TORONTO - Some of their decisions have boggled his mind, but economist Don Drummond says Ontario is making progress on putting the province on a path to fiscal health.
"I don't know if I want to assign a grade," the former TD banker said Friday, five months after tabling an exhaustive review of Ontario's public services and finding them in need of sweeping reform. "They're on the right track and so far, so good."
Drummond even suggested the Liberal government has gotten a bad rap for ignoring him when about half his recommendations are being put in place and only a handful have been explicitly rejected.
"I think people in general, including the media, have been too harsh on what's been adopted so far," Drummond said in a rare interview since handing in his report in February.
The half of the report's 366 recommendations that have been adopted -- "the easy half," he called them, although they will save the most money -- includes paying no wage increases to doctors, nurses, teachers and other public servants for two years.
"If they accomplish getting the compensation freeze with the doctors and the education part, that gets them a lot of the way towards the balanced budget," Drummond said.
"But it doesn't get you a sustainable health care system."
Failure to take action put Ontario at risk of a $30-billion deficit by 2017-18, instead of the balanced books the government is predicting, but Drummond said he's not that focused on the deficit itself.
"That's actually the lesser of the problems before the province," he said.
"The problem is staying at fiscal sustainability."
That means acknowledging economic growth is unlikely to break 2% in the coming years, and that tinkering with arbitration or slapping the NDP-sponsored wealth tax on high incomes isn't going to make a huge impact.
Still, it "boggles" his mind all three major parties support keeping a money-losing casino open in Niagara Falls, he said.
One big-ticket item Premier Dalton McGuinty turned down was one Drummond said he knew wouldn't fly -- cancelling the $1.5-billion full-day kindergarten program.
"There is evidence that full-day kindergarten has tangible benefits, and if we had the money I wouldn't have recommended getting rid of it," he said.