Dwight Duncan speaking to reporters before the official presentation of the budget. Photo by Nick Kozak/Torontoist.
Minister of Finance Dwight Duncan introduced a stay-the-course budget at Queen’s Park today, calling for a continuation of previous years’ strategy of balancing targeted careful cuts with targeted careful investment. There were no bombshells, and no major changes in direction: a budget, he said, which “builds on our government’s plan to return Ontario’s finances to balance while protecting the gains we have made together….realistic and responsible.” The overall economic and fiscal picture:
- Key indicators, such as real GDP and employment, are near pre-recession levels.
- 91% of the jobs and 84% of full-time jobs lost during the recession have been recovered.
- Ontario’s real GDP grew by an estimated 2.8% in 2010.
- The unemployment rate has recently fallen to 8.0%t from 9.4% at the height of the recession. However, due to an increase in the number of Ontarians in the labour force unemployment remains above the pre-recession rate of 6.5%.
- Revenues are projected to increase at an annual average rate of 3.3% from 2010–2011 to 2013–2014, largely driven by the forecast for economic growth.
- The deficit for 2010–2011 is projected to be $16.7 billion, $3 billion lower than forecast a year ago.
As for how the budget will affect Ontario residents, here are the highlights…
- The government continues to support three core educational priorities: attaining higher levels of student achievement, closing gaps in student achievement, and increasing confidence in publicly funded education.
- Starting in September 2011, full-day kindergarten will be available at two hundred additional schools, raising the number offering the program to nearly eight hundred across the province. Full-day kindergarten will be available in all schools by September 2014.
- Sixty thousand new spaces in post-secondary institutions are being created by the 2015–2016 fiscal year, to help raise Ontarioís post-secondary attainment rate to 70%.
- Funding will be provided directly to these institutions in the form of operational grants totalling sixty-four million dollars for 2011–2012 and thereafter increasing up to $309 million by 2013–2014.
- Though not stipulated in the budget document, staff told us that financial aid will increase proportionally to accommodate these new students; the eligibility criteria for financial aid will not be changing.
- An additional $22.5 million will be invested in the Summer Jobs Strategy (bringing total funding to nearly a hundred million dollars), which aims to provide one hundred thousand students with work and services this summer.
- Over the next three years,fifteen million dollars will be invested to provide ninety thousand more breast cancer screening exams. Mammography services will be expanded to cover women between the ages of thirty and forty-nine who are at high risk of developing breast cancer, and support additional exams for women aged fifty to sixty-nine.
- A comprehensive Mental Health and Addictions Strategy, initially directed at children and youth, will be launched. Funding support will grow to ninety-three million dollars by the 2013–2014 fiscal year.
- Starting in April 2011, pharmacy services covered under the Ontario Drug Benefit Program will be expanded, primarily to seniors and social assistance recipients. Affected services include home diagnostic device training and medication assessment for those with chronic diseases.
- An additional $6.5 million in ongoing funding, starting in 2011–2012, will go to support Ontario’s festivals and events through Celebrate Ontario, bringing total annual support to twenty million dollars.
- The basic adult allowance and maximum shelter allowance for people on the Ontario Disability Support Program and Ontario Works will go up by 1% in the fall of this year.
- Across the province, almost $2.5 billion will be directed toward transit infrastructure.
- As far as Toronto public transit is concerned, the budget only states: “Metrolinx is committed to working with the City of Toronto and the Toronto Transit Commission to develop a revised transit plan that is fiscally responsible and moves Toronto towards the regional transit objectives set out in The Big Move.”
- Work continues on projects like the revitalization of Union Station, VIVA bus rapid transit lines in York Region, and the Air Rail Link.
- No increase in taxes or new taxes.
- No new major tax cuts or reductions.
- No change in the HST rate.
- Proposal to create the Ontario Trillium Benefit which, starting in July 2012, would provide monthly payments drawn from three existing tax credits (Ontario Sales Tax Credit, Ontario Energy and Property Tax Credit, and Northern Ontario Energy Credit) to low- to moderate-income households.
- Savings of nearly $1.5 billion over the next three fiscal years are planned in three key areas: operational efficiencies and consolidation; streamlining programs; and further efficiencies in the health care system.
- Alternative service delivery models, including arrangements with the private sector, will be explored for ServiceOntario.
- Directive to major government agencies like the LCBO and Ontario Gaming Commission to deliver two hundred million dollars in savings by the 2013–2014 fiscal year.
- Funding for executive offices of specific transfer-payment recipients and major government agencies will be cut permanently by 10% over the next two years.
- The Toronto West Courthouse project proposed for the former Westwood theatre lands at Six Points in Etobicoke has been cancelled. The move will result in $181 million in appropriation savings over the next three years.
- Establishment of a Commission on Broader Public Sector Reform, which will examine long-term, fundamental changes to the way government works. The Commission will be headed by former TD Bank chief economist Don Drummond.
The full text of Ontario’s 2011 budget is available from the Ministry of Finance’s website.
Written by Jamie Bradburn and Hamutal Dotan.