The third budget from the Ford government is the biggest spending budget in Ontario history as officials open coffers to help hospitals amid the COVID-19 pandemic, all the while showing its support for vaccinations.
But as big as it is on spending, it’s also high on the hope that Ontarians and businesses will help revive the economy as the pandemic eases.
The budget entitled “Protecting people’s health and our Economy” earmarks $186.1 billion in spending; a record, and up from last year’s $148.8 billion budget, but the projected deficit is expected to fall to $33.1 billion, down from the record $38.5 billion in 2020.
This is because the government is banking on tax revenues going up by some $6 billion as businesses reopen and Ontarians spend their pandemic savings.
The spending plan contains $6.7 billion for pandemic-related measures, including $1 billion for the vaccine effort, and $2.3 billion for testing and contact tracing this year.
It will also offer a third round of payments to families with children through the “Ontario COVID-19 Child Benefit,” doubling it to $400 per child and $500 for each child with special needs.
There are no new taxes or spending cuts.
Pandemic spending leads the way in this budget – the government is paying another $1.8 billion on the hospital sector, including $760 million for the creation of 3,100 new hospital beds and $300 million to reduce surgical backlogs.
One billion dollars is being spent on the government’s vaccination plan and $2.3 billion more for more COVID-19 testing and contact tracing.
The Ford government is also planning to build a new wing at the William Osler Health System in Brampton.
MORE MONEY FOR PARENTS
Parents, regardless of income, will be receiving another cheque with $400 per child, and $500 for each child with special needs; double the amount of the last payment.
MORE CASH FOR SMALL BUSINESS
The government will dole out a second payment of its “Small Business Support Grant’ which provides $10,000, to $20,000 for businesses impacted by the pandemic.
Eligible small businesses will automatically receive a second payment equal to their first. People that started a business during the pandemic can get it.
NEW HELP FOR TOURISM
There is now a tourism and small business support grant, similar to the aforementioned one above.
It provides one-time payments of $10,000 to $20,000 for small tourist businesses including hotels, motels, travel agencies, amusements, and water parks as well as kids’ summer vacation camps.
The government is offering a temporary 20 percent increase to a child care tax credit which will give 300,000 low-income families an extra $1,500.
Ninety percent of childcare costs will be covered with this tax credit for households making $50,000 a year or less.
A new temporary Ontario jobs training tax credit is being dolled out to cover some tuition costs. The government says it would provide up to $2,000 per recipient for up to 50 percent of eligible expenses.
The government is setting aside $56.4 million over 4 years for a new ‘Ontario Vehicle Innovation Network’ for the development of next-generation vehicles.
Twenty-one billion dollars over 10 years is being earmarked for highways, but not a single word in the budget about the purposed highway 413.
There is almost no new education spending, the one-time, COVID-19-related $1.6 billion funding for the education sector in the last budget is not being renewed as much of that funding was from the federal government and school boards.
Unlike prior Ford government budgets, alcohol is only mentioned a few times. The administration will direct the LCBO not to proceed with a scheduled hike in wine prices, and $1.2 million is being set aside to support small distillers.
The government is bringing in less money than expected on pot. The Ontario portion of the federal Cannabis tax: $140-million revenue, lower than the projected $145-million.
Ontario cannabis store: $70-million revenue, lower than the projected $80-million.
The government is moving ahead with legal internet gaming. It has appointed a Commercial Project lead and is accepting public input.
RACISM AND HATE
Around $1.2 million over a two-year period is being set aside to support the anti-racism and anti-hate grant program.
This is very much a continuation of the Ford government’s last pandemic budget, with continued money being doled out to parents and small businesses.
It projects steadily declining deficits but the government is not expected to return to a pre-COVID-19 deficit until 2027. Instead, it believes the deficit will be gone by 2029, though the government would have to be elected two more times to ever see that.
Much of this relies on the economy coming back to life and interest rates staying under control; two big variables.
Critics will take issue with no big new education spend and nothing new for bars and restaurants (and who can forget paid sick days), but the government feels its big new expenditures on health and small business are prudent measures with the pandemic not yet over.
So far, $51 billion has been spent on tackling COVID-19 in Ontario.
With files from The Canadian Press