2014 Ontario Budget

Chapter I: Ontario’s Decade: A 10-Year Plan for the Economy

Highlights

  • Raising the minimum wage to $11.00, and tying it to inflation to provide fairness to low-income workers and predictability to businesses.
  • Investing in affordable housing and homelessness prevention initiatives.
  • Increasing and proposing to index the Ontario Child Benefit.
  • Establishing a new health benefit program for low-income children.
  • Continuing to reform the social assistance system through a rate increase and by streamlining employment benefits.
  • Expanding the Student Nutrition Program to serve more children in low-income neighbourhoods and on First Nation reserves.
  • Enhancing supports for adults with developmental disabilities.
  • Creating a more accessible justice system where low-income families and vulnerable groups have access to the legal supports they need.
  • Supporting greater opportunities for Aboriginal people through a variety of new initiatives.
  • Taking further action to reduce auto insurance rates.
  • Improving consumer protection through a modernized regulatory system.
  • Proposing to remove the Debt Retirement Charge cost from residential users’ electricity bills after December 31, 2015, to save a typical residential ratepayer about $70 per year.  

Section D: A Fair Society

A Fair Society

Ontario has a strong reputation for promoting greater fairness by investing in people, ensuring equal access to key public services such as health care and education, and supporting the needs of low-income children, families and the most vulnerable. By providing more protection, security and equal opportunity for Ontarians, the government provides individuals with a greater sense of dignity and independence.

Over the past decade, Ontario has seen substantial increases in the minimum wage, the introduction and expansion of the Ontario Child Benefit, and new investments in social assistance after years of neglect.

Ontario is introducing a new 10-year economic plan to create the conditions to help lift people out of poverty. Through the tax and transfer system, the government is able to provide valuable services and benefits to all Ontarians, including education, health care and children’s benefits. This creates new opportunities for even the most vulnerable, while increasing the province’s long-term economic prospects. Ontario is working with all sector partners in the fight against poverty. The government believes that all Ontarians, regardless of their economic status or background, should have an equal opportunity to reach their full potential and contribute to the prosperity of the province.

“We should strive for an economy that draws on all people’s capabilities and creates economic success for everybody. Equality is not simply a measure of outcomes; it is also a measure of opportunities to contribute.”

Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity, 2007.

To ensure protections are in place, the Province is taking further steps to fight fraud and reduce auto insurance rates by developing a dedicated investigation and prosecution office on serious fraud. In addition, Ontario is developing long-term solutions to address the needs of condominium owners and is moving to establish province-wide standards for home inspectors.

Providing Opportunity for All Ontarians

Even in challenging economic times and while working to eliminate the deficit, Ontario continues to make gains in the fight against poverty. The government’s first Poverty Reduction Strategy, announced in 2008, helped lift 47,000 children out of poverty.

The Province recognizes that, in the long term, reduced poverty and better access to jobs for the most vulnerable will help build a fairer society and a more prosperous economy. That is why the government is taking action by investing in a renewed poverty reduction strategy. Giving those at the low end of the income scale a boost means more money spent in communities, more jobs created, and greater gains to the economy as a whole.

“But for every dollar that poverty takes from these low-income households, the province as a whole loses an additional 50 cents. … It shows up in extra costs to our health care system, the costs of crime, the cost of social assistance, the loss of tax revenue that accompanies low earnings, and the intergenerational costs that flow from the likelihood that a significant number of children from poor families will also be poor when they grow up.”

Ontario Association of Food Banks, “The Cost of Poverty,” (2008).

Providing Supports for Low-Income Working Individuals and Families

The recession was hard on many low-income working Ontarians. However, improvements in children’s benefits, other changes to provincial and federal tax and benefit programs, and a higher minimum wage have all contributed to greater incomes for low-income families. As shown in Chart 1.11, by the end of 2014, a single parent with two children who earns minimum wage would experience a 75 per cent increase in income compared to 2003.

The government will maintain these investments and build on them to help keep these families on track for a brighter future.

Expanding the Ontario Child Benefit

Ontario provides targeted support for low- to moderate-income families through the Ontario Child Benefit (OCB). This benefit, along with other provincial and federal tax and benefit programs, enhances the incomes of low- to moderate-income families and helps provide a more stable income base for those who may experience uncertain earnings. Since these benefits are available outside social assistance, they also help reduce financial barriers for individuals and families to become financially independent.

The OCB has made a significant positive impact on people’s lives:

  • It has helped lift 47,000 children out of poverty.
  • In 2013–14, Ontario provided nearly $1 billion through the OCB to over one million children across the province, helping to support about 35 per cent of all children under age 18.

In July 2014, the government will increase the maximum annual OCB per child to $1,310, enhancing the incomes of half-a-million families.

Investments in the OCB that improve the incomes of low- to moderate-income families also help the economy as a whole, since these families use the additional support to purchase needed goods and services in their communities.

To maintain the gains made by the OCB, the government proposes to begin indexing the OCB maximum benefit, and the income threshold at which the OCB starts to be reduced, to annual increases in the Ontario Consumer Price Index (CPI). This would take effect in July 2015, and would safeguard the purchasing power of the OCB from erosion due to inflation.

Expanding Low-Income Health Benefits

Children’s health is an important social and economic investment. However, only about 20 per cent of low-income workers have access to employer health benefits for themselves and their families.

As part of the first Poverty Reduction Strategy, the government launched the Healthy Smiles Ontario program in 2010, which provides dental services to children in low-income working families. Beginning in April 2014, program eligibility is being expanded to give 70,000 more children access to dental services. The government will further integrate existing publicly funded dental programs for children into the Healthy Smiles Ontario program to provide seamless enrolment and streamlined administration.

The government is also proposing to further expand access to health benefits for children in low-income families. Once fully implemented, children in low-income families would be eligible to receive additional health benefits including prescription drugs, assistive devices, vision care and mental health services. By expanding eligibility to approximately 500,000 children, these benefits and services would further improve health outcomes for low-income children and help their families remain in employment.

Moving forward, the government will consult with stakeholders to explore options to extend health benefits to all low-income Ontarians.

Expanding the Student Nutrition Program

The government seeks the best for Ontario’s children and youth. It wants them to be healthy and happy, succeed in school, and get the supports they need to grow into strong healthy adults.

The Province is expanding the existing Student Nutrition Program. This is in addition to the current annual investment of over $20 million, resulting in a total annual investment of $32 million by 2016–17. The new investment would fund 340 new breakfast programs for an additional 56,000 children in higher-needs elementary and secondary schools, including on-reserve First Nation schools. The Province will continue to fund a portion of the cost of providing food, with the balance funded through community fundraising efforts and non-government partners, including local businesses, large corporations and national charities.

The Impact of Ontario’s Existing Student Nutrition Program

Ontario’s Student Nutrition Program has had a positive impact on student learning:

  • Research conducted by the Toronto District School Board in 2008 and 2009 in schools with a student nutrition program demonstrated that children who regularly ate breakfast scored 9 to 16 per cent higher on Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) tests in reading, science and math than before the program was introduced.
  • The same study showed that Grade 7 and 8 students who ate breakfast at school on most days achieved or exceeded provincial reading standards by a rate 10 per cent higher than those who did not have breakfast.
  • According to the Board, 78 per cent of Grade 10 students who regularly ate breakfast were on track for high school graduation (having accumulated 15 or more high school credits), compared to 61 per cent of students who ate morning meals only a few days a week or not at all.

Reducing Energy Costs for Low-Income Families

The government is committed to reducing electricity cost pressures on individuals and families, recognizing that Ontario’s most vulnerable spend a proportionately higher percentage of disposable income on energy and electricity.

The Province provides tax credits to help low- to moderate-income families and individuals with their energy costs:

  • Ontario Energy and Property Tax Credit — for 2014, up to $973 in tax relief for non-seniors, or up to $1,108 in tax relief for seniors, to help with the sales tax on energy, including electricity, and with property tax; and
  • Northern Ontario Energy Credit — for 2014, up to $141 for single people in the north, or up to $216 for families in the north, to help with the higher energy costs they face.

The Province is also requiring the Ontario Energy Board to report back on electricity system options for a sustainable, long-term electricity support program specifically designed for low-income Ontario families.

The government is also proposing to remove the Debt Retirement Charge (DRC) cost from residential electricity users’ electricity bills after December 31, 2015.

Protection and Fairness for Ontario Workers

Legislating a Fair Minimum Wage

The government’s approach to the minimum wage provides fairness to low-income workers and predictability for businesses. The minimum wage was frozen from 1995 to 2003. Beginning in 2003, the government increased it for seven successive years from $6.85 to $10.25 per hour in 2010. This represented an increase of 50 per cent, exceeding the 34 per cent change in inflation over the 1995 to 2010 period. The government then maintained the minimum wage at that rate from 2010 to 2013, in part because of weakness in the labour market stemming from the global recession, and to give businesses time to adjust to the increases up to that period to maintain competitiveness.

In 2013, the government appointed the Minimum Wage Advisory Panel with representation from businesses, workers and youth to provide advice on how to determine future increases to the minimum wage. After careful consideration, the government announced that the minimum wage will increase to $11.00 on June 1, 2014. Responding to the advice of the panel, the government has introduced legislation to tie the minimum wage to the Ontario CPI rate of inflation, beginning in October 2015. This would bring consistency and transparency to setting the minimum wage, which helps businesses and workers plan for the future.

The significant increases in Ontario’s minimum wage since 2003 have made a real difference to the economic well-being of low-income workers and their families. A single parent with a young child working 37.5 hours a week at the upcoming $11.00 per hour minimum wage and accessing all available tax and benefit programs will have an estimated after-tax income nearly three per cent above the Low Income Measure (LIM) threshold. In 2003, at the minimum wage of $6.85 per hour, this parent was 15 per cent below the LIM.

“People at the bottom of the income spectrum spend all the money they have, and more. Increase their pay, they spend more money, raise demand, boost the economy.”

Armine Yalnizyan, Senior Economist, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. “Boosting Minimum Wage Would Also Boost Economy, from the Bottom Up,” The Globe and Mail, (February 27, 2013).

The Need for a Federal Partner

Ontario calls on the federal government to enhance the Working Income Tax Benefit (WITB) to address the needs of low-income workers.

The WITB is a federal refundable tax credit that enhances the earned incomes of eligible low-income working individuals and families. By helping to make work pay, an enhanced WITB would more effectively encourage low-income Canadians to enter the workforce and make it easier for low-wage working families to remain in the labour market.

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance recently recommended:

“That the federal government formally review the WITB to determine how it could be expanded or modified to further benefit Canadians and further incent workforce attachment, subject to the government’s stated intention to balance the budget in the medium term.”

Income Inequality in Canada: An Overview, Report of the Standing Committee on Finance, December 2013.

Housing and Homelessness Prevention Initiatives

Preventing and Reducing Homelessness

Individuals and families living in poverty often face challenges finding and/or retaining suitable and affordable housing. When Ontarians are not securely housed, it impacts all facets of their lives. Everyone needs a safe, secure and affordable place to call home.

As announced in the 2012 Budget, the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative (CHPI) was established on January 1, 2013. It combined funding from five separate homelessness-related programs into a single program delivered locally to allow municipalities to better address local housing priorities.

The CHPI supports the government’s Long-Term Affordable Housing Strategy, a key component of the government’s broader Poverty Reduction Strategy. The vision for CHPI is to provide a more flexible, locally coordinated and integrated service delivery system that is people-oriented, outcome-focused, and reflects a housing-first approach to preventing and reducing homelessness in communities across Ontario.

A housing-first approach to homelessness is based on the idea that a person’s first and most basic need — aside from food and clean water — is stable housing, and that assisting people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness to obtain and maintain stable and affordable housing first will help them access support services such as crisis prevention and intervention supports, medical care, and education and employment supports.

Consistent with the success of housing-first approaches in Ontario and elsewhere, the government is enhancing annual funding for the CHPI by $42 million starting in 2014–15, to a total of $294 million.

Expanding the Investment in Affordable Housing Program

Ontarians need and deserve help accessing adequate, suitable and affordable housing. A study by the Wellesley Institute shows a lack of safe, affordable housing leads to increased illness and pressures on the health care system.1 Lack of affordable housing increases homelessness and destabilizes vulnerable workers, which also threatens the province’s competitiveness in the global economy.

That is why, since 2003, Ontario has committed nearly $3 billion to a variety of affordable housing programs, supporting the creation of over 17,000 affordable rental housing units, making more than 263,000 repairs and improvements to social and affordable housing units, and providing rental and down-payment assistance to over 81,000 households in need.

A key component of the Long-Term Affordable Housing Strategy is the jointly funded federal–provincial Investment in Affordable Housing (IAH) program. Through the IAH program, low-income households can access new affordable rental housing, receive down-payment assistance to own an affordable home, and repair and modify their home to improve their living conditions and foster independent living. Being able to live independently is especially important for seniors and people with disabilities, as well as for victims of family violence.

Ontario is finalizing an agreement with the federal government to extend the IAH program for a further five years. The Ontario government would contribute $80.1 million annually for five years to this program.

The current IAH program provides funding for the construction and renovation of affordable housing units, as well as home ownership assistance, rent supplements, shelter allowances, and the renovation and repair of accommodations to foster independent living. The program also provides dedicated funding assistance for the housing needs of off-reserve Aboriginal communities as well as remote communities in Northern Ontario.

Establishing a New Local Poverty Reduction Fund

To help foster partnerships with local communities, the government is investing $50 million over five years to create a new poverty reduction fund targeted at supporting local solutions to poverty. This fund would address poverty by building on local strengths and addressing local needs. The funding would support innovations through partnerships at the local level.

Targeted Supports for the Most Vulnerable

Enhancing social services is smart public policy that can help people find and maintain employment, and contribute to improving the health of low-income individuals and families. These social gains then reduce pressures on other government program expense areas.

The government will continue to build on its achievements supporting vulnerable children and families through substantial investments in social assistance, and services and supports for people with developmental disabilities.

Social Assistance Reform

The government is continuing to implement reforms to social assistance, guided by the advice of the Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario, led by Frances Lankin and Munir A. Sheikh.

Increasing Social Assistance Benefits

In 1995, social assistance rates for Ontario Works recipients were cut by 22 per cent and then frozen for eight years. Rates for people with disabilities were also frozen for eight years.

Ending this freeze in 2004, the government increased social assistance rates by more than 15 per cent by 2012. In the 2013 Budget, rates were increased by an additional one per cent for adult Ontario Works recipients and people with disabilities receiving Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) benefits. Single Ontario Works adults without children received a further top-up, for a total increase of $20 per month, in recognition of the fact that these recipients have the lowest level of support among social assistance recipients.

Building on the rate increases announced in the 2013 Budget, the government will increase social assistance rates in 2014 by an additional one per cent for adult Ontario Works recipients and people with disabilities receiving ODSP benefits. As in 2013, the government will provide a further top-up for single adults without children receiving Ontario Works. With both the one per cent increase and the top-up, Ontario Works singles without children will receive a total increase of $30 per month.

In addition, the comfort allowance for low-income residents of long-term care homes will also increase by one per cent. Low-income residents use the comfort allowance for discretionary personal expenses.

These social assistance rate increases will take effect in September 2014 for ODSP and in October 2014 for Ontario Works. Municipalities will not be required to cost-share the Ontario Works rate increase until January 2015.

Greater support for low-income families would also help the economy as a whole, since these families use the additional support to purchase needed goods and services in their communities.

Streamlining Employment Benefits

Consistent with the Commission’s recommendation, the Province is moving forward with a plan to streamline social assistance employment benefits.

The government is replacing seven separate employment benefits with a consolidated benefit structure within each of ODSP and Ontario Works. This will reduce the complexity of the social assistance system and improve program efficiency. It will also make it easier for clients to know what help is available and give caseworkers more flexibility to better meet the unique needs of individual clients.

As part of this change, the Work-Related Benefit (WRB) in ODSP will be consolidated into the new employment benefit, which will be available to ODSP recipients with disabilities based on their employment-related needs and expenses. To assist with the adjustment to a new benefit structure, the government will provide a six-month transition benefit for WRB recipients with a disability.

Progress on Implementing Recommendations of the Lankin-Sheikh Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario

With the initial steps taken in the 2013 Budget and the proposed changes for 2014, the government continues to transform the social assistance system by increasing benefits for recipients with the lowest level of support, harmonizing program rules and reducing barriers to employment.

Progress on transforming the social assistance benefit structure in the first two years includes:

  • Increasing the support for single Ontario Works recipients without children by $50 per month — an important step in meeting the Commission’s recommendation of a $100 rate increase for Ontario Works single adults without children, who experience the lowest level of support in social assistance;
  • Introducing an earnings exemption of $200 monthly to reduce employment barriers for all social assistance recipients; and
  • Taking steps to align Ontario Disability Support Program and Ontario Works rules by harmonizing the treatment of employment income for full-time students and self-employed individuals, and by increasing asset limits for singles receiving Ontario Works from $606 to $2,500, and from $1,043 to $5,000 for couples.

Moving forward, the government will continue to reform social assistance guided by the Commission’s advice.

Supporting Employment for People with Disabilities

There are 1.65 million people in Ontario who have a physical, mental, sensory or learning disability, 63 per cent of whom are aged 15 to 64 — the cohort most likely to be participating in the labour force. The government is working to provide necessary supports that address the barriers and challenges people with disabilities face in securing employment. Employment for people with disabilities will ultimately lead to improved social inclusion and independence.

Ontario will continue to collaborate with businesses and community employers to correct myths and misconceptions about people with disabilities, address stereotyping and foster partnerships to establish inclusive workplaces. This will be coupled with talent development initiatives that focus on educational attainment, skills training and early experiences with the labour market for people with disabilities, particularly through experiential learning.

Supports and Programs that Promote Hiring People with Disabilities

  • Engaging Employers: The Partnership Council on Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities, composed of corporate leaders and accessibility change-makers, was announced in the 2013 Budget.
  • Valuing Ability Campaign: This targeted outreach and marketing initiative will increase awareness of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005, and its standards among small and medium-sized enterprises, improve compliance, and highlight tools and resources available to recruit and retain people with disabilities.
  • Supporting Compliance: The Accessibility Directorate of Ontario will continue to work with businesses by providing the tools and assistance they need to meet Ontario’s accessibility standards.

Supporting Adults with Developmental Disabilities

The government remains committed to improving supports for adults with developmental disabilities — and their families — in order to help these adults live as independently as possible and fully integrate into society. In keeping with this commitment, and combined with funding announced in the 2013 Budget, the government is investing an additional $810 million in the community and developmental services sector over the next three years, beginning in 2014–15.

A key element is a new investment of $485 million over the next three years in an action plan to build stronger services and supports for individuals while encouraging new approaches, collaboration and partnerships to advance the government’s transformation of the developmental services system. This investment builds on the $42.5 million annual funding, announced in the 2013 Budget, which was targeted to help families and adults at high risk, reduce waitlist pressures and better support those with complex needs.

This new investment would:

  • Expand direct funding programs to help individuals with developmental disabilities participate in their communities:
    • For the Passport program to eliminate waitlists over four years; and
    • For the Special Services at Home program to eliminate waitlists over two years.
  • Expand individualized planning to help individuals with developmental disabilities transition to adulthood, find employment and achieve greater independence;
  • Provide residential services to adults with urgent needs, including support to transition young adults currently receiving youth residential services to more appropriate adult services and supports; and
  • Expand cost-effective residential services and promote innovative community living solutions that support greater inclusion of people with developmental disabilities into communities.

Supporting Workers Who Serve Ontario’s Most Vulnerable

People with developmental disabilities rely on hundreds of agencies across Ontario for a wide array of safe, high-quality services. Ontario is investing $200 million over three years for its front-line workers in these agencies to ensure families have the services they require in their communities.

Specifically, this investment will support the continued professionalization of the community and developmental services sector and support salaries and wages for front-line workers, including those in lower wage bands. It will support overall transformation of the sector by providing agencies with the flexibility needed to modernize how they offer the right mix of services to vulnerable Ontarians.

Addressing Waitlists for Children’s Treatment and Rehabilitation Services

The government is committed to helping children and youth with special needs achieve their full potential. To support this goal, the government is providing an additional $5 million annual investment in Children’s Treatment Centres (CTCs) that would reduce wait times for core rehabilitation services for children and youth with special needs.

Children’s Treatment Centres provide rehabilitation services in physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech and language therapy to children and youth up to 19 years of age with physical and/or developmental disabilities, chronic illnesses and/or communication disorders.

The new investment will build on the 2013 Budget investment in CTCs, further expanding access to rehabilitation services.

Supporting Opportunities for Aboriginal People and Communities

The Province is collaborating with Aboriginal communities and making investments to create a better quality of life for Aboriginal people in Ontario.

Improved social conditions and economic opportunities are essential to ensuring that Aboriginal communities can thrive. In recent years, the Province and its Aboriginal partners have worked together to:

  • Create over 540 jobs and train 4,300 Aboriginal people through the New Relationship Fund;
  • Provide $32.2 million to Aboriginal communities through 118 major and minor capital grants and related feasibility studies through the Aboriginal Community Capital Grants Program;
  • Offer local flexibility with asset rules for Ontario Works to recognize the unique needs of Aboriginal communities;
  • Establish a First Nation Juries Review Committee, which is working to enhance First Nation representation on juries;
  • Develop a new Treaty Strategy, including an education and public awareness campaign that will raise awareness of treaty and Aboriginal rights;
  • Continue investments in projects that help to close the achievement gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students; and
  • Continue to integrate Aboriginal histories, cultures, perspectives and traditions, including the history of residential schools, into the curriculum.

The Remote Communities Allowance

People living in remote northern communities, particularly First Nations, can face disproportionately high costs for basic necessities like groceries. This year, in addition to a social assistance rate increase, the government is proposing to replace the existing Northern Allowance provided through Ontario Works and ODSP with a Remote Communities Allowance. The Remote Communities Allowance would represent a $50 per month increase over the current Northern Allowance for the first person, and a $25 per month increase for each additional family member. This is an increase of more than 30 per cent for a single individual.

“We heard clearly from First Nations that social assistance rates do not reflect the realities of northern and remote communities, such as the high cost of food and transportation.”

Final Report, Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario, 2012.

Joint Working Group on Violence against Aboriginal Women

The Ontario government recognizes that the rates of violence against Aboriginal women are much higher than for other women in Ontario. Research has shown that eight out of ten Aboriginal women have experienced violence in their relationships. To address this important issue, Ontario is investing $2 million over two years to support the Joint Working Group on Violence against Aboriginal Women. The funding will allow the Joint Working Group to respond to the needs of Aboriginal women and girls who have experienced or are at risk for violence, and to develop community-based initiatives that will help inform the development of a long-term prevention strategy.

Aboriginal Children and Youth Strategy

Ontario is working with First Nations, Métis and Inuit people to transform the way services are designed and delivered, and to begin to address the disproportionate challenges faced by Aboriginal children and youth both on- and off-reserve. The strategy, which aims to increase the availability of culturally appropriate services and enhance community control over service delivery and design, is set to roll out in 2015.

Student Nutrition in Aboriginal Communities

In March 2013, the Healthy Kids Panel recommended establishing a universal student nutrition program in First Nation communities. As part of the proposed three-year, $32 million expansion of the Student Nutrition Program, First Nation communities will receive funding commencing in 2015–16. Communities will have the opportunity to lead the development and delivery of Student Nutrition Program models that address the unique strengths and needs of their communities.

The First Nation expansion includes funding for food and equipment on a per-school basis; part-time, on-site program coordinators in each school; and coordinators to support administrative requirements and logistics.

Urban Aboriginal Action Plan

A large share of Ontario’s Aboriginal population lives in urban centres. Given the ongoing challenges facing this population, the government is introducing an Urban Aboriginal Action Plan. The government will support urban Aboriginal communities by providing $2.5 million in funding over three years to develop strategies that reflect local interests and lead to improved socioeconomic outcomes. The Province will also coordinate an engagement strategy in consultation with Aboriginal people, municipalities and the federal government to better align programming directed towards urban Aboriginal people.

First Nations Treaty Strategy

Negotiated agreements with First Nation communities honour legal obligations and resolve longstanding land disputes in a way that benefits First Nations and Ontario as a whole. To promote constructive engagement with First Nation communities, the Province is moving forward with a new Treaty Strategy, including funding of $7.9 million over three years.

The strategy will include a treaty education and public awareness campaign to raise awareness of treaty and Aboriginal rights, and help facilitate meaningful relationships with Aboriginal communities by creating a common language and approach to treaty implementation. Successful implementation will raise public awareness and promote improved socioeconomic outcomes for First Nations.

Aboriginal Economic Development Fund

The Province recognizes that improved economic opportunities are essential to ensuring that Aboriginal people can work and thrive. That is why it will move forward with an Aboriginal Economic Development Fund, which will include an investment of $25 million over three years.

The Fund will support Aboriginal communities in the development of long-term economic strategies. It will also provide grants for Aboriginal businesses and fund province-wide, regional skills-training programs.

Preparing Remote First Nation Communities for Electricity Transmission

To help ensure remote First Nation communities can more fully benefit from new transmission projects in their area, Ontario will provide $3 million in funding over three years through the Remote Electrification Readiness Program. This will help them prepare for the advantages that connections to the grid will bring. The program will include job-specific training, relevant health programs, business innovation mentoring, and economic development supports. The program will support the goals of Ontario’s new Long-Term Energy Plan, which identified connecting remote northwestern First Nation communities to the electricity grid as a priority for the Province.

Electricity service in remote First Nation communities in northwestern Ontario is currently supplied by local diesel generators. According to the Ontario Power Authority, diesel generation typically costs three to ten times more than the average cost of the provincial supply mix.

Connecting remote northwestern First Nation communities to the Ontario electricity grid is a priority and would support stronger, healthier northern remote communities by reducing barriers to growth, increasing economic development opportunities, improving social and living conditions for residents, providing cleaner air and reduced greenhouse gas emissions, reducing future environmental remediation liabilities associated with diesel fuel spills, and ensuring more reliable electricity supply.

The federal government must work with the Province to establish a funding agreement for cost-sharing of investments to connect remote First Nation communities.

Aboriginal Loan Guarantee Program

The Aboriginal Loan Guarantee Program (ALGP) was launched in 2009 to facilitate Aboriginal participation in renewable energy infrastructure projects. To date, the program has leveraged significant investments, with $130 million in approved loan guarantees supporting the investments of eight communities, representing over 10,000 First Nation people, in four projects that have invested over $2.8 billion in the province. These include the recently approved loan guarantee that will support a portion of Alderville First Nation’s equity investment in the Alderville Solar Project, the province’s first ground-mounted solar farm wholly owned by a First Nation community.

To build on this success, the total amount of loan guarantees that will be made available under the ALGP was recently increased by $250 million to $650 million. This will give the Province flexibility to support qualifying applications currently under review, as well as future applications to the program. Eligible investments under the ALGP include key investments in transmission, wind, solar and hydroelectric projects that will be located across the province. These projects will provide Ontarians with sources of clean, reliable electricity for many years to come.

The ALGP is aligned with other provincial programs supporting Aboriginal participation in the electricity sector, including the Ontario Power Authority’s Feed-in Tariff Program and Aboriginal Renewable Energy Fund.

Improving Access to Justice

All Ontarians, regardless of income level or ability, should have access to an effective and fair justice system. Ontario is committed to ensuring low-income families and vulnerable groups have access to the legal supports they need.

Increased Legal Aid Eligibility

The government is introducing a strategy to expand access to legal aid by raising the income eligibility threshold to qualify for legal aid assistance. The income eligibility threshold has not increased since the 1990s. As a result, more and more low-income Ontarians are unable to afford legal representation in the court system. When fully implemented, raising the income eligibility threshold would allow an additional one million low-income Ontarians to be eligible for legal aid services, more than doubling the number of eligible Ontarians. As part of this initiative, approximately 75,000 additional certificates would be issued by Legal Aid Ontario each year. These certificates allow low-income Ontarians to be represented by a lawyer.

Easier Access to Child Support for Ontario Families

Currently, establishing and updating child support payments through the court system is time consuming and costly for parents. The government is proposing to create a new, easy-to-use online service option for those parents who would like a simpler and faster approach to set up or change child support amounts without having to go to court. This service would speed up the process while also freeing up valuable court time that could be used to deal with the most pressing cases.

The new service, the first of its kind in Canada, would start in 2015. This new online service would leverage the Ministry of Finance’s centralized automated information verification service to give parents faster and more efficient child support payment determinations. An administrative fee would be charged to offset the cost of the new online service.

Amendments will be proposed to the Family Law Act, Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act, 1996, and Ministry of Revenue Act to implement the new program.

Providing Electricity Rate Mitigation for Ontarians

In December 2013, the Province released an updated Long-Term Energy Plan (LTEP), Achieving Balance, to ensure Ontario has the right strategies and targets in place for a clean, modern and reliable energy future. It included strong actions to mitigate future rate increases.

While the updated LTEP projects typical residential bills will increase on average by 2.8 per cent per year over the next 20 years, residential customers can expect to pay about $520 less over the next five years and $3,800 less to 2030 than originally forecast in the 2010 LTEP.

Recent comparative data, compiled by Hydro-Quebec, show average electricity prices for Ontario cities to be in the middle of the range, across major North American cities.

The Province has taken other steps to mitigate the impact of electricity costs on Ontario families and seniors, including:

  • Energy Consumer Protection Act, 2010 — tough new rules to protect consumers from unfair practices in the retail energy sector; and
  • Moved off-peak rates to start at 7 p.m. instead of 9 p.m.: 10 more hours per week at the lowest-cost, off-peak electricity rates.

Removing the Debt Retirement Charge from Residential Bills

The government is proposing to remove the Debt Retirement Charge (DRC) cost from residential users’ electricity bills. Removing the DRC cost for residential electricity users would save a typical residential user about $70 per year.

The DRC is provided for under the Electricity Act, 1998, and has been charged since May 1, 2002, to help service and pay down the debt and other liabilities of the old Ontario Hydro, which are managed by the Ontario Electricity Financial Corporation (OEFC), until the residual stranded debt is retired.

The residual stranded debt has been reduced by an estimated $8 billion since 2004, from an estimated peak of $11.9 billion as at March 31, 2004, to $3.9 billion as at March 31, 2013, as published in the 2013 Ontario Economic Outlook and Fiscal Review. 

In the absence of this initiative, current projections estimate that the residual stranded debt would be retired and the DRC would end in 2017–18. The estimated timing for residual stranded debt retirement along with the end of the DRC is subject to uncertainty in forecasting future dedicated revenues from the electricity sector. Revenues would depend on the financial performance of OPG, Hydro One and municipal electrical utilities, as well as other factors such as electricity consumption.

The government’s proposal to eliminate the DRC for residential electricity users after December 31, 2015, would mean ending the DRC almost two years earlier for these users than currently estimated. The charge would remain on all other electricity users’ bills until the residual stranded debt is retired — this is currently estimated to occur by the end of 2018, in line with the previous estimated range.

The Minister of Finance will continue to report annually on the residual stranded debt and the estimated date range for retirement of residual stranded debt and the end of the DRC for all non-residential electricity users.

The Auditor General audits OEFC’s annual financial statements and has provided an unqualified opinion every year since the initial 1999–2000 financial statements. This includes OEFC’s interest expense, which is currently about $1.5 billion per year and has totalled about $29.2 billion between April 1, 1999, and March 31, 2014.

The Auditor General’s 2012 and 2013 Annual Reports also noted that the Auditor was pleased to see an increased level of transparency with respect to public reporting on the residual stranded debt.

Enhancing Consumer Protection for Ontarians

Ontario continues to move forward with its ambitious consumer-protection agenda. The Province has taken action to address a wide variety of pressing marketplace concerns that affect consumers in their everyday lives. Promoting consumer protection helps people make informed choices, spend wisely and protect their hard-earned money. Consumer confidence, in turn, promotes a stronger economy.

Auto Insurance Cost and Rate Reduction Strategy

Ontario is committed to making auto insurance more affordable for the province’s over nine million drivers. In the 2013 Budget, the Province introduced a Cost and Rate Reduction Strategy to build on previous reforms that successfully stabilized auto insurance rates in Ontario. In 2010, the government implemented a series of auto insurance reforms aimed at stabilizing premiums. The recently released “Automobile Insurance Transparency and Accountability Report” highlighted that, without these reforms, insurance rates would have needed to increase significantly. The Strategy is targeting a 15 per cent average rate reduction by August 2015, with an average eight per cent reduction target by August 2014.

Ontario continues to take action to achieve the average rate reduction target of 15 per cent within two years. The most recent rate approval of April 15, 2014, indicates a total rate reduction of more than 5.6 per cent since the Strategy was launched in August 2013. While progress has been achieved to date, further actions will be required to meet the average rate reduction targets.

Ontario is working hard to reduce rates for consumers — but industry also has a responsibility to contribute to these efforts. It is critical that industry play its part and take concrete steps to lower costs, control overhead, and manage claims effectively and fairly. The government will continue to review industry’s efforts as the Cost and Rate Reduction Strategy progresses.

Transforming the Dispute Resolution System and Fighting Fraud to Reduce Rates

In March 2014, the government introduced Bill 171, the Fighting Fraud and Reducing Automobile Insurance Rates Act, 2014, a key element of the Cost and Rate Reduction Strategy. The Bill proposes a number of initiatives to tackle major sources of costs and uncertainty in the system that prevent rates from coming down. The Bill includes legislative amendments for the transformation of the dispute resolution system, and further action to crack down on fraud and abuse, as well as other cost-saving measures.

Fighting fraud is an important part of the Cost and Rate Reduction Strategy. To date, the government has taken action to address half of the recommendations made by the Auto Insurance Anti-Fraud Task Force in late 2012. The government is building on the steps it has taken by developing a dedicated investigation and prosecution office on serious fraud, with an initial focus on auto insurance fraud. The development of this fraud office would be based on the Task Force’s principle that fraudsters should be vigorously pursued and prosecuted where evidence warrants.

Addressing Towing, Vehicle Storage and Collision Repair Practices

Drivers involved in traffic collisions or in need of roadside assistance should have the confidence that the tow truck driver helping them is reputable and safe, and will provide honest and fair dealings. The Province committed to take action to address vehicle storage and collision repair practices, and to hold consultations on provincial oversight of the towing industry.

Ontario is proposing legislation to regulate the towing industry.

The government has taken action to address storage-fee issues by introducing legislative amendments as part of Bill 171 that would provide regulation-making authority for the determination of vehicle storage periods and fair value regarding daily fees.

As part of the next phase of this initiative, the Province will continue consulting to address issues of fraud and abuse relating to collision repair practices.

Increasing Automobile Insurance Transparency and Accountability

The government has retained an independent third party to provide annual Automobile Insurance Transparency and Accountability Expert Reports to assess its efforts to reduce auto insurance costs and rates. An interim report was delivered to the Minister of Finance in April 2014, and annual reports will be delivered in August of each year of the Strategy. The reports will also assess the industry’s efforts to lower costs and pass on savings to drivers.

The interim report highlights that further action is needed to support the government’s Cost and Rate Reduction Strategy. The report also concludes it is important that insurers continue working to achieve efficiencies and reduce costs in the auto insurance system through initiatives such as better claim management, more sophisticated pricing methods (such as usage-based insurance) and improved fraud-prevention practices.

Rewarding Safe Drivers: Usage-Based Insurance

Ontario is working with the insurance industry on new ways to reward safe drivers as part of its Cost and Rate Reduction Strategy. In particular, the government is encouraging insurance companies to offer consumers usage-based insurance, which uses technology to identify and offer discounts for safe driving habits.

The Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO) has already communicated key consumer protection requirements to the insurance industry, and many companies have implemented or are planning to implement usage-based insurance. The Province will continue to encourage insurance companies to invest in this new technology as well as work with the FSCO to encourage uptake of this product.

This innovative technology can help promote safe driving and make auto insurance more affordable for Ontarians. Some insurance companies have already introduced usage-based insurance that can provide discounts for drivers, depending on how often they drive. For example, consumers who drive less because they use public transit can reduce their auto insurance rates by choosing this specific product.

In the future, the government will consider using telematic technology for a variety of purposes, including improving the effectiveness and accessibility of vehicle emissions testing.

Putting Consumers First

Ontario is putting consumers first by strengthening rights and providing more protection. To help inform consumers of their rights and to let them know where to go if they have a complaint or dispute, the government recently established Consumer Protection Ontario. This new awareness program is part of the government’s plan to protect consumers and ensure a fair marketplace.

Modernizing the Condominium Act

The government is taking steps to update and improve the Condominium Act, 1998, to address the needs of the condominium community and support the long-term sustainability of condominium living.

To respond to the evolving sector, Ontario launched a public consultation to identify a comprehensive set of issues and develop long-term solutions relating to matters such as:

  • Consumer protection for buyers;
  • Condominium finances and reserve fund management;
  • Condominium board governance;
  • Expertise/accreditation of condominium managers; and
  • Dispute resolution, for example, between condominium boards and owners.

As a next step, the Province will introduce legislation in the spring of 2014 that, if passed, would establish mandatory qualifications for condominium managers and create a modern dispute resolution system. These new measures would allow condominium owners to use an alternative to the court system, saving money and resolving disputes more quickly, and would increase protection for condominium owners, tenants and buyers by improving condominium management standards.

Establishing Province-wide Standards for Home Inspectors

Buying a home is the largest purchase most people make. Having a home inspection before finalizing the transaction can help people make informed decisions and avoid unexpected problems and expenses.

A group of experts, including home inspectors, consumer advocates, educators and representatives from the real estate, law and insurance sectors, recently submitted its recommendations to the government on licensing, standards and qualifications for home inspectors. The Province will review and consider these recommendations as it explores province-wide standards for home inspectors with the aim to:

  • Increase transparency in the profession;
  • Ensure a minimum standard of training;
  • Improve consistency in home inspections; and
  • Enhance consumer protection.

Strengthening Building Safety

Currently, the Building Code Act, 1992, does not require the involvement of professional engineers and architects in the design of certain types of buildings. As a result, there is a risk that non-qualified people may attempt to design large and complex buildings, putting public safety at risk.

To further promote public safety, the government proposes to introduce amendments to the Building Code Act, 1992, which, if passed, would clarify that only qualified designers and design professionals can design certain types of buildings in Ontario.

As well, the Province proposes to address the problem of illegal residential building. Illegal residential building takes place when a builder builds a home in his or her own name, registers it as private construction, and sells it on completion as a private home without having registered it for a new home warranty with Ontario’s Tarion Warranty Corporation. There is a concern for public safety because a house built illegally is at risk of substandard construction. In response, the government proposes to explore options to address this, which may include legislative and regulatory changes.

French Language Services Commissioner

On January 1, 2014, the French Language Services Amendment Act took effect, making the French Language Services Commissioner an independent officer of the provincial Legislature. The Commissioner is responsible for handling complaints and conducting investigations to ensure compliance with the French Language Services Act, which guarantees an individual’s right to receive services in French from ministries and agencies in 25 designated areas. This change is an important step forward in recognizing and safeguarding the rights of Ontario’s francophone citizens.

1 Wellesley Institute, “The Blueprint to End Homelessness In Toronto – A Two-Part Action Plan,” (2011),
www.wellesleyinstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/TheBlueprintfinal.pdf.

Chart Descriptions

Chart 1.10: Ontario Children Below the Low Income Measure

This bar chart shows that the government's Poverty Reduction Strategy is helping to lower child poverty. For 2011, the poverty rate for children was 22.2 per cent before taxes and transfers. After accounting for the impact of taxes and transfers, the poverty rate for 2011 declined to 15.9 per cent. The impact of the poverty reduction strategy was to further lower the child poverty rate to 13.6 per cent.

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Chart 1.11: Supporting Working Families

This chart shows total annualized income for a single parent with two children (ages 9 and 10) in 2003, 2013 and 2014. The chart shows the increase in income between 2003 and 2014 due to increases in: the Ontario Child Benefit and other Ontario Tax-Based Benefits and Credits, Federal Child Benefits and other Federal Tax-Based Benefits and Credits, and the minimum wage rate.

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Chart 1.12: Comparison of Electricity Prices for Residential Consumers

This bar chart compares average electricity prices for residential consumers as of April 1, 2013, in 22 selected Canadian and U.S. cities. Electricity prices range from 6.87 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in Montreal to 22.94 cents per kWh in San Francisco. In Ontario, Ottawa and Toronto average electricity rates are 12.39 cents per kWh and 12.48 cents per kWh, respectively.

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Chart 1.13: Residual Stranded Debt Since April 1, 1999

As at March 31, 2013, as determined by the Minister of Finance, the residual stranded debt was $3.9 billion, a decrease of about $0.6 billion compared to residual stranded debt of $4.5 billion as at March 31, 2012, and a decrease of about $8 billion from the estimated peak as at March 31, 2004.

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Chart 1.14: Auto Insurance Rates Held Below Inflation

This bar chart shows that in Ontario from 2004 to 2013, auto insurance rates increased more slowly than the rate of inflation. From 1990 to 1994, the consumer price index increased by 7.6 per cent, while auto insurance premiums increased by 10.2 per cent. From 1995 to 2003, the consumer price index increased by 18.3 per cent, while auto insurance premiums increased by 44.9 per cent. From 2004 to 2013, the consumer price index increased by 17.6 per cent, while auto insurance rates increased by 6.6 per cent.

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