Dalton McGuinty returned from China yesterday to an Ontario that is vastly different from the one he last saw two weeks ago.
It's different psychologically. While the Premier was away chasing investments, Ontario was put on the welfare rolls by being named a have-not province under the merciless but absurd formula that governs the federal equalization scheme. That news hits hard at Ontario's sense that it's the big brother in the Canadian family that will always be there for the younger siblings. The usually provocative Danny Williams of Newfoundland was merely being descriptive when he called Ontario "a weaker sister" of Confederation.
What's worse, however, is that the economic news confronting Mr. McGuinty has become gloomier by the day. For a start, the government is running a $500-million deficit this year. But there is also an acknowledgment that the really bad news is yet to come, because the impact on government revenues of the past few months' job losses and decline in consumer activity will not be felt immediately.
The province's unemployment rate worsened only slightly in numbers released yesterday, but this stability won't hold in the face of the continuing meltdown of the auto sector, which provides one in every seven jobs in Ontario.
A Scotiabank forecast of a 0.9 per cent decline in Ontario's GDP next year may end up being optimistic, as will the TD Economics prediction that "the Ontario economy will at best be essentially moving sideways over the next nine to 12 months."