RECAP | What is in Ontario's budget and how will it impact you
The 2019 budget is called 'Protecting What Matters Most' and it spells out over more than 340 pages how the Progressive-Conservative party's first budget will spend more than $163.4 billion provincial tax dollars.
It is a total expenditure of almost $1 billion more than the last budget presented by the Kathleen Wynne-led Liberals, but includes no new tax increases.
The Ford government makes an effort to position itself as making 'responsible' decisions on where to spend and where to cut back, in order to tackle Ontario's projected $11.7 billion deficit. The PC's say that's down $3.3 billion, from $15 billion since the party took over from the Ontario Liberals. The Finance Minister's plan is to return to a balanced budget in 5 years and judging by Vic Fedeli's projections, the tough decisions have been kicked down the line to the next several budgets. The timeline also means that voters would need to reelect
a PC government in order for it to follow through on its pledge of providing a balanced budget.
The approach the PC's took with the first budget of their mandate was to trim small amounts from almost every line, while maintaining or increasing spending on 3 key files: healthcare, education, and public transit expansion.
Spending in sectors like healthcare and education will go up by a total of almost $10 billion, but budgets will be slashed or stay the same in portfolios like children's & social services and justice. There isn't anything within this fiscal plan that stands out as extreme or revolutionary but through measured moves in deregulation, and vague hints that more reform is being discussed for the future, there are clear signals that this province is moving toward are more laissez-faire approach to the public service. The Ontario PC government has set the tone through this document for budgets to come and has signalled that the days of 'Premier Dad' might be coming to an end.
HERE'S WHAT'S INTERESTING
The Ford government wants to stress that it will hold top politicians accountable over how the budget is managed.
It will introduce what the Finance Minister calls the 'Accountability Guarantee.' This rule would require the Premier and the Finance Minister to forgo 10 percent of their salary should they
not make financial reports public by legislated deadlines. This policy does not hold them to the promises they make on managing the books.
There is a lot of talk about alcohol in this budget and a recurring theme that the Ford government is absolving itself of enforcing social responsibility. It pitches this approach as its desire to treat people in this province 'like adults.' It is mentioned in budget headings more than 30 times. The Ford government is out with plans for deregulation to broaden sales and even offers a chart to argue that Ontario has the fewest alcohol retail outlets per capita in the country, and that there is demand for more. There are 2.4 places to buy booze per person in Ontario, compared to 21.1 outlets per capita in Newfoundland. The national average is 5.9 alcohol retail locations per person. The government says the feedback it has collected from the public shows that there is demand for easier access to alcohol.
The document mentions that the government is going to take a closer look at breaking up the distribution monopolies that support the LCBO and especially The
Beer Store. Ford government officials say they cannot get into detail about what this might mean for the future of alcohol sales in Ontario, as these are negotiations that are taking place right now with Brewers Retail.
WHAT'S HAPPENING WITH HEALTHCARE
The Ford government points to increased spending on new hospitals and hospital upgrades, along with a dental plan for low-income seniors as successes on the healthcare file. The Ministry's overall budget is going up by $1.4 billion. It includes an extra $384 million to be spent on hospitals to add more capacity to treat patients and make it easier to access specialized treatment. The government says its a step toward 'ending hallway healthcare.' The budget also includes $267 million that's earmarked for improving nursing and home care services, long with therapy and in-home personal support. There will also be a focus on expanding community support services, like meal delivery and transportation. The goal is to bolster the affordable care available in the home so that patients don't have to be admitted to the hospital.
The $29.8 billion education budget represents an $8 billion (11 percent) year-over-year increase in spending. That includes $1.4 billion worth of repairs and upgrades at Ontario's schools over the course of the next school year. Increases to class sizes have been factored into this budget. The PC's plan to introduce what they call a 'parents bill of rights' which will enable parents to opt their child out of any curriculum or class that they don't feel is appropriate.
CAR INSURANCE PLAN LACKS DETAIL
The Putting Drivers First program will be introduced with the goal of making it easier for drivers to find and buy car insurance that better suits their needs and gives them more control over how much they pay for their coverage. Part of this program is what the Ford government calls a Driver Care Card, which the Finance Minister says will 'streamline access to care' and make it easier to process insurance claims. The government says it can lower rates through clamping down on bogus insurance claims through a new government office. There are also plans to deregulate so that drivers can opt to submit their credit history to an insurer to secure a preferential rate. The government won't make a commitment to when drivers can expect to see relief on their premiums, rather officials say reforms to car insurance in Ontario is 'a multi-year strategy.' There are 5 pages worth of discussion of the car insurance sector in this document but the government isn't able to give drivers an idea of how much they might save.
MORE FREEDOM ON ALCOHOL
The Ford government plans to double down on its deregulation of alcohol sales and consumption. Policies that will allow tailgating and sales of beer and wine in corner and big-box stores have already been revealed but the budget lays out a plan that will give cities the power to set rules on drinking alcohol in public. Provinces like BC and Quebec already give local governments this freedom. Municipalities will also be allowed to give restaurants and bars permission to serve booze as early as 9am. Licensed establishments will be allowed to advertise 'happy hour' specials like they are permitted to do in provinces like Alberta and BC.
LEGALIZING ONLINE GAMBLING
The provincial government wants to lift a ban on betting on a single sporting event. The Finance Ministry believes people in Ontario spend $500 million each year on online gambling and that most of that most goes to illegal websites. The province has asked the Federal government to change the criminal code to allow single-game betting.
CHILD CARE TAX CREDIT
The program outlined by the Ford government provides about 300,000 families with up to 75 percent of their eligible child care expenses. That includes enrolling kids in camps, daycare centres, and homes. The province will spend up to $1 billion over the next 5 years to create up to 30,000 child care spaces, including 10,000 in new schools. The Finance Minister say it'll help make it easier for families to find more affordable care.
TAX CUTS FOR BUSINESSES
There's a promise in the budget to provide businesses in Ontario with $3.8 billion worth of corporate income tax relief over the next 6 years by allowing
companies to more quickly write off the purchase of new machines.
MAKEOVER BILLED TO TAXPAYERS
It cost taxpayers $500,000 for the Ford government to update the brand of the provincial public service. The design and roll-out of a new logo, new driver's license, and new license plate is included in the switch-up that will go into effect when the budget is officially unveiled in the Legislature. The logo is a simple, bold trillium on a rounded backdrop. The new slogan for the public service will be, 'Working For You.' The change will replace some 100 brand logos across various Ministries and public agencies, with larger organizations like
the LCBO and Ontario Lottery & Gaming keeping their current branding. Officials with the Premier's office say the goal of this move is to promote 'culture change' within government to focus on 'customer service.' An order will be fanned out across the public service this week that no further consulting on brand design will be permitted. A government official said signs and letterhead will not be destroyed to make way for the new brand, rather these items will be 'allowed to reach their expected lifespan' before being replaced.
NEW LICENSE PLATES & DRIVERS LICENSES
The Transportation Ministry will start printing license plates that are white-on-blue, instead of blue-on-white. As has already been reported, the slogan appearing below the tag number will change from 'Yours To Discover' to 'A Place To Grow.' The crown remains on the plate, but it now appears in the bottom right corner, rather than in the centre. It has been replaced by the new Ontario trillium logo. The typeface used to print the alpha-numeric registration marker will be changed to a more modern and streamlined font. The letters and numbers are no longer 'stamped' but are instead printed onto the plate. A government official says this change should prevent the new plates from delaminating like they did through the old design. A fresh design of the Ontario driver's license is on the way but it will be presented and detailed some time in the future.
SPENDING CHANGES VS. LAST BUDGET
Education: UP $8 billion ($29.8 billion)
Health: UP $1.4 billion ($63.5 billion)
Children/Social Programs: DOWN $300 million ($16.7 billion)
Justice: UNCHANGED ($4.9 billion)
Other Programs: DOWN $1.5 billion ($23.8 billion)
Interest on Debt: UP $1.7 billion ($13.3 billion)
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