Premier Doug Ford’s government is set to release this year’s Ontario budget on Thursday afternoon — but it’s not a typical budget.
Ontarians should instead look at the document as a costed election platform from Ford’s Progressive Conservatives, something the party didn’t produce before winning a majority government in the 2018 election.
Ford’s government almost certainly won’t pass this financial plan for the province. There’s just not enough time for it to pass through the process before next Wednesday, when the Legislature is dissolved and the election campaign officially begins.
If the PCs are re-elected on June 2, they’ll be able to bring this budget back to the legislature and pass it then.
A senior government official told CBC News the budget will be “doubling down on building” and will largely consist of items that have been announced by Ford and his ministers in recent weeks.
The government has made billions of dollars worth of announcements of future hospital and long-term care construction since early March, along with its previously touted plans for building new transit lines and highways.
Publicly, Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy — whose name appears on the rebate cheques mailed to Ontario drivers after the government scrapped licence renewal fees — has previously called the plan a vision for a “better, brighter future.”
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Even if the pocketbook goodies have been announced, there are good reasons to pay attention when the budget is released. Here are a few:
- The budget will provide a good look at how Ontario’s economy is faring as it recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The document will show how much the government plans to spend on key areas like health care, education, transportation and more.
- We’ll get a sense of how the Ford government intends to pay for the billions of dollars worth of pre-election spending it has announced in recent months — and there’s a possibility the government could go further as affordability becomes a major issue for more people amid record inflation.
The opposition parties, meanwhile, will be looking to find flaws in the budget.
Andrea Horwath’s NDP, which unveiled its platform on Monday of this week, will offer the clearest comparison at this point.
The NDP’s platform includes big promises like universal pharmacare and covering mental health supports under the province’s OHIP plan. It also features cash incentives for people buying electric vehicles and a pledge to raise Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program rates by 20 per cent.
The price tag? To be determined after the PCs table this budget, Horwath vowed, saying she needs to know the current state of Ontario’s finances before her team can provide cost estimates.
Horwath said earlier this week the COVID-19 pandemic exposed how the government is letting Ontarians down, leaving them struggling with the cost of living.
“For far too long, government just hasn’t been working for people, and COVID really exposed that,” she told supporters and candidates. “We can fix what matters most to people.”
Steven Del Duca’s Liberals, meanwhile, aren’t offering specifics about when their full platform will be released, other than saying it’ll be soon.
The Liberals have launched some big ticket promises of their own, most recently pledging to boost base funding for home care by $2 billion by 2026 and build 15,000 more assisted living homes (the Ford government also said this week it will spend another $1 billion in home care over the next three years).
Similarly, Mike Schreiner’s Green Party has put forth several campaign promises, including a plan for climate action that includes a number of financial incentives to help Ontarians reduce their carbon footprints, but hasn’t produced a costed platform yet.