The Ontario Liberal government has unveiled its last budget before the upcoming spring election.
According to the government, the 2018 Budget highlights significant investments in health care, child care, home care and mental health, and new measures to create more job opportunities for everyone in the province.
The Liberals are also focusing on new initiatives that make life more affordable for some of the province’s most vulnerable people by providing them with more financial security during this time of rapid economic change.
The 2018 Budget was unveiled during a time when the province’s economy continues to get stronger, businesses are creating more job opportunities and the unemployment rate is at its lowest in almost two decades.
On Wednesday afternoon, Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa presented the 2018 Budget, which the government titled “A Plan for Care and Opportunity.”
“Our budget is balanced. We have a $600-million surplus. Now, we are using our strengthened fiscal position to make life more affordable for families and create new opportunity for businesses across the province. The 2018 Budget will include new investments in health care, child care and seniors care to help even more families get ahead,” says Sousa.
Here are the highlights of the 2018 Budget:
More Support for Seniors
The budget contains several perks for seniors, including free prescription drug coverage and a benefit for those living at home.
If passed, the 2018 Budget would make prescriptions completely free for everyone 65 and over, ensuring that no senior citizen ever needs to go without necessary drugs.
According to the government, by eliminating the Ontario Drug Benefit annual deductible and co-pay, the average Ontario senior will save $240 per year.
New to the Budget is the new Seniors’ Healthy Home Program, which would provide a benefit of up to $750 annually for eligible households led by seniors 75 and over to help them live independently and offset the costs of maintaining their homes.
The Liberals are also promising to provide more access to home and community health care services for seniors, including 2.8 million more hours of personal support and 284,000 more nursing visits, through a $650-million investment over three years.
New Drug and Dental Plan
One major program unveiled Wednesday promises drug and dental support to those who don’t have other health coverage.
The new Ontario Drug and Dental Program would reimburse 80% of eligible expenses for those without other coverage.
This plan would cover a maximum of $400 per single person, $600 per couple and $700 per family of four with two children
The program would take effect in summer 2019, costing the province roughly $800 million over its first two years.
Improved Child Care
The Liberal government promises to provide more affordable child care by offering free preschool child care for children aged 2.5 until they’re eligible for kindergarten.
This would save families an estimated $17,000 per child, but it will allow parents to go back to work when they’re ready and help give children the best start in life.
It’s expected to cost roughly $2.2 billion over three years.
Providing Better Care
The province is spending big on health care and is planning on investing approximately $19 billion over 10 years to build and renovate hospitals.
The Liberal government also promises to improve hospitals by providing better access to care, reduced wait times, addressing capacity issues and better meeting the needs of Ontario’s growing and aging population through an additional $822-million investment in 2018-2019.
To continue improving health care, the Budget proposes to provide better and faster access to mental health and addiction to the people of Ontario, bringing the total funding to more than $17 billion over the next four years.
Finally, the Liberal government pledges to build a fairer society by investing $1.8 billion to strengthen services for about 47,000 adults with developmental disabilities.
Creating More Opportunities
In addition to already increasing the minimum wage to $14 per hour on January 1, 2018, the government will raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour on January 1, 2019.
The province will also provide $935 million in new funding over three years through the Good Jobs and Growth Plan to support Ontario businesses, students and graduates, and help attract good, well-paying jobs.
Implementing Legalization of Cannabis
In response to the federal government’s decision to legalize recreational cannabis, Ontario has passed legislation to establish a safe and sensible framework within the province that protects youth and reduces harm.
The Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation, a subsidiary of the LCBO, will be responsible for new stand-alone cannabis storefronts and an online distribution channel.
To help address the incremental implementation costs of legalization, the province will be providing municipalities with $40 million over the first two years of legalization through the Ontario Cannabis Legalization Implementation Fund. This funding will be provided from Ontario’s portion of the federal excise duty on recreational cannabis.
By the 2020-21 fiscal year, it’s expected to bring in a net income of $100 million.
Not Everyone Agrees
However, some are arguing that the Budget falls short when it comes to addressing critical issues facing the residents of Ontario.
When it comes to the budgets of Ontario families, affordable housing is one of the most critical items. In today’s market, young people, in particular, are struggling to afford the Canadian dream of home ownership.
According to Tim Hudak, CEO of Ontario Real Estate Association, “Unfortunately, when it comes to making housing more affordable for young families, the 2018 Ontario Budget is a missed opportunity.”
Hudak says that young people looking for assistance to get out of their parent’s basement didn’t get any help in the 2018 Budget.
“The provincial government deserves credit for doubling the land transfer tax rebate for first-time home buyers in 2017, but more work is needed to make home ownership more affordable, especially in urban areas.”
Hudak says it’s time to take action now, “so we can protect the dream of home ownership for future generations.”
The full 2018 Ontario Budget can be found here.