When Finance Minister Charles Sousa presented the 2017 Budget to the Ontario Legislature, they demonstrated a clear choice to invest into progressive social programs reflective of the government’s move to the political left. With this budget, the government indicates that debt reduction can be managed at another time and that the era of austerity is over, especially for health and education.
Infrastructure also received additional funding, but taking a page from their federal Liberal cousins, much of the 2017 money is earmarked for projects slated for completion many years out.
Two signature items in the 2017 budget were OHIP+ Children and Youth Pharmacare. In a move reminiscent of the free tuition initiative contained in 2016’s budget, the government is implementing another significant program introducing free prescription drug coverage for everyone aged 24 and under. In doing so, Ontario becomes the first province in Canada to launch such an initiative. The new youth drug coverage plan will cost $465-million per year and starts in January 2018. Medications to treat most acute conditions, common chronic conditions, childhood cancers and other diseases will be covered under the program.
Hospitals will also receive a much-needed boost in operating and capital dollars.
Health care initiatives include:
- A $518 million increase in operating funding for hospitals, which translates to an increase of three per cent for the sector overall;
- $9 billion over 10 years for new hospital construction;
- $890 million over three years to reduce wait times for key services, including foot, knee, hip and cataract surgeries;
- $85 million over three years to expand home and community care (home nursing, personal support and physiotherapy, as well as respite care);
- $100 million over three years for a new Dementia Strategy;
With continued investments in operating funding, capital allocations and new programs from kindergarten all the way through to postsecondary, the Liberal government is doubling down on the importance of supporting a highly skilled workforce.
Education initiatives include:
- New OSAP program, which will provide eligible students with free tuition;
- $6.4 billion in additional operating funding over three years to support everything from full-day kindergarten to postsecondary education and beyond;
- $16 billion over 10 years to build and improve schools;
- $190 million over three years to create 40,000 new work-related opportunities with employers for students and recent graduates through a new Career Kick-Start Strategy; and
- Adjusting the point at which OSAP loans need to be repaid by increasing the minimum salary to $35,000 from $25,000.
Next generation technologies
Ontario continues to invest in the industries that it believes will help position the Province for continued economic growth long into the future. As traditional manufacturing continues to decline, areas like artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles will continue to be critical growth areas as the province seeks to expand its advanced manufacturing capabilities.
Some highlights in this area:
- $50 million to establish the Vector Institute for artificial intelligence;
- $130 million over five years in two 5G projects;
- $75 million over the next five years in an Advanced Research Computing and Big Data Strategy; and
- $80 million over five years to create the Autonomous Vehicle (AV) Innovation Network, in partnership with Ontario Centres of Excellence.
The 2017 Budget also underscored the importance of Ontario’s efforts to advocate for continued free trade with the United States, noting many proactive steps that are being taken to protect the province’s interests:
- Establishing a Premier’s Committee on Ontario-U.S. Economic and Trade Relations;
- Attending the National Governors Association meeting in Rhode Island in July 2017 to foster closer connections with state-level partners;
- Co-hosting the Conference of Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers Leadership Summit in the fall; discussions will include advancing sustainable development in the Great Lakes region;
- Holding round tables with the business community to hear views on issues and opportunities related to U.S. trade; and
- Hiring an international trade expert to act as a Provincial trade advisor.
The budget signaled the government will consider all reasonable options to protect Ontario jobs in the face of Buy American policies or legislation.