A Balanced Approach

The 2017 Budget is a balanced budget, the first one since the 2008–09 global recession. This was achieved through the hard work and determination of the people of Ontario.

The recession had negative effects across the world, and Ontario was not immune. Many people lost their jobs and the economy weakened, resulting in a substantial drop in the Province’s revenues. Faced with this new reality, the Ontario government embarked upon a plan to invest in our people and return to a balanced budget. Rather than slash the programs and services upon which Ontario families rely to eliminate the deficit, our government chose to build Ontario up.

We chose to implement a plan that reflected the values and aspirations of Ontarians. We focused on growing the economy and creating jobs. We listened to people in communities across the province and we continued to invest in the things that matter most to them, particularly health care and education.

We chose to build for the future, instead of trying to hold on to the past. We expanded and renewed our infrastructure to make sure the needs of our growing population are met through investments in hospitals, schools, public transit and roads. We built a clean, sustainable electricity system and put ourselves at the forefront of fighting climate change, leading in green and clean technologies.

Our plan was realistic and responsible. We managed our expenses and began transforming how we deliver public services, making them more efficient and effective. We took aim at the underground economy to ensure everyone pays their fair share. We embraced new opportunities arising from an economy increasingly based on information and knowledge.

Our plan is working. Over the past three years, our economy has grown faster than Canada’s and that of all G7 countries. Today, more Ontarians are working and our unemployment rate is the lowest it has been since 2007. We have added nearly 700,000 net new jobs since the recession. The vast majority of these are full-time jobs, in the private sector, and in industries paying above‑average wages. Our household incomes have risen and business investment has increased. Our exports are up, along with gains in manufacturing, financial services and retail sales.

Our plan to achieve a balanced budget has also been successful. Last year, our deficit was $1.5 billion, the eighth year in a row that we beat our deficit reduction target. Not only are we presenting a balanced budget this year; we are on track for balanced budgets in 2018–19 and 2019–20.

With our economic growth projected to continue and balanced budgets planned for the foreseeable future, Ontario is once again in a strong and healthy position. Across the province, people are working hard and deserve to share in the prosperity we’re building. Too many still feel uncertain about the future and the rising cost of living. We will continue to invest in priorities such as health care, education and making life more affordable, because when government makes sure people can get ahead, that helps our economy stay ahead too. In this Budget, I hope you will see the many ways that we are working hard to make that happen.

The Health Care Ontarians Deserve

Everyone deserves access to high-quality, publicly funded health care. Our health care system has provided critical support and care to families for generations. Ontarians are proud of our universal health care, and we are leading the way to strengthen it. Beginning in January 2018, we will be the first province to provide drug coverage for every Ontarian aged 24 and under. This universal pharmacare will help keep our children and youth healthy and ensure that parents are never put in the position of having to choose between paying for their children’s medication or other essentials.

To meet the needs of patients today and in the future, we are improving access to care, reducing wait times, and enhancing their experience and recovery. Our additional investment of $7 billion over the next three years will ensure patients receive care closer to home, see specialists faster, and have access to expanded mental health and addictions services. This includes an additional investment of $1.3 billion to reduce wait times throughout the province. Targeted investments will help more people receive high-priority procedures more quickly, including MRIs, cataract and cardiovascular surgeries, and hip or knee replacements. To provide patients expanded access to care, we will invest an additional $518 million in 2017–18 in hospitals, representing a three-per-cent increase to the sector.

To meet the needs of our growing and aging population, we must ensure our health care is being provided in modern facilities. Across Ontario, 34 major hospital projects are now underway. We’re adding to that, with $9 billion over 10 years in new capital grants to support the construction of several new major hospital projects. We will also be improving community health infrastructure across the province.

Many of us spend time each day caring for loved ones. We are creating better supports for families caring for aging parents, so that the people who raised us and loved us receive proper care when they need it most. Caregivers will be better supported through access to respite care, a new organization focused on providing training and resources, and a simplified approach to caregiver tax credits, recognizing their additional cost pressures. As part of a new, comprehensive dementia strategy, more people will be able to access day programs and respite services, providing safe environments for those with dementia and reducing stress for loved ones.

More funding for home and community care also means more patients will be able to continue to live at home. Expanded community and personal support services will help meet increased demand and support faster and more equitable access to services across the province. To help meet the need for long-term care, we are encouraging operators to accelerate the redevelopment of more than 30,000 beds. And for those living in long-term care facilities there will be increased comfort and privacy with the elimination of four-bed wards and more nutritious and culturally sensitive food options.

Helping You and Your Family

With a growing economy and a balanced budget, we are investing in key services and programs, while finding ways to reduce everyday costs for families.

We all want our kids to get a great start. By helping 100,000 more children access affordable, quality licensed child care, we are supporting families across Ontario, providing more parents with choice when it comes to returning to work and assistance with their child care costs. This year, our investments will support access to licensed child care for 24,000 more children through new fee subsidies and spaces.

People from across the province shared their concerns about rising electricity bills. We listened and we are responding. Recognizing that there needed to be a fairer way to share the costs of building a cleaner, more modern and reliable electricity generation system, we are taking action to reduce electricity costs. Through Ontario’s Fair Hydro Plan, starting this summer, household electricity costs would be lowered by an average of 25 per cent. We are also capping rate increases to inflation for the next four years. Low-income families, and those living in rural, remote or on-reserve First Nation communities, would receive additional relief as well.

Like electricity, housing is essential for families. With a strong economy and more jobs created, the demand for housing in Ontario, particularly in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA), has increased rapidly. While a strong housing market is a sign of Ontario’s growing prosperity, this growth also brings challenges. People are struggling to buy a home, and they’re finding it difficult to afford increasing rents. To help make housing more affordable for buyers and renters, the government has proposed a Fair Housing Plan. This plan would include measures such as expanding rent control, a proposal for a new 15-per-cent Non-Resident Speculation Tax (NRST) in the Greater Golden Horseshoe, and encouraging additional supply by giving municipalities the power to tax vacant lots. As well, the City of Toronto will now have the ability to implement a Vacant Homes Property Tax at a higher rate to encourage owners to sell unoccupied units or make them available to be rented.

Providing Greater Opportunities and Security

Ontarians believe every child should have the opportunity to reach their full potential. That is why we will continue to invest in our world-class public education system. Families will benefit from new class size caps on full-day kindergarten classes and enhanced support for students with special needs.

We know our schools are much more than places to learn. They connect us to others in our community and act as natural gathering places for after-school activities and events. So, we are investing almost $16 billion over 10 years to build new schools in high-growth areas and to renovate schools across the province to better meet local needs.

We are also focused on helping Ontarians become equipped with the skills and competencies they need to find meaningful work, adapt to changing technologies, create new businesses and contribute to their communities. This is what our Highly Skilled Workforce Strategy is all about. It is designed to ensure everyone finds their place in an evolving economy that is becoming more technology-driven and knowledge-based every day.

This coming fall, as a result of our OSAP transformation, more than 210,000 students will attend postsecondary campuses across the province without worrying about tuition — it will be free. And to help more young people land employment upon graduation, Ontario is working with a range of partners to launch a new Career Kick-Start Strategy. Forty thousand more students will now benefit from work-related learning experiences during their studies, better preparing them to enter the labour market and build their careers.

For adults looking to find their next learning opportunity, land a better job or move into their next career, Ontario’s Lifelong Learning and Skills Plan will help provide the literacy, numeracy and digital skills essential to being able to adapt and thrive in a changing economy.

And we know the nature of work is changing and more can be done to provide workers with greater security. A modern economy requires a modern set of labour laws and standards. Through the Changing Workplaces Review, we are identifying how we balance fostering a competitive business climate while ensuring workers are treated with decency and dignity and have the protections they deserve.

We’re also moving forward with our Basic Income Pilot to explore how we can provide more consistent and predictable support to those with low incomes, including those who may be precariously employed. Testing how a Basic Income Pilot may improve health, employment and housing outcomes are all a part of our efforts to promote a growing economy that benefits all Ontarians.

Helping Ontario Businesses Succeed

An integral part of our plan has been helping Ontario businesses succeed and grow. Through their hard work, our economy has expanded and they have created more jobs. Moving forward, our focus will continue to be on giving businesses the tools they need to succeed by maintaining our competitive corporate income tax rates, modernizing regulations and reducing business costs.

By staying at the forefront of both the global shift to a low-carbon economy and transformative, potentially disruptive, technologies, we are well positioned to benefit from new employment opportunities and economic growth. Strategic investments in emerging fields, such as artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, fifth-generation (5G) telecommunications, advanced computing and quantum science research are keeping Ontario at the leading edge of research and development, creating high-value jobs, with significant potential to enhance our quality of life.

Helping people and goods move faster supports a growing economy and keeps our businesses competitive. Our plan to invest more than $190 billion in public infrastructure over 13 years, starting in 2014–15, is the greatest infrastructure investment in our province’s history. Through our ongoing investments, we are building world-class public transit and transportation systems, as well as more schools and new hospitals.

Conclusion

A balanced budget is about more than just the bottom line number. It’s about finding new ways to help you and your family. It’s about creating opportunities and providing the supports people need to succeed. It’s a reflection of the priorities that Ontarians share with us every day, and what we heard during this year’s pre-budget consultations, which included more than 80,000 people — a record number of participants.

Whether expanding universal health care; helping people, young or old, develop skills and knowledge; or working with businesses to grow the economy and create jobs, we are carrying out our commitment to ensure that all have equal opportunities for success.

This year marks our province’s 150th anniversary. As we look ahead, we are at the start of an exciting new chapter for our province. With a balanced budget and continued economic growth, we will build on what we have accomplished together — a stronger, healthier Ontario.

[Original signed by]

The Honourable Charles Sousa
Minister of Finance