The Ontario government tabled the first budget of premier Doug Ford’s mandate on April 11 and it is the largest budget in provincial history. Ford’s budget spends nearly $5 billion more than his predecessor, Kathleen Wynne, did.
Many of the initiatives in Ford’s budget were announced during the 2018 election campaign. Among them: a tax credit for families to help offset the cost of child care; millions to help alleviate overcrowding in hospitals and long-term care facilities, so called “hallway healthcare;” a new dental program to be created to help low-income seniors. Billions will also be invested in transit improvements for the Toronto-region. This is a budget fulfilling the campaign promises made by the Progressive Conservatives. A party budget if you will.
To pay for these initiatives, and eventually balance the provincial budget, Ford has made cuts. No, not the four cents for every dollar in savings that Ford promised. These are much deeper cuts.
There will be cuts to the Ontario Legal Aid program (30 per cent) and to conservation authorities for flood migration (50 per cent). Expect cuts and the downloading of health units, amalgamation of paramedic service agencies, and cuts to Service Ontario, among others. Health care funding will increase a total of 1.5 per cent over the next three years, well below the yearly inflation rate. This is on top of already announced class size increases for secondary schools, cuts to post secondary education funding, and changes to many programs like the Ontario Autism Program.
Some items in this budget appear ill-thought out, but have been highly promoted: changing licence plate designs from white with blue lettering, to blue with white lettering, and updating the provincial logo to the one used 25 years ago. The hours licensed businesses can serve alcohol will increase. Businesses will be able to start pouring drinks at 9 a.m., seven days a week. Provincially-run casinos will be able to give free alcoholic drinks to patrons while they gamble, and tail gate parties will be legal at major sporting events. Here’s a party budget indeed!
Unfortunately this budget will be very cold comfort to those in Ontario working to educate their children, navigate the legal system, deal with health challenges, struggle with addiction and mental health issues, or to those who live outside of Toronto in the rest of Ontario. Maybe not such a great party after all.