The provincial budget tabled April 27 by Finance Minister Charles Sousa promises to balance the books while keeping tax rates for individual and corporations unchanged.
It is the first balanced budget in the decade since the global recession of 2008.
Local 793 business manager Mike Gallagher says he’s pleased with some items in the budget but is disappointed with others.
He likes the fact it is a balanced budget, and that the Kathleen Wynne government has delivered on a commitment originally set by her predecessor.
The governing Liberals have fulfilled their pledge to return to black ink by 2017-18. The budget forecasts a deficit of $1.5 billion for 2016-17 before forecasting three straight years of balanced books beginning in 2017-18, all due to a booming economy that’s bringing higher than expected revenue into government coffers.
Gallagher also likes some of the measures, such as the launch of the new OHIP Children and Youth Pharmacare drug coverage proposal, and more money for hospitals and social housing.
The OHIP Children and Youth Pharmacare plan would provide universal drug coverage for all children and youth aged 24 and under, effective Jan. 1, 2018. It will cover the cost of all medicines covered by the Ontario Drug Benefit Program with no deductible or co-payment. Four million children up to age 24 will be covered for prescription drugs.
The government also announced it would be increasing operating funding for all Ontario public hospitals with an additional $518 million or three-per-cent increase in the sector.
Five major hospital projects have also been approved:
- A redevelopment project will take place at Hamilton Health Sciences that will see aging infrastructure updated to meet current hospital standards.
- A new hospital is to be built in support of service transformation in the Niagara Region.
- A new hospital is to be built in support of service transformation in the Windsor region.
- Investments will also be made in the Mississauga Hospital and Queensway Health Centre to add spaces and renovate existing space.
- Ontario has committed to the provincial share of project costs for a new hospital to serve the population along the James Bay coast.
Meanwhile, the 2017 budget committed an additional $30 billion in infrastructure investment over the next 11 years. This brings the government’s total infrastructure investment between 2014-15 to 2026-27 to $190 billion, up from $160 billion.
On the social housing front, the province will allocate some of its unused lands, worth between $75 and $100 million, for the development of 2,000 new housing units in Toronto.
However, Gallagher is disappointed there was no money for the Ring of Fire or announcements about funding for more renewable energy projects.
He says he would like to see the province commit to funding for infrastructure to support developments in the Ring of Fire area, but there has been no follow-through on that.
He’s also disappointed the government did not commit to any funding on the energy file.
However, he noted he is awaiting release of the province’s Long Term Energy Plan and hopes the government can be convinced to go to 50 per cent generation of electricity by renewables.
On the economic front, the government forecasts that growth will slow over the next few years, but non-residential construction will increase.
Ontario’s gross domestic product is expected to decrease to 1.7 per cent in 2020 from 2.7 per cent in 2016.
However, non-residential construction is expected to increase by 3.5 per cent in 2018, followed by an even greater increase of 5.3 per cent in 2019.