Ontario’s 2016 budget With Strings Attached

Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa, right, waves prior to delivering the Ontario 2016 budget at Queen's Park in Toronto on Thursday, February 25, 2016. Premier Kathleen Wynne is at left. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

By: Laura Steiner

Yesterday’s budget contained something for everyone, and most of it had strings attached. The major highlight was the idea of free post-secondary tuition for students from households making under $50,000 known as the Ontario Student Grant (O.S.G.) program. It will replace Ontario Student Assistant Program (O.S.A.P.).

How does it work? Let’s say tuition is $6160/year ($18,480 over three years).  Grants would cover $6042 of that ($18,126 over three years).  The government is relying on the federal Liberals to implement their promises on Canada Student Grants for the remaining funds.  This could be a problem because the federal government faces similar financial challenges in terms of an increasing deficit.

Healthcare sees $345 million in new funding.  The money will be used to improve access to specialized services.  $12 billion in capital grants have been promised to improve hospitals over the next decade.  35 projects are already underway, which may cut into that.  Parking fees at hospitals are being lowered.  Hospitals rely on those fees as part of their local share of funding.  How do you lower them without adjusting the funding model to compensate?

It doesn’t meet Milton’s needs.  There’s been a legitimate need for full-day Go Service for years.  It’s in this budget with a string attached: “subject to agreement with freight rail partners.”  Translation: they have to get Canada Pacific (C.P.) to agree.  This is a huge hurdle because the stretch of track going through Milton is said to be one of C.P.’s most profitable.

Finance Minister Charles Sousa
Finance Minister Charles Sousa

The provincial government promises $11 billion in capital grants to build schools, reduce surplus space and improve existing facilities. $498 million was announced in November, 2015 to fund 30 new schools, and 26 “major renovations.”  Only two Milton schools made the cut with additions at Holy Rosary and Craig Keilburger Secondary.  Local trustees are concerned over the lack of a third high-school because of population growth.  The $11 billion promise is vague enough not to meet the town’s needs.

It makes Ontario more expensive.  Cap & Trade will add $5/month if your home is heated with natural gas.  If you drive a lot you’ll be paying 4.3 cents more/litre at the pumps.  Smokers will have to pay an additional $3/carton of 200 cigarettes.  Wine drinkers will have to pay an additional 2%/year beginning in June.

Even seniors aren’t immune to increases.  The annual deductible for the Ontario Drug benefit goes up from $100 to $170.  Income levels to qualify for this program also go to $19,000 for single seniors, and $32,000 for senior couples.  It’s as if you’re giving with one hand, and taking with the other.

This budget doesn’t leave anyone untouched.  And even the good things have strings attached.