In a pre-election budget, Premier Doug Ford will promise to cut income taxes for hundreds of thousands of Ontarians earning less than $50,000 a year, the Star has learned.
Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy is to unveil the spending plan at 4 p.m. Thursday, kicking off the Progressive Conservatives’ re-election bid for the June 2 vote.
A cornerstone of the budget-cum-campaign platform will be an expansion of the low-income individuals and families tax credit (LIFT) so more workers qualify.
Currently, one million people receive the tax break — first introduced in 2019 — and the Tories are promising to increase the $38,500 threshold so everyone making $50,000 a year or less would get it.
“We are expanding eligibility in tomorrow’s budget to include an additional 700,000 people,” a senior government official, speaking confidentially in order to discuss the budget, said Wednesday.
“(It’s) making it more generous so that (overall) approximately 1.1 million people will see on average $300 more in tax relief,” the official said.
Bethlenfalvy’s budget comes after the Conservatives controversially amended their own law that mandated the annual spending plan be tabled by the March 31 end of a fiscal year.
Because the budget is being introduced so late, it will not pass in the legislature before the parliamentary session is dissolved to officially begin the campaign next Wednesday.
That has happened twice before in recent history — in 2014 under Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne, who called an election after NDP Leader Andrea Horwath withdrew support for the minority Grits’ budget, and in 1999, when Tory premier Mike Harris used the budget announcement as a re-election springboard.
In both instances, the incumbent premiers were victorious and the same pre-election budgets were then reintroduced that summer.
Horwath, for her part, dismissed the Tory budget as “a campaign platform, filled with the same kinds of promises he made, and broke, in 2018.”
“It’s been a tough few years for people in Ontario. So much is broken — a health-care system on its knees, a home-care and long-term-care system that takes seniors’ quality of life away, and a cost of living that’s making it hard for everyday people to afford everyday life,” said the NDP leader.
“More Doug Ford cuts won’t fix it. And hollow election gimmicks won’t fix it. Ford could have tabled and passed a budget a month ago.”
Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said Thursday’s budget is nothing more than a signal that “the campaign for a new government in Ontario has begun.
“This election is a choice between the Ford Conservatives’ bad decisions that favour the biggest and the richest and our Liberal plan to ensure Ontario is a place to grow,” said Del Duca.
Green Leader Mike Schreiner said “now is not the time for half measures or election gimmicks.
“Ford’s budget tomorrow needs to include investments in addressing the climate emergency, the housing affordability crisis and the mental health crisis,” said Schreiner.
Sources say Bethlenfalvy’s budget would centre on the “pillars of rebuilding the economy (after the two-year pandemic), working for workers, building highways, keeping costs low for families, and a plan to stay open” in the event of other COVID-19 waves.
It is expected to include a road map for balancing the books for the first time since Liberal Charles Sousa was finance minister in 2017.
Earlier this month, the province’s fiscal watchdog predicted the deficit could be eliminated as early as next year, though Tory insiders stress that’s not in the cards.
The Financial Accountability Office (FAO), an independent officer of the legislature, said shortfalls could end in 2023-24 with the province running budget surpluses of $7.1 billion by 2026-27.
As well, the FAO determined last year’s deficit was $8.7 billion — far lower than the $13.1-billion deficit Bethlenfalvy forecast when he tabled Ontario’s 2021-22 third-quarter fiscal update in February.
In his last budget, in March 2021, the treasurer projected a deficit in 2023-24 of between $14.1 billion and $25.4 billion and did not include any path back to balance.
But the Tories had previously warned deficits could continue until 2029-30 due to spending on COVID-19.
The FAO conceded the pandemic “resulted in a large deterioration of Ontario’s deficit,” which ballooned to $16.4 billion in 2020-21.
“This was primarily due to the large but temporary spending on COVID-19-related measures, offset partially by significant increases in federal transfer payments to the province,” the office said April 12.
“The FAO projects that under current policies, Ontario’s budget position would improve from a deficit of $16.4 billion in 2020-21 to a surplus of $7.1 billion by 2026-27,” it said.
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