I am excited and encouraged by the opportunities presented in the 2016 Ontario Budget, which share our community’s values and will support us to build on our accomplishments and reach our goals. The Budget is full of great news for both our community and our province at large, reflecting many of the concerns I have heard as your MPP over the past year. It brings many exciting changes to nearly every sector and I wanted to highlight some of the main initiatives that have been announced. I encourage you to explore those of interest further by clicking on the hyperlinked sections.
The Budget is making strategic investments that would build prosperity by growing the economy and creating jobs, while staying on track to balance the budget by 2017/18. Economic indicators show that our government’s plan is working. Ontario is leading the country in economic growth and as Canadian unemployment average rose, Ontario was the only province to show gains in job creation. Unemployment rate has fallen from 9.6 per cent at the height of the global recession to 6.7 percent, well below the national average of 7.2 per cent, and is projected to continue to decrease. We have created more than 600,000 jobs since the recessionary low, over 70% of which have been in the private sector, and we are projected to create over 300,000 more by the end of 2019. Ontario was also named the top destination for foreign direct investment for the second year in a row.
For businesses the biggest news out of this year’s budget is the new Business Growth Initiative, which will commit more than $400 million over the next five years to modernize business regulations, lower costs and make more Ontario firms into global industry leaders. As part of this initiative a $20 million fund will be launched connecting colleges and private-sector employers on applied innovation projects.
Exciting news locally is the launch of the new Ontario Centre for Workforce Innovation, which will establish a regional hub in Kingston/Gananoque to provide leadership and support for research and innovation in the employment and training system. The Eastern Ontario Development Fund also continues to provide great support investment to local businesses. I encourage all those interested to learn more and apply.
Learn more about these and other Budget initiatives supporting business.
The province’s historic investment of $160 billion in public infrastructure over 12 years means local investments in roads, public transit, hospitals and schools; supporting 110,000 jobs each year. This includes the previously announced $54 million for the construction of Molly Brant Elementary School, Kingston Centre Elementary School, and Central Kingston Secondary School and the new (nearly completed) Providence Care Hospital, which will consolidate services currently provided at St. Mary’s of the Lake Hospital and Mental Health Services into a 270 bed state of the art facility.
For Islanders, I am absolutely thrilled to share that the Province will invest $20 million to purchase a spare ferry that will be put into service and located at Amherst Island as early as 2018, ensuring there is a back-up vessel at all times for Eastern Region’s ferry services – a key promise that Minister Steven Del Duca made during his visit on Wolfe Island last year. The Environmental Assessment for a second ferry for Wolfe Island is also on track and you can follow their Twitter account for more information and updates.
Learn more about Ontario’s infrastructure investment.
FIGHTING CLIMATE CHANGE
Inaction on climate change is not an option – the costs are far too great. We have already seen direct costs as a result of climate change for individuals, businesses, and the economy as a whole.
Ontario has been a leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and moving towards a low-carbon economy. I am proud of Ontario’s action to completely eliminate smog-producing coal as an energy source. This has been the single largest climate change action in North America and it has resulted in cleaner air for Ontarians and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to historically low levels. It’s the equivalent to taking the emissions of approximately 7 million cars off our roads, savings of $4 billion in annual health care and environmental costs, and preventing 668 premature deaths per year. There were no smog advisories in 2014 and the province's air was rated very good or good for 94 per cent of the year.
Ontario is continuing to be a global leader in the fight against climate change, through the implementation of a cap-and-trade system. Every dollar from the cap-and-trade program, estimated at $1.9 billion, will be invested in green projects and programs, such as alternative energy, conservation and transit infrastructure. I want to emphasize that every jurisdiction that has introduced carbon pricing has seen economic growth. With its vision to become the most-sustainable city in Canada, Kingston is well positioned to participate in and leverage the opportunities presented by the low-carbon economy.
ACCESS TO POST-SECONDARY EDUCATION
Certainly, the biggest news coming out of this budget is the overhaul of post-secondary student financial assistance to make postsecondary education more accessible and affordable. Every projection shows that to grow our knowledge-based economy and successfully compete in an increasingly global marketplace, jobs will require ever-greater training and specialized skills. Yet, there is a stark participation gap persisting in this province. While 77 per cent of students from the highest income families are pursuing postsecondary studies, the same can be said for only 22 per cent of youth from the lowest income families. Quite simply put, the odds of attending college or university decrease sharply if your parents make less. That is just not right.
Our government believes that all students, regardless of their background or the size of their parent’s paycheques, should be able to afford to go to college or university in Ontario. As MPP for a riding that is home to three post-secondary institutions, I have heard from students and parents about the inaccessibility of higher education and the crushing debt many students graduate with.
It is a bold move to overhaul our complicated post-secondary student financial assistance program and guarantee that next fall, many students from low-income and middle-income families will receive free tuition. Contrary to opposition claims, the Ontario Student Grant is a cost-neutral transformation and no Ontario student will receive less than they are currently eligible for through the 30% Off Ontario Tuition Grant. I am also happy to share that the OSG will be made available to mature and married students, to help those returning to school. Learn more about the OSG.
As part of our ongoing transformation of health care, Ontario is prioritizing and increasing investments in hospice and palliative care, cancer care services, and autism services. We are also increasing hospital funding by $345 million, including 1% increase in base funding, and providing new annual funding of $50 million to assist hospitals in maintaining their facilities – great news for our local hospitals coping with aging infrastructure.
Senior care is on the forefront of Ontario’s health care transformation plan. One example from this budget is to provide seniors 65-70 with a free shingles vaccine, savings of almost $170 dollars. A proposed increase to income thresholds for the low-income senior’s benefit from $16,018 to $19,300 for single seniors and from $24,175 to $32,300 for senior couples will result in up to 170,000 seniors paying no deductible. The new thresholds are also consistent with the Guaranteed Annual Income System (GAINS) income levels. Seniors with incomes at or above the updated income thresholds will see adjustments to their ODB contributions for their prescription drugs. We are seeking public feedback on these proposals until the March 30th deadline.
The government will also be holding public consultations beginning in Spring 2016 as part of our proposed plan to redesign public drug program by 2019. I will be sharing more information on the consultation process as it becomes available.
As announced in this budget, the Province has also launched Phase 2 of a 10 year Mental Health and Addiction Strategy. For 2016-2017 this includes investing $4 million to create 248 new supportive housing units for those suffering from mental health and addiction issues.
You can read more about our health care transformation in the 2016 Budget and in the Patients First: A Proposal to Strengthen Patient-Centred Health Care in Ontario discussion paper. I am pleased to report that we had a very positive and comprehensive consultation on the Patients First strategy in Kingston with lots of excellent feedback that has gone directly back to the Minister of Health for consideration.
BUILDING A FAIR SOCIETY
I will always be looking for ways to create a more fair society. We are not all dealt the same hand in life. Poverty can be a cycle from which it is hard to escape, no matter how many jobs you take on or how hard you work. I am very happy to see that this budget has promised to launch a Basic Income Pilot, which has the potential to completely transform our social welfare system. I am pleased to know that this idea is widely supported in our community and I would like to acknowledge our municipal representatives for their support of a basic income.
During our pre-budget consultations in Kingston, Habitat for Humanity brought forward the need for investment in affordable housing to lift people out of poverty. I was pleased to see that the 2016 Budget is investing $178 million over three years for housing subsidies and benefits to additional households, including support for the construction of up to 1,500 new supportive housing units.
In addition to our government’s commitment to ending chronic homelessness in 10 years, we are also working on creating a framework for a ‘portable housing benefit’ that would allow people who receive housing assistance the flexibility to choose where they want to live. Often those homeless or precariously housed cannot leave a region to be closer to family or friends for fear of losing their spot on an affordable housing list. The proposed changes to the legislation should alleviate some of these pressures. We are also investing more than $17 million over three years to provide a portable housing benefit on a pilot basis to eventually support up to 3,000 survivors of domestic violence and we are developing an Indigenous Housing Strategy in partnership with Indigenous communities.
An issue that my constituency office staff have heard repeatedly is the claw back of child support for parents on social assistance. I am happy to share that the province will be reviewing and addressing that practice.
I was also pleased to see that the province is moving forward with the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan to ensure that every worker can benefit from a financially-secure retirement. As a former business owner, I would have been delighted to have had the opportunity to invest in my employee’s futures with such a program.
MAKING EVERYDAY LIFE EASIER
The Ontario government is mindful of the financial burden on Ontarians. This is why the 2016 Budget did not increase personal income taxes or HST. We will eliminate the $30 fee for Drive Clean Emissions Test and have removed the debt retirement charge from residential electricity bills (2 years earlier than planned). We have also increased choice and convenience through the responsible expansion of beer, and soon, wine and cider in Ontario grocery stores. Read about more examples of how the 2016 Budget is making life easier and more affordable for individuals and families.
I am proud to be part of a government that has the foresight and resolve to address the generational challenges facing our community and our province. Thinking of my two young daughters and my grandson, I feel better knowing that we are creating a more equitable, safer, environmentally-friendly and prosperous world for our children.
I believe that the actions outlined in this budget will leave Ontarians better off. The strategic investments will pay off many fold in the future and will lead to a more educated workforce, financial security in retirement, the necessary public infrastructure, and a business climate that facilitates innovation, job creation and prosperity. I encourage you to review the budget in its entirety and consider the changes for yourself and your family. It is critical to invest today to build and leave behind the best possible outcomes for future generations.
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