Premier Doug Ford’s government is set to release this year’s Ontario budget on Thursday afternoon — but it’s not a typical budget.
Ontarians should instead look at the document as a costed election platform from Ford’s Progressive Conservatives, something the party didn’t produce before winning a majority government in the 2018 election.
Ford’s government won’t pass this financial plan for the province. There’s just not enough time for it to pass through the process before next Wednesday, when the Legislature is dissolved and the election campaign officially begins.
If the PCs are re-elected on June 2, they’ll be able to bring this budget back to the legislature and pass it then.
A senior government official told CBC News the budget will be “doubling down on building” and will largely consist of items that have been announced by Ford and his ministers in recent weeks.
The Canadian Press is reporting the budget includes a plan to spend $158 billion on infrastructure over the next decade, including $21.5 earmarked for highway planning. Those projects include a new twin bridge over the Welland Canal on the Queen Elizabeth Way and widening Highway 401 in eastern Ontario starting in Pickering and Oshawa.
The government has made billions of dollars worth of announcements of future hospital and long-term care construction since early March, along with its previously touted plans for building new transit lines and highways.
A senior government source told Radio-Canada the budget will also include an expansion of the low-income and families tax credit (LIFT) to include workers earning less than $50,000 per year.
The credit was first introduced in 2019 and currently applies to roughly 400,000 Ontarians earning up to $38,500 annually. News of the government’s intention to broaden the scope of those who qualify for the tax credit was first reported by the Toronto Star.
Publicly, Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy — whose name appears on the rebate cheques mailed to Ontario drivers after the government scrapped licence renewal fees — has previously called the plan a vision for a “better, brighter future.”
- CBC News will have full coverage on all platforms around 4 p.m. ET
Even if the pocketbook goodies have been announced, there are good reasons to pay attention when the budget is released. Here are a few:
- The budget will provide a good look at how Ontario’s economy is faring as it recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The document will show how much the government plans to spend on key areas like health care, education, transportation and more.
- We’ll get a sense of how the Ford government intends to pay for the billions of dollars worth of pre-election spending it has announced in recent months — and there’s a possibility the government could go further as affordability becomes a major issue for more people amid record inflation.
The opposition parties, meanwhile, will be looking to find flaws in the budget.
Andrea Horwath’s NDP, which unveiled its platform on Monday of this week, will offer the clearest comparison at this point.
The NDP’s platform includes big promises like universal pharmacare and covering mental health supports under the province’s OHIP plan. It also features cash incentives for people buying electric vehicles and a pledge to raise Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program rates by 20 per cent.
The price tag? To be determined after the PCs table this budget, Horwath vowed, saying she needs to know the current state of Ontario’s finances before her team can provide cost estimates.
Horwath said earlier this week the COVID-19 pandemic exposed how the government is letting Ontarians down, leaving them struggling with the cost of living.
“For far too long, government just hasn’t been working for people, and COVID really exposed that,” she told supporters and candidates. “We can fix what matters most to people.”
Steven Del Duca’s Liberals, meanwhile, aren’t offering specifics about when their full platform will be released, other than saying it’ll be soon.
The Liberals have launched some big ticket promises of their own, most recently pledging to boost base funding for home care by $2 billion by 2026 and build 15,000 more assisted living homes (the Ford government also said this week it will spend another $1 billion in home care over the next three years).
Similarly, Mike Schreiner’s Green Party has put forth several campaign promises, including a plan for climate action that includes a number of financial incentives to help Ontarians reduce their carbon footprints, but hasn’t produced a costed platform yet.
Ontario appears on track to balance budget
Ontario’s Financial Accountability Office released a report earlier this month saying the province is currently on track to balance its budget by next year, but that spending plans could well change due to the looming election.
A new party could be in power after June 2, and even if the Progressive Conservatives win re-election, they have not given a recent update on when they will seek to eliminate the deficit.
The FAO projected the 2021-22 deficit to be $8.7 billion, below the $13.1 billion that the government forecasted when Bethlenfalvy released the third-quarter finances earlier this year.
At that time, the government projected the net debt to be $395 billion.
The budget was originally supposed to be tabled by March 31, but the government amended legislation to delay it, a move it said would provide more time to assess the impacts of pandemic recovery.