2016 Ontario Economic Outlook and Fiscal Review
Chapter I: Creating Jobs and Building Prosperity for Everyone

Section E: Towards a Fair Society

Changing economic and social realities are affecting how Ontarians work, live and conduct business. To ensure every Ontarian has the opportunity to thrive, the Province is taking action on a number of fronts. This approach includes providing electricity bill relief, improving housing affordability, promoting equity in the workplace, taking steps to ensure more stable and secure incomes and expanding protection for consumers. Supporting Indigenous peoples, reconciling relationships and focusing on community inclusion are also critical components to building a fair society.

2016 Budget: Jobs for Today and Tomorrow

The 2016 Budget committed to:

  • Providing housing subsidies and benefits to additional households, including support for the construction of up to 1,500 new supportive housing units over the long term;
  • Investing in a new Ontario Autism Program so that more children and youth receive critical interventions sooner;
  • Designing a Basic Income Pilot to test whether a basic income would provide more consistent and predictable income support in the context of today’s labour market; and
  • Working with Ontario’s Indigenous partners on policies and programs to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada report.

Making Progress

Electricity Price Relief to Reduce the Cost of Everyday Living

A key element of the Province’s vision for a fair society is helping Ontarians make ends meet and making everyday life more affordable.

Ontario is taking action to provide electricity bill relief for five million families, farms and small businesses.

These measures are in addition to removing the debt retirement charge for residential consumers, as of January 1, 2016, saving a typical user about $70 each year, as well as existing programs such as the Ontario Electricity Support Program (OESP), which is helping about 150,000 individuals and families. The OESP provides up to $50 in monthly credits directly on the bills of eligible low-income electricity consumers, and up to $75 for those with unique electricity requirements, such as:

  • Low-income consumers whose homes are electrically heated;
  • Those who rely on certain medical devices; and
  • Eligible First Nation and Métis households.

Conservation programs are also available to Ontarians to help them save on electricity costs and increase energy efficiency.

Eight Per Cent Provincial Rebate for Electricity Consumers

The government will provide a rebate on electricity costs equal to the provincial portion of the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) to eligible residential, small business and farm consumers beginning January 1, 2017. This will result in estimated savings of about $11 per month, or about $130 a year, for a typical Ontario residential consumer.

Expanding the Rural or Remote Electricity Rate Protection Program

In recognition of the unique and special circumstances associated with the electricity cost-of-service for rural ratepayers, the existing Rural or Remote Electricity Rate Protection (RRRP) program will be significantly enhanced to provide even more on-bill savings for Ontario’s eligible rural customers.

Ontario will increase funding to help 330,000 eligible rural customers, which, combined with the eight per cent provincial rebate, will result in electricity relief for eligible RRRP customers of approximately $45 per month or $540 per year.

Housing Affordability

A healthy, stable housing market is vitally important to Ontario. For many Ontarians, home ownership is a key determinant of long-term financial security, and the government is committed to supporting an affordable and stable housing market.

Housing Market

Ontario’s robust housing sector is becoming an increasingly important economic driver. Residential investment as a share of gross domestic product increased from 4.8 per cent in 2000 to 7.9 per cent in 2015. In the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, home sales and prices have been increasing in recent years, influenced by several factors including rising incomes, growth in the number of households and low borrowing costs.

Ontario’s economy continues to grow, outpacing the national average for the past two years. The Province continues to benefit from steady growth in the United States and a competitive Canadian dollar. While rising home values reflect, in part, the health of Ontario’s economy, the rate of increase of home prices and rents has made housing affordability a concern for a growing number of Ontarians (see Chapter III, Section A: Ontario’s Economic Outlook for more information on housing affordability).

Working with Partners

The Province recognizes that addressing the complexities of housing affordability requires cooperation across all levels of government, which is why Ontario is participating in a working group on the housing market convened by the federal government, along with the governments of British Columbia and the cities of Toronto and Vancouver.

Making Housing More Affordable

Housing affordability is a complex issue, and the Province’s response must balance concerns related to homeowners, renters and other stakeholders.

The Province will monitor the impacts on housing markets of recent federal measures. In addition, to better understand Ontario’s housing market, the Province is proposing to authorize the collection of additional information about the composition of real estate properties and purchasers through the Land Transfer Tax (LTT) system. See Chapter V, Section B: Modernizing Land Transfer Tax and Other Tax Measures for more information.

Enhancing the Benefit for First-Time Homebuyers

Homeowners have benefited from Ontario’s strong housing market, but young families and others looking to buy their first home are having an increasingly challenging time getting into the market.

To help Ontarians buy their first home, the Province is proposing to double the maximum refund of LTT for first-time homebuyers from $2,000 to $4,000, effective January 1, 2017. As a result, no LTT would be payable on the first $368,000 of the cost of a first home, an increase of over $140,000.

This change would help many Ontarians buy their first home and would mean that more than half of first-time homebuyers would pay no LTT.

See Chapter V, Section B: Modernizing Land Transfer Tax and Other Tax Measures for more information.

Housing Affordability in the Rental Market

Ontarians who rent their homes also face housing affordability challenges. One factor that can affect rents is the property tax levied on owners of multi-residential apartment buildings. These taxes are generally reflected in the rents paid by tenants. This has implications for rental housing affordability because the average municipal property tax burden on apartment buildings is more than double that for residential properties (such as condominiums). This higher property tax burden is particularly concerning given the lower average incomes of tenants in apartment buildings.

In light of these concerns, the Province is initiating a review of the property taxation of apartment buildings and its potential implications for housing affordability in the rental market. (See Chapter V, Section B: Modernizing Land Transfer Tax and Other Tax Measures for more information.)

Greater Opportunities in the Workplace

An important element of a fair society is access to meaningful employment and leadership opportunities. The government has taken steps to support greater fairness for Ontario workers.

The Changing Workplaces Review

The Changing Workplaces Review Interim Report was released in July 2016. It outlines what the special advisors have heard on ways the Province could enhance protections for workers and supports for business in Ontario’s evolving workforce. The next phase of consultations will help to inform a final report with recommendations that provide a balanced approach to modernizing Ontario’s employment and labour laws.

Economic Empowerment

In June 2016, informed by a Catalyst Canada report commissioned by the Province, the government announced new gender diversity targets to promote women’s corporate leadership and broader economic empowerment. Those public targets include that:

  • Women comprise at least 40 per cent of all appointments to every provincial board and agency by 2019; and
  • Businesses set a target by the end of 2017 of appointing 30 per cent women to their boards of directors, and aim to achieve their target within three to five years.

The Province also convened a steering committee of corporate governance leaders tasked with providing strategic insights for developing a plan to accelerate greater representation of women on boards of directors.

Employment Strategy for People with Disabilities

The Partnership Council on Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities, created to provide recommendations to develop a provincial strategy, released its final report in April 2016. The report recommended providing greater support to youth with disabilities, engaging employers as active partners in removing employment barriers and identifying outcomes and performance measures.

The government is developing a provincial employment strategy for people with disabilities. The strategy will create a cohesive vision, improve access to effective employment and training services, and engage employers and other partners in breaking down the barriers to employment.

More Stable and Secure Incomes

Ensuring that all Ontarians can achieve the objective of a stable and secure income has become more complex in a changing labour market. That is why the Province is examining whether a broader array of policy tools could help Ontarians achieve this objective.

  • The Province is moving forward with a multi-year road map to reform social assistance in the context of the broader income security landscape. The road map is being developed with the guidance of the Income Security Reform Working Group, established in June 2016, and with Indigenous partners to ensure their unique perspectives and experiences are reflected.
  • Ontario is determining how to best develop a Basic Income Pilot. As part of this work, Ontario appointed the Honourable Hugh Segal as Special Advisor to provide advice on how to design, test and implement the pilot. The government received a discussion paper from Mr. Segal in fall 2016. Ontario now plans to undertake consultations with communities, Indigenous partners, people with lived experience, and policy and evaluation experts.

While this work is underway, Ontario is increasing existing supports for those with low incomes. For example, the government has:

  • Helped low-wage workers and families by raising the minimum wage 10 times and by 66 per cent since 2003. The most recent increase to $11.40 came into effect on October 1, 2016.
  • Increased the maximum annual Ontario Child Benefit per child in July 2016 to keep pace with the cost of living. This change enhanced the incomes of more than half a million families.
  • Raised social assistance rates for people who rely on the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and Ontario Works, effective in September and October 2016, respectively. Single Ontario Works recipients without children now receive $100 more per month compared to 2012.
  • Taken steps to ensure that people receiving social assistance fully benefit from the new federal Canada Child Benefit.

Ontario will also fully exempt child support payments from the calculation of social assistance benefits starting in January 2017 for ODSP and in February 2017 for Ontario Works.

For example, a single parent with two children receiving Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) benefits, who also receives $280 per month in child support, would see their monthly ODSP benefit increase from $1,328 to $1,608. Once child benefits and tax credits are taken into account, this family’s total annual income would increase by $3,360, from about $32,640 to $36,000.

Community Inclusion and Supporting Vulnerable Populations

An important measure of any society is how it supports its most vulnerable populations. The government is committed to supporting the well-being of vulnerable Ontarians and enabling them to fully participate in their communities.

Autism Services

The Province has invested $200 million over four years in autism services, in addition to the $333 million committed over five years in the 2016 Budget. This investment will accelerate the implementation of the new Ontario Autism Program, strengthen in-school autism supports to help with the transition to full-time school, increase access to assessments for earlier diagnosis and treatment, and provide funding to families with children over age five on the Intensive Behavioural Intervention (IBI) waitlist so they can directly purchase the services they need until a space becomes available in the new Ontario Autism Program.

Strategy to End Human Trafficking

The government has committed to investing up to $72 million in a new Strategy to End Human Trafficking aimed at improving survivors’ access to services and support, increasing awareness, providing better information and coordination, and enhancing justice-sector initiatives to support enforcement and prosecution of human trafficking cases.

Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment

The Province has committed $41 million over three years for the Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment, which will help ensure Ontarians live in safety and are free from the threat, fear or experience of sexual violence and harassment. The Province also introduced changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act to enhance employer responsibilities on workplace harassment, through Bill 132, Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act (Supporting Survivors and Challenging Sexual Violence and Harassment), 2016.

Supporting the Settlement of Refugees in Ontario

In August 2016, the government announced funding of $3.8 million to help refugees settle and integrate into communities across Ontario. This funding will help communities that have generously welcomed large numbers of refugees to ensure access to settlement services in refugees’ first languages; provide special programming for refugee women, children and youth; and work with other community partners to address refugee needs in areas such as adult training and employment assistance, health care and mental health.

Community Hubs

The Province is taking measures to bring together health, social and education services to better serve people and their communities by implementing recommendations from “Community Hubs in Ontario: A Strategic Framework and Action Plan” and investing nearly $90 million to create spaces in schools for community use and expand child care and family services. This report presents a framework for adapting existing public properties to become community hubs. It benefits from feedback received by community members, stakeholders and other government ministries on the delivery of public services through local community hubs. In August 2016, Ontario released a report highlighting progress made in establishing and strengthening community hubs across the province.

Partnerships with the Francophone Community

The Province is committed to working in partnership with the francophone community to strengthen its linguistic, cultural and socioeconomic vitality. In 2016, Ontario applied for observer member status in the International Organisation of La Francophonie.

Long-Term Affordable Housing Strategy

A central aspect of Ontario’s efforts to improve housing affordability is the Long-Term Affordable Housing Strategy, which includes $178 million in housing subsidies and benefits announced as part of this year’s Budget.

Since the 2016 Budget, Ontario has continued its efforts to develop initiatives that improve access to affordable housing. In particular, the government has:

  • Reintroduced the Promoting Affordable Housing Act, 2016, which would, if passed, help modernize existing social housing and increase the supply of affordable housing across the province;
  • Launched the Survivors of Domestic Violence Portable Housing Benefit Pilot program, which will help approximately 1,000 survivors of domestic violence per year;
  • Announced a partnership with municipalities to enhance flexible local funding for the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative, helping families and individuals stay in their homes or get the housing they need; and
  • Announced an investment of more than $640 million in new federal and provincial funding over the next three years towards initiatives to support the housing needs of Ontarians. More information on this new commitment can be found in Section B: Building Tomorrow’s Infrastructure Now in this chapter.

Ontario continues to work with the federal government and the other provinces and territories on a national housing strategy to ensure that all Canadians have access to affordable housing that meets their needs.

Supporting Opportunities for Indigenous Peoples

Ontario is working with Indigenous partners to address the legacy of residential schools; close gaps and remove barriers; create a culturally relevant and responsive justice system; support Indigenous culture; and reconcile relationships with Indigenous peoples.

The Province has delivered on its commitment to act on the calls to action released by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada in June 2015.

“The Journey Together: Ontario’s Commitment to Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples”

In May, Premier Kathleen Wynne made a Statement of Ontario’s Commitment to Reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, apologizing for the policies and colonial practices supported by past Ontario governments and for the harm they caused.

The government also announced it will invest $250 million over the next three years on programs and actions focused on reconciliation, which will be co-developed and implemented with its Indigenous partners.

“Walking Together: Ontario’s Long-Term Strategy to End Violence against Indigenous Women”

In September, the Province announced its support for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls by giving the federally appointed commissioners full investigative authority in Ontario.

The Province is also establishing a support office for families involved in the inquiry process to help them access information related to the loss of their loved ones and to connect families to culturally appropriate services and community supports.

These initiatives are supported by an investment of $100 million over three years in “Walking Together: Ontario’s Long-Term Strategy to End Violence against Indigenous Women,” which identifies six action areas where the government will work closely with Indigenous communities.

Protecting Consumers

The Province is committed to further strengthening consumer protection and ensuring a fair, safe and informed marketplace for Ontario families, while continuing to level the playing field for business.

To enhance consumer protection in Ontario’s marketplace, the government has:

  • Engaged with credit unions to explore offering small dollar loans to borrowers as alternatives to high-cost traditional payday loans, and will continue to work with the sector to identify and address any potential legislative or other barriers to offering such products;
  • Explored with credit unions ways to reduce cheque cashing costs for recipients of government payments; and
  • Proposed expanded protections for consumers who feel pressured to sign a contract at the door by banning door-to-door marketing of certain appliances (such as water heaters, furnaces, air conditioners and water filters).

The government has also completed the delivery of key reforms to improve the auto insurance system, including:

  • A new auto insurance dispute resolution system that will help Ontario claimants get faster access to the benefits they need; and
  • A reduction in the maximum interest rate for monthly premium payment plans and a prohibition on rate increases for minor at-fault accidents.

Ontario will continue to seek opportunities to improve the auto insurance system to benefit and protect consumers. David Marshall, former president and chief executive officer of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, was appointed by the Province as an advisor on auto insurance and pensions and is currently reviewing the system to identify ways to improve health outcomes and lower insurer claims costs — ultimately making auto insurance more affordable for Ontarians.