Yesterday, Ontario Finance Minister, Peter Bethlenfalvy introduced the 2022-2023 provincial budget that – since it won’t be passed before the writs are drawn up on Wednesday – it is serving dual purpose as the Ontario PC Party campaign platform. The budget document, entitled Ontario’s Plan to Build, focuses on affordability, job creation and large investments in infrastructure. The document itself is light on spending details, and its essence was captured by the minister when he said it’s about “More jobs. More highways. More hospitals. More opportunities.”
Expect to hear a lot more on those four fronts from the Ontario PCs as we head towards June 2, election day in Ontario. Opposition parties and critics have pre-positioned their messaging on the budget that it will be an exercise in “vote buying” – a common strategy for incumbent governments seeking a renewed mandate. The budget does include lots of spending and pocketbook issues, including a cut to the provincial gas tax as of July 1, 2022, but it also charts a course to balance (although over a longer term than the province’s Financial Accountability Office recently suggested was possible.)
There are broad themes the document shares with the federal budget released earlier this month: pocketbook issues, a focus on domestic mineral extraction, clean energy production, electric vehicles and more. The highlights are shared below.
Numbers you need to know
$198.6 billion in spending
$158 billion planned investments
$19.9 billion deficit
2027-28 – the year the government plans to balance the books despite the fact Ontario’s Financial Accountability Office has said the province was on track to balance the budget by next year.
$25.1 billion over 10 years to support the planning and/or construction of highway expansion and rehabilitation projects
$1 billion annually in employment and training programs
$40 billion over 10 years for health-care infrastructure (hospitals and long-term care beds).
$61.6 billion over 10 years for public transit, including the Ontario Line in Toronto.
144 – the number of times the word “job” appears in the budget.
1 – the number of times the words “climate change” appears in the budget.
While the 2021 budget acted as a pathway out of the pandemic, this year it’s all about affordability and infrastructure building.
The budget for all of its talk about growing the economy also speaks to powering it and while many of these strategies have been announced over the last few months there are some new elements. The budget includes the hydrogen strategy, the creation of a clean energy credit registry, electric vehicles (EV), small modular reactors (SMRs), low-emission steel – all important for Ontario to take part in a green economy – just not couched in the language of climate change.
Agriculture and Food Supply Chains
The budget is investing $10 million in 2022–23 to establish a Food Security and Supply Chain Fund to “strengthen the province’s food supply, grow the workforce and to help sustain and expand the agri‐food sector.”
The budget discusses building an entrepreneurship council to support the development of a dedicated Entrepreneurship Strategy.
The budget is investing $40 billion over the next 10 years in hospital infrastructure, including about $27 billion in capital grants.
Ontario Seniors Care at Home Tax Credit
Eligible recipients of the new Ontario Seniors Care at Home Tax Credit would receive up to 25 per cent of their claimable medical expenses up to $6,000, for a maximum credit of $1,500.
Preventing Future Blockades
Ontario is investing nearly $96 million over three years to protect public safety and critical infrastructure during unlawful demonstrations and illegal blockades that impede international border crossings and protect vital supply chains on both sides of the border.
Ontario is investing nearly $107 million over the next three years in critical technologies to; support their plans on advanced manufacturing, create opportunities for commercialization, prepare businesses for the future and increasing productivity.
What we already knew
Prior to the budget release, Finance Minister Bethlenfalvy called the budget “a plan for rebuilding Ontario’s economy” and that it would include funding for highways, transit, hospitals and other key infrastructure projects. We also knew that the Conservatives’ key pillars were going to be: the economy, worker-friendly reforms, new highways and infrastructure spending, a path to balancing the budget and a plan to ensure Ontario avoids another pandemic lockdown.
Here are a few of the key budget announcements made in recent weeks:
The Critical Minerals Strategy
The provincial government announced back in March their critical minerals strategy as did Ottawa. The level of support, including the long-promised $1 billion to develop the Ring of Fire in northern Ontario, is substantial. Like the federal government, Ontario stressed global supply chain issues and other world events have highlighted the need for greater critical resource extraction in Canada.
Community Jobs Initiative Relocating Government Agencies
Earlier this week the government announced the relocation of the headquarters of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) to London. In keeping with that announcement, the government committed in the budget to explore the relocation of other government agencies including Supply Ontario, Invest Ontario, and Intellectual Property Ontario to other parts of the province.
The Skilled Trades Strategy
The government has been focused on modernizing the skilled trades and apprenticeships. The budget continues that focus with an ongoing pledge to help new immigrants certify their foreign credentials in Ontario.
Roads, Highways and Bridges
Going into the budget we knew that infrastructure was going to be a key pillar in the document. The budget proposes $25.1 billion over 10 years for the planning and/or construction of highway expansion and rehabilitation projects. This includes the construction of Highway 413, the Bradford Bypass, twinning the Garden City Skyways as well as the expansion of Highway 401.
School Science and Technology Curriculum
Back in March, the PCs announced that they are introducing a new science and technology curriculum and de‐streaming the Grade 9 science course for the 2022–23 school year.
Low Income Tax Credit
News outlets yesterday shared that the low-income and families tax credit (LIFT) would have an expanded eligibility to include workers earning less than $50,000 per year.
With the government’s critical minerals strategy and slew of announcements on electric vehicle battery manufacturing and building of charging stations, it came as no shock to see that electric vehicles and their production in Ontario were a major focus of the budget.
Relief for Drivers
Earlier this year, the province sent out refunds for licence plate renewal fees and revealed that residents should expect six months of relief at the gas pumps starting July 1st.
Also expected was the 50-cent minimum wage increase. Raising the minimum wage to $15.50.
What’s being talked about over dinner?
While the budget had a lot of proposed spending it was light on details. Many are also wondering post election, should the Conservatives win, if there might be any changes to the released budget? Especially since the Finance Minister was cagey with reporters during their scrum in the budget lock-up before his staff later cleared the air that, if reelected, the PCs would in fact pass the budget.