Confronted by a credit downgrade by Moody’s and an outlook downgrade from Standard & Poors, Ontario finance minister Dwight Duncan quipped that two of three major agencies (Standard & Poors and DBRS) hadn’t actually lowered the province’s credit rating so he was “two out of three that’s better than Ted Williams.” Ha ha ha.
For those who don’t follow the game, Williams is the last major league baseball player to hit over .400 for a season, back in 1941, in a career year that also included 37 home runs and 120 runs batted in. (A year later, he joined the navy, becoming a Marine Corps pilot and instructor and returning to baseball once the Second World War ended; he later flew combat missions in Korea.) Meanwhile Dwight Duncan is finance minister of a province where extravagant spending has produced scary deficits and a credit downgrade. If you think that makes him compare favourably to “The Splendid Splinter,” you must be… Dwight Duncan.
You’re certainly not Moody’s, which attributed the downgrade to “the growing debt burden… subdued growth outlook, extended time frame back to balance and ambitious expenditure targets” namely the magic plan to hold spending growth under 2 percent instead of the 7 percent increases of the past half-decade. Which given their characteristically subdued vocabulary is pretty much how bond rating agencies say “You’re kidding us, right?”
Here’s what Duncan should have said in reply:
Our latest budget clearly recognizes that the province faces financial challenges. We understand that the only way to dispel skepticism about our ability to control spending is to hit the targets we set out in our budget and that is what we intend to do. And we look forward to Moody reversing this downgrade when they see us do it.
Moreover, he should have said it soberly. When instead he flippantly compares his feeble performance as finance minister to the finest year in the career of a Hall of Fame athlete, the tone as well as content confirm that he simply does not grasp the seriousness of the situation.
Bond rating downgrades aren’t funny, whether you’re a finance minister or just a citizen. And they’re certainly not a hit with taxpayers.