Provincial budget a 'shell game,' Scott says
By Chad Ingram
Published May 4, 2017
While Ontario’s Liberal government is trotting out its 2017 budget as the province’s first balanced budget in a decade, the Opposition says it actually hides a $5 billion operating deficit.
The 2017 budget – containing $145 billion in spending – was tabled in Queen’s Park April 27.
“The government is playing a shell game with numbers through cynical accounting, but Ontarians won’t be fooled,” Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MPP Laurie Scott said in a release.
Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown has charged that the budget masks a $5 million deficit with one-time cash injections through measures such as the sale of provincial assets and cap-and-trade revenues.
The budget includes a $7 billion increase in health care funding over the next three years, health care is always the largest spending item in the provincial budget.
In 2016, health care program spending was some $52 billion.
Still, Scott, a nurse by trade, says not enough is being done within the healthcare system.
“Meanwhile, our hospitals and health care services are still not getting the support they need, and the province remains at war with doctors and nurses,” she said in the release, adding that the budget contains nothing new for the redevelopment of long-term care beds.
Some 4,500 people are on the waiting list for long-term beds in HKLB and Peterborough, with wait times at some facilities years long.
Scott has said she will not be supporting the budget.
Other budget highlights include free prescription drugs for anyone under 25, regardless of family income or insurance, in a program worth $425 million. That program will come into effect in 2018.
There will be 24,000 new affordable childcare spaces created for children up to four years of age; expansion of rent control; and $100 million over three years for programming for people with dementia.
The budget also includes an additional $20 million in funding for the creation of approximately 1.2 million hours of respite time for caregivers, including through personal support services and nursing support in the home.
“Caregivers endure significant costs to their own health, including high levels of stress and burn-out as a result of the challenges associated with caring for a loved one,” Wanda Morris, VP of Advocacy for Canadian Association of Retired Persons, said in a release. “CARP is pleased to see the Ontario government has responded to our campaign asks with necessary supports and additional investment.”
CARP is also pleased about a new, streamlined Ontario caregiver tax credit.
The Ontario Association of Food Banks (OAFB) is pleased with some of the measures in the budget, but says there is still much work to be done when it comes to the reduction of hunger in Ontario.
The OAFB is glad to see that residential hydro bills are scheduled to drop by as much as 25 per cent and that OW and ODSP rates are scheduled to increase by two per cent beginning in the fall.
Rent control measures, an expansion of pharmaceutical coverage for young people and $125 million in rebates for the development of new, multi-residential housing projects, are all good news, the organization says.
“The Ontario Association of Food Banks acknowledges the steps the provincial government is taking to attempt to build a more fair, inclusive society – however – much more can and should be done,” reads a statement. “Specifically - social assistance rates, despite this two per cent increase, are still too low. Rates must be raised at a far higher rate that brings them back to where they were before being slashed in 1993 by the Harris government, while accounting for inflation. Additionally, there should be a portable housing benefit for low-income tenants, that gears rent based on income. These measures were proposed by the OAFB in this past year’s Hunger Report. By adapting and building on these two specific areas of focus, the government of Ontario can reduce hunger in this province.”
The budget also includes increased taxation on tobacco and changes the threshold at which graduates must start paying back student loans. While the previous threshold was that loan payments must start once a person is earning $25,000 per year, the new threshold is $35,000 per year.