in London, Ont., after announcing new grants for apprentices.

"It has had an impact on our revenues."

The province's public accounts, released earlier this month, showed corporate tax revenues had fallen almost 50 per cent because of the recession.

Government sources said the tax revenues have not recovered yet, and will likely lag behind any new growth in the economy.

Spending billions of dollars to create jobs and stimulate the economy during the downturn was the "right kinds of things to do," McGuinty said.

"We'll now have to come to grips with the consequences of that on our government finances and put in place a plan to ensure that we can address the deficit over the longer term in a way that doesn't compromise our ability to fund services that families really have to be able to rely on," he said.

But details of the government's plan to tackle the deficit may have to wait until the annual budget is unveiled next spring.

Duncan said recently that he may have to push back the 2015 date for balancing the books, but he won't outline a plan to eliminate the deficit in next week's update.

Both Duncan and McGuinty have warned the province will have to make some difficult decisions in the coming months, but neither will be specific about what programs could be cut.

Speaking in London, McGuinty wouldn't commit to following Alberta's example and taking a pay cut in light of Ontario's massive deficit.

Both Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach and his cabinet ministers are cutting back to help offset the province's $7 billion deficit.

McGuinty, who makes more than $200,000 a year, refused to say Tuesday whether he'll follow suit.

"I can't speak to that now," he said.

According to the Ministry of Finance, the premier makes $207,427 annually while cabinet ministers have a salary of $164,623.

His government has already taken steps to cut back, including taking a pay freeze and reducing the size of the bureaucracy, McGuinty said.

He said he'll wait for next week's update for Duncan's advice on what more may need to be done.

"What I'm reluctant to do - and I'm sure you'll understand this - is that if you get into a list of what's in and what's out, then the finance minister will get upset," McGuinty said.

"So I'm going to allow him to do his work and make the announcements at the right time."

Ontario has one of the most efficient governments in the country, "so we're actually not doing a bad job," McGuinty said.

"But there are always more savings to be had."

 
 
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