2016 Ontario Budget
Chapter I: Building Prosperity and Creating Jobs

Section G: Making Everyday Life Easier

The government has introduced many initiatives to help make everyday life easier for Ontarians. These include taking steps to help auto insurance rates go down, not up, helping with electricity and energy costs, and lowering hospital parking fees for frequent users. Consistent with its commitment to ensuring safety, security and fairness, the government continues to strengthen consumer protection.

To make public services more accessible and convenient, Ontario is supporting the development of community hubs. The Province is also increasing choice and convenience for Ontarians by making changes to alcohol retailing and moving government services online.

Ontario is committed to enhancing the delivery of public services through the use of technology, to ensure greater availability and better value for money. Significant progress was made in 2015 through the introduction of services such as online filing for Small Claims Court and eCampus Ontario.

Reducing the Cost of Living

Hospital Parking Fees

The Province is making hospital parking more affordable for patients and visitors. As of January 2016, the government is directing hospitals not to raise their daily parking rates for the next three years. Starting October 1, 2016, hospitals that charge more than $10 a day for parking fees will be required to offer 50 per cent discounts on multiple-use passes to frequent hospital users. In addition, transferable passes that are valid for a year with in-and-out privileges will be offered to frequent users.

Approximately 900,000 patients and visitors — including 135,000 seniors — are expected to benefit from reduced parking fees each year. Ontario will require hospitals that do not own their own lots to make their best efforts to cap or cut parking fees for those who must visit the hospital frequently.

Energy-Saving Home Retrofits

As part of the Province’s climate change strategy, the government is dedicating $100 million of its $325 million Green Investment Fund to help about 37,000 homeowners conduct audits to reduce their energy bills by identifying energy-saving opportunities and completing retrofits, such as replacing furnaces and water heaters and upgrading insulation. Ontario is also dedicating an additional $92 million to social housing energy retrofit initiatives, which will encourage the replacement of older, less efficient boilers, windows and insulation, and the installation of LED lighting.

Electricity Price Relief for Ontarians

The government continues to make Ontario’s electricity system clean and reliable, and deliver price relief as committed to in the 2014 Budget.

Removing the Debt Retirement Charge

Ontario has removed the debt retirement charge (DRC) for residential consumers, as of January 1, 2016, saving a typical residential user about $70 each year. In addition, the government introduced legislation, passed in December 2015, that will end the DRC for all other electricity users as of April 1, 2018 — nine months earlier than previously estimated. The fixed end date will provide certainty to business and industrial electricity users and help them plan their business and investment decisions more effectively.

Large industrials using 3,000 megawatt-hours (MWh) per month could save $21,000 per month, while a small business using 20,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per month could save $140 per month. For more information, see Chapter I, Section A: Fostering a More Innovative and Dynamic Business Environment.

Ontario Electricity Support Program

The Ontario Electricity Support Program (OESP) is available to provide an ongoing credit directly on the electricity bills of eligible low‐income households, as of January 1, 2016. Qualifying low-income Ontarians are eligible to apply for and receive a monthly credit of $30 to $50, for a total of $360 to $600 per year. For example, a family of three earning a total household income of $30,000 may receive an on-bill credit of $30 per month.

The OESP offers a larger credit to low-income consumers whose homes are electrically heated, and those who rely on certain medical devices. Eligible First Nation and Métis households also qualify for a larger credit. The credit for those receiving a larger reduction is $45 to $75 per month, for a total of $540 to $900 per year.

Applicants can visit OntarioElectricitySupport.ca to apply for the program online. More than 100 community groups at over 150 locations across the province are ready to help consumers apply.

Drive Clean

The government is making everyday life easier for Ontarians by eliminating the $30 fee that drivers pay for their Drive Clean emissions tests. Drive Clean is Ontario’s mandatory vehicle emissions inspection and maintenance program, which tests over two million vehicles annually.

Since the program’s introduction in 1999, Drive Clean has kept more than 335,000 tonnes of smog-causing pollutants from entering the air. While the program will continue to protect air quality, eliminating the emissions test fee will help reduce costs for Ontario drivers.

As cleaner fuels are introduced and emissions technology is improved, the program will be reviewed to ensure emissions tests continue to achieve the government’s air quality objectives.

Full-Day Kindergarten

Ontario has fully rolled out its full-day kindergarten (FDK) program, making it available to over 260,000 four- and five-year-olds in approximately 3,600 schools across the province. Ontario families can save up to $6,500 per year in child care costs by enrolling their child in full-day kindergarten.

With more than $1.5 billion in funding to date, FDK is one of the most significant investments Ontario has made in education in a generation. This investment has helped create approximately 3,500 new kindergarten classrooms, about 3,800 additional teaching positions and more than 10,000 early childhood educator positions.

Protecting Consumers

Investor Protection

As more Ontarians assume primary responsibility for their retirement security, good financial advice and strong investor protection are increasingly important.

Currently, in Ontario, no general framework exists to regulate the activities of individuals who offer financial advisory and financial planning services. Last year, the government appointed an independent expert committee to review the regulatory framework relating to financial advisory and financial planning services. The expert committee is finalizing its preliminary policy recommendations and will soon begin further consultation to solicit stakeholder feedback. The committee’s final report is expected to be delivered to the government in fall 2016.

The government intends to propose changes to the Securities Act to improve protections for investors and potential whistleblowers. These changes include broadening insider trading offences to prohibit recommending or encouraging the purchase or sale of securities with knowledge of material undisclosed information. New provisions would be introduced to protect from reprisals an individual who comes forward as a whistleblower.

Improving Auto Insurance

The government is committed to lowering the cost of auto insurance for Ontario’s over 9.5 million drivers and ensuring that individuals injured in motor vehicle collisions get the treatment they need.

Delivering Rate Reductions

In recent years, the government has introduced a number of important and necessary reforms to reduce costs and lower auto insurance rates. Since August 2013, rates have decreased by over seven per cent on average.

The Province has also taken steps to help safe drivers save more on auto insurance. On January 1, 2016, all insurance companies in Ontario were required to provide a discount for drivers who buy and install winter tires.

The government announced additional significant reforms in the 2015 Budget. In the coming months, these changes will work through the system to deliver further rate reductions. As always, consumers are encouraged to take advantage of Ontario’s highly competitive market for auto insurance by shopping around for the best possible rates and for the coverage that best meets their needs.

Protecting Consumers and Claimants

The government has developed a new auto insurance dispute resolution system that will help Ontario drivers get faster access to the benefits they need. It will begin accepting dispute applications on April 1, 2016. Measures to protect consumers, by prohibiting rate increases for minor at-fault accidents and lowering the maximum interest rate for monthly premium payment plans, will also become effective on June 1, 2016.

The government is continuing to protect consumers and claimants by fighting auto insurance fraud. The government will establish a serious fraud office with a special focus on auto insurance fraud.

The Province has also appointed David Marshall as an adviser on auto insurance and pensions. As the former president and CEO of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, Mr. Marshall has the experience necessary to help identify new opportunities for auto insurance reform, and will work to improve health outcomes, lower costs and achieve more affordable auto insurance for Ontarians.

To protect Ontario consumers, the government is also prepared to amend the Insurance Act to ensure that consumers are provided with complete information about the history of used vehicles. Amendments are proposed to the Insurance Act to allow for regulations to be made to require insurers to provide claims and repair history information to motor vehicle dealers for disclosure to prospective used vehicle purchasers.

Increasing Convenience and Choice

Community Hubs

The government is supporting the development of community hubs. These hubs make public services more convenient and accessible by using a public space for many community purposes. Examples of community hubs include:

  • Providing child care in schools;
  • Sharing recreational facilities between municipalities and school boards; and
  • Offering social, medical and legal services in one public building.

Examples of Community Hubs

  • The Town of Petawawa in eastern Ontario is entering an agreement with the Renfrew County District School Board to share community recreation facilities. With this agreement, students will have access to curling and hockey rinks, while the town’s residents will be able to access gym facilities within the school.
  • The Bathurst–Finch Hub houses a community health centre, a dental clinic, mental health programs, settlement services for newcomers, employment support, and help with legal matters. Moreover, it includes community space, free to the public, where local residents can meet and connect.

The Province has accepted all the recommendations contained in Community Hubs: A Strategic Framework and Action Plan and is moving forward with new key initiatives on a priority basis. These include:

  • Building local capacity by investing in a resource network for community partners, including an interactive and online resource centre to provide access to information, best practices and data for community organizations; and
  • Continuing to advance the plan’s recommendations regarding school properties to support continued community use, including introducing changes that would allow greater opportunity to parties interested in acquiring or leasing surplus schools.

To guide the implementation of key initiatives of the action plan, the Province will extend the mandate of the Special Adviser and the Advisory Group to the Premier on community hubs through 2016–17.

Beverage Alcohol

The government has delivered on its promise to introduce the sale of beer in grocery stores. Sixty locations across Ontario are now authorized to sell beer. Up to 150 stores will be authorized to sell beer by May 1, 2017, and up to 450 stores could eventually be approved to do so.

Building on that progress, the Province is moving forward with expanding wine sales to further improve consumer choice and convenience. By fall 2016, up to 70 grocery stores across Ontario will be authorized to sell wine and beer together through newly allocated authorizations. Eventually, up to 150 grocery stores will be approved to sell wine from Ontario, across Canada and around the world.

In addition, up to 150 of the province’s private winery retail outlets now located at grocery stores will have the opportunity to operate their store inside the grocery space, enabling customers to buy wine with their groceries. In total, up to 300 grocery stores — both large chains and independents — will sell wine inside their stores.

The government also continues to carefully regulate the sale of alcohol. The same requirements for safe and responsible retailing of beer in grocery stores will apply to wine. This includes designated sales areas, restricted hours of sale and rigorous training for grocery store staff.

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario will be responsible for the authorization and ongoing regulatory oversight of grocery store operators selling beer and wine.

The government will also make it easier for consumers to discover products in their local community. Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) wine is available at farmers’ markets and Ontario craft cider and fruit wine will be included. Cider and fruit wine will also be sold in grocery stores.

The Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) will continue to be a modern, efficient and innovative organization that consistently strives to reach consumers in new ways.

The LCBO has already made significant progress in modernizing its operations by:

  • Launching a pilot program to sell 12-packs of beer at 10 LCBO stores;
  • Introducing specialty stores that feature beverage alcohol products from around the world; and
  • Rolling out new Craft Beer Zones to 25 LCBO locations across the province.

The LCBO has also been working to build an e-commerce platform and enhance its current retail and wholesale functions, with further details expected in the coming months.

LCBO E-Commerce Platform

The LCBO is moving forward by creating a best-in-class e-commerce open marketplace to enhance the consumer experience and provide more opportunities for suppliers.

This platform will enable beverage alcohol producers, suppliers and agents from across Canada and around the world to list their products for sale on the LCBO’s website, providing broader market access.

It will provide consumers with access to a wider variety of products, as well as the flexibility to order online and pick up products in store or have them delivered to their home.

This new platform will be operational by mid-2016.

In addition, the government is committed to ensuring its efforts to reform beverage alcohol retailing and distribution in Ontario are aligned with the Province’s social responsibility goals and priorities. These include the development of a comprehensive alcohol policy framework to support the safe and responsible consumption of alcohol.

The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care is currently leading consultations with key stakeholders, including health professionals, addiction treatment providers, beverage alcohol industry stakeholders and law enforcement to inform the policy’s development. Pending the results of these consultations, including advice already received on the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder strategy, the government expects to dedicate a portion of alcohol revenue to support resulting programs.

Easy-to-Use Public Services Online

Ontario is enhancing the delivery of public services through the use of technology. Nearly 90 per cent of Ontarians use the Internet regularly to make purchases, find information, learn new skills and interact. In this digital age, users of government online services — people, businesses, communities and partners — deserve simple and straightforward programs and services that are intuitive and easy to use.

The Province will take further steps to enhance access to public services in 2016, including the following strategies:

  • Digital Government;
  • Open Government;
  • ServiceOntario modernization; and
  • Building on recent successes.

Digital Government

In the last decade, the explosion of digital technology has revolutionized entire industries, from transportation to retail sales. People expect to connect with their government anytime, anywhere, on any device.

To meet the expectations of the public, government digital services must mirror the simplicity and effectiveness Ontarians have experienced using private-sector digital services. This does not simply mean putting existing processes online; it means fundamentally rethinking how government programs and services are delivered in Ontario.

In 2016, Ontario will release a Digital Government Action Plan that unveils a vision for transforming government online, including creating a new digital service office, led by a chief digital officer, to drive change across government. The action plan will serve as a public roadmap for Ontario’s digital transformation — setting new organizational standards, empowering the next generation of digital talent and shifting government culture to deliver the best possible customer experience.

The action plan will outline key initiatives such as identifying high-impact digital projects and services to be transformed; adopting a “digital-by-default” approach focused on making online services so easy to use that Ontarians prefer to use them over traditional methods of service delivery; a digital talent strategy to attract in-demand skills; and online information and engagement initiatives to make it easier for people to participate in government decision-making.

Open Government

People want to be involved in government decision-making in new ways. The Province’s new online consultations directory will provide one location for Ontarians to find and participate in government consultations. This allows a broader, more diverse range of Ontarians to inform the policies, programs and services that affect their daily lives. Ontario’s innovative online Budget Talks platform is a primary example of a new approach to engagement. For more information, see the section Engaging Ontarians at the beginning of the Budget.

Ontario is sharing government and provincial agency data online and taking an open-by-default approach. This enables more businesses, not-for-profits and public-sector partners to use high-value data and develop customer-centric tools.

ServiceOntario Modernization

ServiceOntario provides Ontarians access to a wide range of services, including driver and vehicle registration and issuance of health cards and birth certificates. As part of its modernization initiatives, ServiceOntario plans to develop a new online option for health card renewals by 2018. It will also align how Ontarians change their address for their health cards and driver’s licences, simplifying the transaction and improving the integrity of customer information.

ServiceOntario will also redesign and enhance key existing online services, including the used vehicle information package and its Service Finder.

Recent Successes

In 2015, Ontario made significant progress towards digital government through the introduction of the following key services:

Small Claims Online

In April 2015, after a successful seven-month pilot project, the Province launched an online filing service for Small Claims Court. This new service, which focuses on certain types of claims, is more accessible and makes the process faster and more convenient for all Ontarians. As of January 2016, over 16,000 claims have been filed electronically, of which 15 per cent were filed outside regular business hours. The service will be expanded to include all types of small claims, effective April 2016.

eCampus Ontario

To provide more flexibility and choice to students, the government continues to expand access to high-quality online learning opportunities for students through eCampus Ontario. The first phase of eCampusOntario.ca provides students across the province with one-window access to more than 13,000 online courses and over 600 programs offered by Ontario colleges and universities.

The government will continue to learn from these successes as it develops its Digital Government Action Plan.