Seniors are the big winners in the 2018 budget, with major new spending promises targeted at the politically coveted demographic.
One of the few surprises in the budget is $1 billion targeted at helping seniors afford to stay in their homes starting in the 2019-20 fiscal year, which aims to give $750 to eligible households led someone who is 75 years or older, to help offset the costs of maintaining a home.
The government had previously announced it will add seniors 65 and over to the OHIP+ pharmacare program, eliminating drug co-payments and deductibles they currently pay, saving each an average of $240 a year.
And that’s also on top of the public transit tax credit for seniors announced last year, saving those who use it $450 a year on travel costs.
The government has also promised a boost to home care funding to benefit seniors.
Other age demographics aren’t entirely left out: The government’s promise of free preschool for kids aged two-and-a-half and up will save new parents $17,000 per child when it’s up and running in September 2020, according to government figures.
The other demographic that’s getting a boost is low-income Ontarians: The budget includes increases to social assistance rates, as well as a streamlining of the reporting process welfare recipients go through to get benefits.
Many of the government’s marquee spending promises, announced prior to the release of the budget, are in health care: eliminating drug co-payments and deductibles for seniors, and boosting spending on hospitals and mental health care.
Overall, the government is planning to boost health-care spending by about $3 billion to $61.3 billion in 2018-19.
That includes an $822 million increase to hospital funding this year. Of that, $305 million will go to address capacity challenges at hospitals that have been particularly overcrowded, including pediatric and specialty psychiatric hospitals. The government is also pledging $19 billion over 10 years for capital hospital projects.
The budget also pledges $650 million more over three years in home care as well as an additional $300 million over the next three years to increase levels of care in long‐term care homes.
Of note, the budget includes $14.7 billion for physician compensation in 2018-19, representing 23.9 per cent of overall health spending. However, that figure could change dramatically, as doctors are set to go into arbitration with the province and, according to the government, their positions are $10 billion a year apart. The physician services budget was $13.7 billion in 2016-17 and hasn’t been finalized yet for 2017-18, but is in the neighbourhood of $14 billion, reflecting increases of a little over three per cent a year.
The government is ramping up education spending 4.4 per cent this year to $28.21 billion, a leap from last year’s already hefty 3.2-per-cent increase.
Part of that cash — $784 million — is being poured into new builds and upgrades for 79 schools to patch up the province’s $16-billion repair backlog.
The $3.01 billion for school infrastructure in this year’s budget far exceeds the $1.82-billion annual average over the past five years, despite the threat of ongoing school closures.
The province also aims to invest more than $120 million over the next three years to help students in Grades 7 and 8 “prepare for success” via “flexible supports,” including 450 guidance counsellors.
Money for colleges and universities, meanwhile, rose 5.9 per cent to $11.79 billion — still a smaller increase than the massive nine-per-cent boost between 2016-17 and 2017-18.
The cash boost includes $1.8 billion for student financial assistance, a continuation of the OSAP expansion that saw more than 225,000 students receive free tuition over the past school year.
The government proposes to invest an additional $52 million over three years to support environmental initiatives in and around the Great Lakes.
The investment would “address excessive algae, toxic chemicals, microplastics and road salt, and enhance real-time monitoring and research,” states the budget.
It would also “support reductions of phosphorous loads,” in Lake Erie, a subject that has been the focus of some Great Lakes activism in recent years. The increased investment in the Great Lakes comes against the backdrop of repeated attempts by the White House to decimate funding to support and restore the freshwater bodies. Those attempts have been stymied by bi-partisan efforts in congress to preserve the funding.
The government plans to invest $2.8 billion in clean water and wastewater projects. That includes initiatives that will “protect waterways and preserve local ecosystems, help Ontario adapt to a changing climate, and lay the foundation for new economic opportunities,” according to the budget.
The government reiterated its $417 million contribution towards Don Mouth Naturalization and Port Lands Flood Protection, a project that will unlock a sizeable new neighbourhood east of Toronto’s downtown core. The overall project will cost $1.25 billion.
The budget also promoted the government’s cap-and-trade program, which is now the second-largest carbon market of its kind in the world. In 2017–18 the five cap-and-trade auctions generated $2.4 billion in revenue, which was then used for a variety of Climate Change Action Plan programs and projects.
Last year’s housing plan, which imposed a foreign buyers tax and expanded rent controls, forms part of the government's stated focus on affordability — backed up in the budget with a 9.2-per-cent increase in funding for municipal, social and affordable housing to $324.3 million.
Overall spending on municipal affairs and housing in 2018-19, however, will drop slightly to $1.34 billion.
That cash includes a chunk of the planned $425 million for 2,475 new supportive housing units — including 525 for people with mental health and addictions needs — over the next four years to reduce homelessness and recidivism in the criminal justice system.
An additional $547 million reaped from cap-and-trade auctions is slated to go toward green repairs and retrofits in social housing buildings over five years.
Despite criticism from the Tories, the government touted its Fair Hydro Plan.
“To maintain a competitive business climate in Ontario, the government has taken action by helping to manage electricity costs for business,” the budget states.
That includes continuing the Northern Industrial Electricity Rate program, where participants receive a $20 per megawatt-hour rebate on eligible consumption, which can offset energy costs by about 25 per cent, according to the budget.
The budget also included a graphic that shows Ontario hydro prices tend to be middle-of-the-pack compared to other North American jurisdictions, possibly in an effort to dispel notions that prices are too high.