Premier Doug Ford’s first budget contained few new spending surprises but promises significant investments in healthcare, a new childcare tax credit and major changes to the way alcohol is sold across the province.
The $163.4 billion budget – nearly $5 billion larger than the last Liberal budget – pegs current the deficit at $11.7 billion, and the Progressive Conservatives say the books won’t be balanced until 2023–24.
Other budget highlights include a push to legalize online gaming, a new dental program for low-in come seniors, increased transit funding for Toronto and symbolic changes like a rebrand of driver’s licences and passenger plates.
Minister Vic Fedeli said the budget will provide $26 billion in “much needed relief” for families and businesses, while aiming to tackle the provincial debt which sits at $343-billion.
“We are protecting what matters most in a reasonable and thoughtful manner,” Fedeli told reporters. “It’s also a budget that contains no new tax increases. Not one.”
Here’s a look at how the 2019 budget will affect families and individuals across the province.
Funding for child care
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The centrepiece of the PC budget is the Ontario Childcare Access and Relief from Expenses (CARE) tax credit.
Under the CARE tax credit eligible families would receive up to 75 per cent of their eligible child care expenses since Jan. 1, 2019. Families with children under seven would receive up to $6,000, children between 7 and 16 would receive $3,750. Children with a severe disability would receive up to $8,250.
“Our government is investing in one of the most flexible child care initiatives in the province,” Fedeli said. “This will provide 300,000 families with up to 75 per cent of their eligible expenses for child care centres, home cased care, and day camps.”
For example, a couple earning a combined $150,000 with two children under seven would receive $160 under the CARE tax credit. A couple earning a combined $80,000 with two children under seven would receive $6,240.
According to the government’s projections, the tax credit would cost about $390 million annually. The province is also promising up to a $1 billion over five years to create up to 30,000 child care spaces in schools.
NDP leader Andrea Horwath pointed to $1-billion in cuts to the Ministry of Children, Community and Social services as evidence the budget “won’t help families” and the lack of funding for parents with children who have autism, an issue that sparked widespread protests in the province.
“We went into this budget expecting deep cuts,” Horwath told reporters. “What we didn’t expect was level of irresponsibility and outright cruelty that we are seeing in this budget.”
Under the changes announced by Children, Community and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod kids under six diagnosed with autism will receive $20,000 and kids over six will receive $5,000. The plan as originally designed would only give those maximum amounts to families making under $55,000.
Intensive therapy can cost up to $80,000 a year.
Expanded booze sales
With more than 60 mentions in the budget, the Ford government is planning major changes to the way booze is sold in the province that will include permitting tailgating at sporting events, allowing bars and restaurants to sell alcohol starting at 9 a.m. and allow licensed establishments to advertise “happy hour.”
The tailgating permits, announced ahead of Thursday’s budget, will allow booze to be sold at professional sporting events, semi-pro events and at eligible college and university events.
Municipalities will also be allowed to designate public areas, such as parks, for the consumption of alcohol. And the province says it will allow Ontario casinos to advertise free alcoholic drinks for gamblers and continue planning for beer, wine and liquor sales in corner stores and big box stores.
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Details on what limits will be placed around “happy hour” advertisements were not included in the budget.
When asked about concerns around health or impaired driving Fedeli said: “we trust people to make the right decisions.”
Horwath said the government has “sluffed off” its responsibilities around changes to alcohol and gambling regulations.
“When you make these kinds of changes, you have to recognize that they will have impacts and then plan to address those impacts,” she said.
Interim Liberal leader John Fraser said that although he finds nothing wrong with the changes he didn’t “understand the obsession with alcohol,”
“It’s something you do when you’ve got the things most important taken care of, and they are not doing that,” Fraser told reporters.
Changes regarding alcohol are expected to be in place by summer 2019, according to the government.
Meanwhile, the government is also looking to get into legal online gambling with a major focus of the plan aimed at legalizing single event sports wagering.
However, this would require a change to the criminal code and the province said it is currently lobbying the federal government for changes. Details on the proposed gambling changes were scarce in the budget and consultations are ongoing.
The PCs are investing around $384 million in hospitals and an additional $267 million in home care, with overall spending in the health sector projected to grow from $62.2 to $65.3 billion at average of 1.6 per cent.
The government also announced it’s investing $3.8 billion for mental health, addictions and housing over 10 years and create 15,000 new long-term care beds.
Both the NDP and the Liberals noted the planned investments in healthcare do not keep pace with the rate of inflation.
“With this budget, Doug Ford and his government have made their priorities crystal clear,” Horwath said. “Fords’ Conservatives don’t think it’s their jobs to help you and your families.”
Ontario’s budget announcement proposes consolidating the province’s 35 public health units into 10 regional agencies by 2021.
The move is intended to reduce health care bureaucracy and overlapping administration duties, which the government has projected will result in annual savings of $200 million by 2022.
Help for low-income seniors and families
The previously announced dental program for low-income seniors, who do not have access to benefits, was also highlighted in the budget.
Under the program individuals over the age of 65 with an annual income of $19,300 or less, or senior couples with a combined income of less than $32,300, will be able to receive dental services in public health units across the province.
The budget also included the previously announced Low‐income Individuals and Families Tax (LIFT) Credit that provides up to $850 in Ontario Personal Income Tax relief for lower‐income earners.
Education and student tuition
While the Ford government has recently clashed with the teachers unions over proposed changes to the classroom, the PCs plan to invest $1.4 billion in schools for the upcoming school year.
The budget also outlines the previously announced plan to reduce tuition by 10 per cent at colleges and universities starting in the 2019–20 school year and freeze tuition fees for the 2020–21 school year.
However, the plan will also include cutting almost $700 million in overall funding for post-secondary education.
“Instead of giving children better schools, Ford is taking their teachers away,” Horwath said. “And instead of giving students more opportunities, they’re attacking colleges and universities.”
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