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Ontario’s fiscal watchdog says deficit is $1.2 billion lower than claimed, but warns of huge future shortfalls

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Ontario’s fiscal watchdog says this year’s budget deficit is $12.3 billion — $1.2 billion lower than Finance Minister Vic Fedeli has projected.

But financial accountability officer Peter Weltman also warned huge shortfalls will continue into the future unless the Progressive Conservative government makes dramatic spending cuts or increases taxes.

In last month’s fall economic statement, Fedeli said the shortfall has ballooned to $14.5 billion. He did not include the value of the province’s $1 billion reserve fund, which would have brought the deficit down to $13.5 billion.

Weltman insisted his calculation, which is $1.2 billion lower than the government’s figure, is the correct one.

The difference is mainly due to the government’s lower forecast of tax revenue.

Fedeli emphasized the government is building “prudence” into its fiscal planning.

“As we have always said, and as the financial accountability officer confirms, we have inherited a structural deficit from the previous government,” the finance minister said.

“While we have already taken steps by finding more than $3.2 billion in efficiencies and savings, we still have more work to do,” he said, noting the Liberals “recklessly spent taxpayer dollars.”

But the new regime’s books have also been called into question.

As first disclosed by the Star last week, the province’s controller, Cindy Veinot, quit after refusing to sign off on the treasurer’s version of the public accounts.

Veinot, who was the government’s chief accountant, resigned because she “did not agree with accounting decisions made by the current government.”

“I believe that the consolidated financial statements of the province of Ontario as issued … materially overstate the deficit of the province for the year,” she said in a submission to the legislative “transparency” committee examining the province’s books.

The accountant says the shortfall is $5 billion lower than Fedeli’s estimates because he excluded the government’s share of the co-sponsored Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union Pension Plan and the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan as assets on the books.

Neither Weltman nor Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk count the pension as assets even though they were booked as such until Lysyk changed her mind in 2015.

NDP MPP Sandy Shaw said “just like Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals, Doug Ford’s Conservatives have really cooked deficit numbers themselves.”

Shaw (Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas) accused the Tories of “fear-mongering” by citing such massive shortfalls.

“We’re concerned he’s using this to justify deep cuts,” she said.

Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter (Scarborough Guildwood) said the fiscal watchdog proves Fedeli is pushing an “inflated deficit number, which really provides the context for deeper cuts to programs and services that people rely on.”

Green Leader Mike Schreiner said “the Ford government is playing political games with Ontario’s finances.”

“It was wrong for the previous government to play political games with the budget. It is wrong for the Ford government do it only a few months into their mandate,” said Schreiner.

In his report Monday, the financial accountability officer projected next year’s deficit would be $15.1 billion, rising to $16.4 billion by 2022-23.

“While the government has not indicated when it intends to balance the budget, it has committed to not raising taxes,” said Weltman.

To get Ontario back into the black before the 2022 election without tax hikes would require that program spending growth be held at 1.2 per cent annually.

That would require Ford’s government to cut the equivalent of $850 per person from today’s levels by the next campaign.

The Ontario government currently spends about $10,000 per person for provincial programs.

Weltman notes that beyond forgoing the $1.9 billion in cap-and-trade proceeds, the government will also lose $500 million in revenue from its new income tax cut for people earning less than $30,000 a year.

The low-income individuals and families tax credit (LIFT) was one of the Tories’ signature campaign promises.

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

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Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme

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Get a taste of adventure with Starburst XXXtreme based on the legendary NetEnt Game. The nostalgic themes are sure to capture fans of the classic version as they get treated to higher intensity, better visuals, and features. The most significant element of the game is its volatility. Patience will not be an essential virtue considering the insane gameplay, and there is a lot of win potential involved. It retains the original makeup of the previous game while adding a healthy dose of adrenaline. 

Starburst Visuals and Symbols

The game is definitely more conspicuous than before. The setting happens over a 5-reel, 3-row game grid with nine fixed win lines, which function if a succession from the left to the right reel is present. Only those players that that attain the highest win per bet line are paid. From a visual standpoint, the Starburst XXXtreme slots illustrates lightning effects behind the reels, which is not surprising as it is inherited from the original version. Available themes include Classic, Jewels, and Space. The game is also available in both desktop and mobile versions, which is advantageous for players considering the global pandemic. According to Techguide, American gamers are increasingly having more engaging gaming experiences to socialize to fill the gap of in-person interaction. Starburst XXXtreme allows them to fill the social void at a time when there is so much time to be had indoors. 

Starburst XXXTreme Features

Players get to alternate on three features which are Starburst Wilds, XXXtreme Spins, and Random Wilds. The first appears on reels 2,3, or 4. When these land, they expand to cover all positions while also calculating the wins. They are also locked for a respin. If a new one hits, it also becomes locked while awarding another respin. Starburst XXXtreme offers a choice between two scenarios for a higher stake. In one scenario with a ten times stake, the Starburst Wild is set on random on reels 2,3, or 4, and a multiplier starts the respin. The second scenario, which has a 95 times stake, starts with two guaranteed starburst wilds on reels 2,3, or 4. it also plays out using respin game sequence and features. The game also increases the potential with the Random Wilds feature to add Starburst Wilds to a vacant reel at the end of a spin. Every Starburst Wild gives a random multiplier with potential wins of x2, x3, x5, x10, x25, x50, x100, or even x150.

The new feature is sure to be a big hit with the gaming market as online gambling has shown significant growth during the lockdown. AdAge indicates the current casino customer base is an estimated one in five Americans, so Starburst XXXtreme’s additional features will achieve considerable popularity. 

What We Think About The Game

The gambling market has continued to diversify post-pandemic, so it is one of the most opportune times to release an online casino-based game. Thankfully Starburst XXXtreme features eye-catching visuals, including the jewels and space themes. These attract audience participation and make the gameplay inviting. The game also has a nostalgic edge. The previous NetEnt iteration featured similar visuals and gameplay, so the audience has some familiarity with it. The producers have revamped this version by tweaking the features to improve the volatility and engagement. 

That is characterized by the potential win cap of 200,000 times the bet. Starburst XXXtreme does not just give betting alternatives for players that want to go big. The increase of multipliers also provides a great experience. If the respins in the previous version were great, knowing that multipliers can go hundreds of times overtakes the game to a new level. 

Players should get excited about this offering. All of the features can be triggered within a single spin. Whether one plays the standard game or takes the XXXtreme spin route, it is possible to activate all of the features. Of course, the potential 200,000 times potential is a huge carrot. However, the bet size is probably going to be restricted and vary depending on the casino. It is also worth pointing out that a malfunction during the gameplay will void all of the payouts and progress. Overall, the game itself has been designed to provide a capped win of 200,000 times the original bet. 

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Anglais

‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year

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In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal

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MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.

STUDIO SHORTAGE

The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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