We may be heading towards an election, but it’s still business as usual for the Liberal provincial government and the embattled party in charge has released an ambitious budget that increases spending, particularly on programs related to early child care, healthcare and mental health.
The budget will add over $30 billion to the province’s debt, which will no doubt lead to great debate amongst deficit hawks and those who push for more human services.
The Liberals are also proposing a modest tax hike for higher-income earners (about $200 a year for people making $130,000 a year). Naturally, PC leader Doug Ford is furious.
The 2018 budget includes significant new investments in health care, child care, home care and mental health. The province says it also includes “new measures to create more job opportunities for people across the province.”
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The government also says that the Budget focuses on initiatives that make life more affordable and provide more financial security “during a time of rapid economic change.”
The increased spending comes at a time when the province is actually doing quite well.
The government points out that the unemployment rate at its lowest in almost two decades (which is true). That said, the Wynne Liberals are still focusing on the rising cost of living (it’s hard to argue that housing is anywhere near affordable) and scarcity of stable, long-term jobs.
If the budget is passed, Ontario would expand OHIP+ with free prescription drugs for everyone 65 and over, improve mental health care and addictions services, and introduce free preschool child care for children aged two-and-a-half until eligible for kindergarten.
Here are some initiatives put forward by the province:
- Introducing the new Seniors’ Healthy Home Program. It provides a benefit of up to $750 annually for eligible households led by seniors 75 and over to “help them live independently and offset the costs of maintaining their homes.”
- Introducing a new Ontario Drug and Dental Program, reimbursing 80 per cent, up to a maximum of $400 per single person, $600 per couple and $700 for a family of four with two children, of eligible prescription drug and dental expenses each year, for those without workplace health benefits or not covered by OHIP+ or other government programs.
- Making preschool child care free for children aged two-and-a-half until they are eligible for kindergarten. This saves a family with one child $17,000, on average.
- Providing better and faster access to mental health and addictions services for hundreds of thousands more children, young people and adults across Ontario — bringing the total funding to more than $17 billion over four years.
- Improving hospitals through an additional $822-million investment in 2018–19 — the largest single government investment in hospitals in almost a decade. The province is also investing approximately $19 billion over 10 years to build and renovate hospitals.
- Creating 30,000 new long-term care beds over the next 10 years — adding 5,000 new beds by 2022. These new beds are in addition to the 30,000 existing beds being redeveloped.
- Investing $1.8 billion to strengthen services for 47,000 adults with developmental disabilities and reforming the social assistance system to focus on people rather than on rules and regulations.
- Making prescriptions completely free for everyone 65 and over through OHIP+. By eliminating the Ontario Drug Benefit annual deductible and co-pay, this saves the average Ontario senior $240 per year. This expansion of OHIP+ follows the introduction of free prescriptions for everyone under the age of 25 in the 2017 Ontario Budget.
- Providing a public transit tax credit that saves seniors up to $450 a year, as of July 1, 2017, and lowering the cost of commuting by about $720 per year for the average commuter transferring between the GO/UP Express network and the TTC.
- Cutting residential electricity bills as of July 1, 2017, by 25 per cent on average, and up to 40 or 50 per cent for eligible rural and low-income families.
- Making college and university tuition free for more than 225,000 students of all ages. Free or low tuition is available for students from low- and middle-income families; tuition is free for those earning up to $90,000, and students from families who earn up to $175,000 are also eligible for financial aid.
- Providing $132 million over three years to develop postsecondary education programs that respond to the changing needs of students and employers — including strengthening partnerships with local employers, offering more flexible and experiential learning, and increasing the number of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates by 25 per cent over the next five years, from 40,000 to 50,000 per year.
- Planning to create and retain over 70,000 jobs by renewing and extending the Jobs and Prosperity Fund with an increase of $900 million over the next 10 years.
- Providing $935 million in new funding over three years through the Good Jobs and Growth Plan to support Ontario businesses, students and graduates, and help attract good, well-paying jobs.
- Making workplaces fairer for everyone by tackling the gender wage gap and increasing transparency in hiring processes with proposed legislation that would, if passed, require all publicly posted jobs to include a pay rate or salary scale.
- Providing a long-awaited raise for 1.2 million people across Ontario by increasing the minimum wage to $14 per hour on January 1, 2018 and $15 per hour on January 1, 2019.
- The province says it has beaten its fiscal targets every year since the recession, and is forecasting a budget surplus in 2017–18. Beginning in 2018–19, Ontario is choosing to make more investments in the care and services that the people of this province rely on.
“As a result, the province will run modest deficits of less than one per cent of GDP,” the government says. “The budget outlines a path back to balance by 2024–25, building on the province’s long track record of responsible fiscal management.”
“Ontario’s economy is getting stronger, businesses are creating record numbers of jobs and unemployment is at the lowest rate in almost two decades. Our budget is balanced. We have a $600-million surplus,” says Charles Sousa, Minister of Finance. “Now, we are using our strengthened fiscal position to make life more affordable for families and create new opportunity for businesses across the province. The 2018 Budget will include new investments in health care, child care and seniors care to help even more families get ahead.”