You’d be forgiven for thinking that an unprecedented crisis like COVID-19 could change just about anyone, for good or bad. It changed our relationships; how we work; how we go out; how, or whether, we travel – surely even Doug Ford’s Conservatives could change.

But the Premier, who once said that “people are sick and tired of tax tax tax, spend spend spend,” never came around to the fact that public services save lives and that gutting them of resources must never be repeated. And his party’s newly-announced budget, with its big numbers and big promises, the culmination of a dizzying announcement blitz, is just more deception and misdirection – not the recognition of an overdue reckoning that we so desperately need.

“When people show you who they are the first time, believe them,” said the poet Maya Angelou. Put another way: A leopard never changes its spots.

Take the budget’s healthcare proposal and the fact that they’re not increasing funding for it, nevermind what the Ford Conservatives say. When you account for inflation, population growth, and demographic changes, we’re seeing a real cut amid a sixth wave. Ontario already spent less on healthcare per person than any other province. Now, instead of stepping on the gas to catch up, the government’s screeching to a halt and calling it progress. Moreover, there are signs that much of the existing funding will end up going to for-profit hospitals, clinics, and long-term care homes – even more public money padding the profit margins of facilities that have a habit of cutting corners, jeopardizing care and working conditions.

It’s the same story for education that saw a cut of $1.3-billion this year alone. There’s nothing in this plan to reduce class sizes, sufficiently deal with the repair backlog, upgrade ventilation to keep students and education workers safe, or pay workers better. And, like passing off someone else’s homework as theirs, almost all the increased funding for next year is due to the federal childcare agreement.

The numbers are clear and undeniable: $685-million cut from post-secondary education this year. $632-million cut from Children’s and Social Services. A $2.7-billion cut overall over the next three years.

The brazen, yet paltry, attempt to buy an election is also clear and undeniable.

“When people show you who they are the first time, believe them,” said the poet Maya Angelou. Put another way: A leopard never changes its spots.

We’re deep in the midst of historic inflation with rents continuing to rise and wages stubbornly staying put.

Meanwhile, the Ford Conservatives, the party that’s withheld $6,000 from minimum wage earners by freezing the minimum wage, are giving low-income individuals and families $300 a year, on average, through a new tax credit.

Seniors receiving care at home to cover the costs of medical devices, nurse’s visits, and devices like wheelchairs and scooters will only get $550 a year on average. Drivers will see a temporary reduction of the gas tax as well as reduced tolls, and some transit riders will get a discount on Presto cards. Meanwhile, the 400,000 Ontarians who rely on ODSP, who’ve had rates frozen since 2018, won’t see an increase. And there’s no real housing strategy, nor any attempt to halt ever-increasing rents – just tinkering around the margins to make us feel like they’re helping.

And while the budget proposes giving nurses a much-needed retention bonus, the dietary aides, RPNs, the cleaners, and all other healthcare workers who work alongside them are ignored. The Ford Conservatives could just repeal the wage restraint law, Bill 124, and ensure sufficient funding to increase wages for all front-line workers.

Some commentators called this a spending spree. Certainly the Ford Conservatives want Ontarians to think they’re supporting them in this time of spiralling costs. They even added a $4.3-billion contingency fund, that ultimately went unallocated, to make it look like they were spending more than they are.

But let’s be clear there is no spree, especially compared to the mountain of tax cuts and subsidies the wealthiest Ontarians and the most profitable corporations enjoy.

This budget isn’t anything new from the Ford Conservatives. It’s more funding proposals that look too good to be true because they are. And promises with loopholes and exceptions and time limits.

It’s time to make sure this story of cuts and paltry, desperate trinkets ahead of an important election isn’t the last word. Let’s make sure we elect a government that scraps this budget in favour of one that truly meets the needs of Ontarians.

Fred Hahn is president of CUPE Ontario and Angella MacEwen is a senior economist for CUPE National