A Plan for Care and Opportunity
Ontario’s economy is performing well. This is largely due to the businesses and entrepreneurs who create jobs and to the women and men who get up each morning to go to the plant, or the office, or another place of work to make Ontario a more prosperous province.
At the same time, the government has made strategic investments to support growth. Enhanced education, skills and training, new infrastructure, a competitive business environment and support for startups and small businesses are helping create good jobs.
On the surface, the numbers tell a positive story:
- Our economy has outperformed those of all G7 nations since 2014;
- Our unemployment rate, at 5.5 per cent, is the lowest it has been in almost 20 years; and
- Last year alone, 500 net new jobs were created, on average, each day in Ontario, and they were mostly full-time.
However, there are two challenges in particular that require focus. First, overall economic growth could ideally be higher. Real gross domestic product growth of approximately two per cent annually is good, but not good enough. We should seek to do better. Second, we must ensure that the benefits of growth are more widely shared. A growing economy that is enjoyed too narrowly is vulnerable. We need to work harder to ensure everyone shares in the prosperity.
Many families are increasingly struggling with the costs and availability of high-quality, affordable child care. There is the cost of elder care assistance and long-term care as our parents age. As well, many families without extended health benefits experience stress from the costs of prescription drugs and dental care. And there are many families with loved ones struggling with mental illness.
Taken together, these costs of care can overwhelm families financially and emotionally. Often, it is particularly stressful for women and mothers who carry the burden disproportionately.
There are also new challenges facing our economy, such as an aging population, trade uncertainty with the United States, rising interest rates and increased household debt. And there is the rapid pace of technological change, unlike anything we have seen before.
It is now more important than ever that we face these challenges together.
During pre-budget consultations and the online Budget Talks, the message from the people across the province was clear: Manage our government’s finances responsibly, while providing opportunities for our children and security for our seniors. People urged us not to cut programs as that would hurt families or the economy.
A number of our existing policies have been aimed at helping meet this challenge. In particular, we have worked hard to extend the circle of opportunity in Ontario.
Education is a key example. A newly transformed OSAP is providing greater opportunities for young people to attend college and university. In the current school year, over 225,000 students are receiving free tuition and approximately another 175,000 are receiving more generous grants and loans from OSAP to help cover expenses.
We have also championed policies to ease the costs of high-priced prescription medicines. In January 2018, the government undertook the largest expansion of medicare in a generation with the introduction of OHIP+, providing free prescription medicine for young people under the age of 25.
As part of our plan for fair workplaces and better jobs, we increased the minimum wage to $14 per hour on January 1, 2018, ensuring that hundreds of thousands of workers receive a much needed raise. And on January 1, 2019, the minimum wage will increase further to $15 per hour. We also strengthened the rights of part-time workers, ensured all workers receive paid sick days and stepped up enforcement of employment laws.
These policies have had the benefit of supporting both our people and our province’s economic growth. But we know that we must do more.
A Plan for Care
Providing supports to help families who care for loved ones helps alleviate the emotional and financial burden, and it allows more people to participate in and grow our economy.
Even more fundamentally, it recognizes the sacrifices families must make, and the value of the care they provide.
We will take appropriate steps to help them, to relieve their burden, to ease stress and to unlock opportunity to keep our economy growing.
In making these investments, the government will be running modest deficits starting in 2018–19 at less than one per cent of GDP. The 2018 Budget projects a path to balance building on the Province’s track record of responsible fiscal management.
Strengthening Ontario Hospitals
Universal health care is one of the greatest expressions of Ontario’s values as a society. It reflects how the people of Ontario choose to care for each other. Hospitals are at the core of that system providing for those, young and old, who have the most urgent or most complex care needs.
But we know that a growing and aging population is adding demands on our hospitals. In peak times and during difficult flu seasons, our emergency rooms can become crowded. Waiting can be frustrating. We need to do more.
That is why we are investing an additional $822 million in 2018–19 in hospitals to improve wait times and increase the number of critical services and procedures such as MRIs, cancer and cardiac surgeries, organ transplants and other life-saving supports. This represents a 4.6 per cent increase in investments in our hospitals next year. The government is adding new medical and surgical beds, and adult critical care beds, as well as support to pediatric and psychiatric hospitals.
And to ensure the people of Ontario have access to modern, high-quality health care, when and where they need it, we are investing $19 billion over the next 10 years in approximately 40 major hospital projects, which are underway in every region of this province.
More Care for Children
Access to affordable, quality child care is essential for families. Ontario has already committed to helping 100,000 more children up to age four access licensed child care, increasing the capacity for child care in Ontario. Since the 2017 Budget, Ontario has invested over $200 million to support new subsidies for 16,000 more children and over 11,900 new spaces in schools.
In this Budget, the government is going further by implementing free preschool for children aged two-and-a-half until eligible for kindergarten. Beginning in September 2020, free preschool will help reduce costs for families and ease transition to school for children across the province. An average Ontario family with a preschool-aged child could save over $17,000 during the time their child is enrolled in a licensed preschool program.
To help with the costs of infant and toddler care, the Province will provide additional operating funding of more than $160 million over three years, beginning in January 2019. This will help more Ontario families by reducing costs and eliminating fee subsidy waitlists.
To help ensure that all children and families have access to a range of high-quality and affordable child care programs and services, the government has invested a total of $530 million across the province since 2015–16, helping create 1,100 child care rooms and 19,000 child care spaces. Over the next six years, the government will be investing an additional $534 million to build 10,000 more preschool child care spaces in schools and 4,000 in other public spaces in the community.
Making investments in early years makes sense for kids, parents and the economy. It gives our children the best start in life, and helps their parents return to the workforce.
Better Care for Seniors
The number of seniors in our province is expected to grow from 2.4 million today to 4.5 million by 2040. Seniors have unique needs and, along with their families, often struggle with added costs related to health care and well-being.
Many seniors would prefer to stay in their homes and live independently. But that comes with added costs to maintain their living spaces and pay for support. Investments in this area can relieve significant costs while reducing stress for seniors.
To help seniors live healthy, independent, active and socially connected lives, we are investing over $1 billion over three years, beginning in 2019–20 in a Seniors’ Healthy Home Program, with the goal of providing up to $750 for every eligible household led by a senior who is 75 years or older, to help offset the costs of maintaining a home. We are also investing $650 million more over three years in home care and community care to increase nursing and therapy visits and caregiver respite hours.
In addition, OHIP+ will be expanded to include free medication for seniors beginning in August 2019. Every person aged 65 and above in Ontario receiving prescription medications through the Ontario Drug Benefit (ODB) program will do so at no cost. We are eliminating the annual deductible and co-payment under the ODB program so no senior has to be out-of-pocket to pay for eligible medicines, or has to choose between care and other life essentials.
Some seniors require long-term care homes because of complex health needs. This is why, in addition to the development of 30,000 long-term care beds over 10 years announced in fall 2017, we are investing $300 million over the next three years in long-term care homes, which includes increased care hours and the hiring of more nurses and personal support workers (PSWs).
Personal support workers provide invaluable care that is otherwise shouldered by families and loved ones who often have additional responsibilities such as children and work. Recognizing this, we are investing $126 million to increase the number of PSWs in underserved communities and provide them with additional training.
Improving Mental Health Support Services
As a society, we have come to understand that mental health is essential to good overall health at every stage of life, from childhood to retirement. Unfortunately, we know that mental health challenges affect one in three people in this province, at some point in their lives. This is an area where traditional health care structures have struggled to keep pace. Families often face challenges in filling the gaps. It is an area where we must do more.
In addition to the $3.8 billion per year in ongoing support for mental health and addiction, we are providing $2.1 billion more over the next four years to increase the level of care and access for mental health and addictions services, including publicly funded psychotherapy, supportive housing and increased supports for everyone, with targeted services for Indigenous, racialized and LGBTQI2S communities.
We know that 70 per cent of mental health issues begin in childhood or adolescence, and that early intervention improves outcomes. Accordingly, we will be expanding services for students in every high school across the province. We are also growing counselling, therapy and walk-in clinic services in communities for up to 46,000 young people over the next four years.
Reducing Prescription Drug and Dental Costs
Being able to afford to pay for prescription drugs and dental services is vital to maintaining good health. Yet, one in four people of working age in Ontario does not have access to an extended health plan.
So, starting summer 2019, we will introduce a new Ontario Drug and Dental Program for those without extended health plans. This program would reimburse up to 80 per cent of eligible prescription drug and dental expenses up to an annual maximum of $400 for singles, $600 for couples and $50 for each child in a family. An eligible family of four would receive up to $700 per year towards their drug and dental costs.
Strengthening Income Security
Finally, the foundation of independent living is a decent and secure income. We want all members of society to thrive and contribute to the economic well-being of our communities. That is why the government is reforming income security so that everyone has a chance to live healthy, secure lives.
We are simplifying social assistance programs and removing barriers often facing those accessing social assistance. These changes will increase benefits for people accessing social assistance by three per cent a year for each of the next three years, and reduce the burden of complex rules and reporting requirements.
Increased Economic Opportunity, Jobs and Growth
A growing economy produces more jobs and extends the reach of opportunity more widely. We are building on past priorities and taking new steps to generate those benefits in the face of existing and coming challenges.
A Strong Education
Access to quality education is the best strategy we can offer to equip our children with greater prospects for a brighter future. We want to ensure all students achieve their full potential.
That effort starts with the places in which our young people learn. Ontario is investing almost $16 billion in capital grants over 10 years for new and improved schools. This year alone, the Province is investing $784 million to build 39 new schools and renovate 40 existing schools. These capital investments are essential to address growing enrolment, renovate older schools and ensure students have access to quality education.
A great education is about more than buildings and classrooms. One in five Ontario students has special needs. To meet this challenge, the government is providing over $250 million in new funding over three years to eliminate waitlists for special education assessments and improve services in schools. Ensuring that students with special needs have timely access to professional assessments helps learners, families and educators better understand individual needs and chart a path to success.
We also need to help our kids through key transitions. Grades 7 and 8 are crucial years for our children to explore pathways to apprenticeship, college, university and the workplace. That is why the government will invest more than $120 million over the next three years, hiring over 450 new guidance counsellors to help students better prepare for the transition to high school.
Building Skills for the Jobs of Tomorrow
A highly skilled workforce is essential to Ontario’s competitive advantage and to its economic growth and prosperity. Providing access to lifelong learning and skills upgrading ensures that all Ontarians have the opportunity to grow, find a good job, achieve their potential and support a healthy economy.
To help more students go to university or college, we are making further improvements to OSAP. Starting in fall 2018, students from middle-income families will find it easier to qualify for OSAP and will receive even more financial assistance.
We need to ensure that our students have the best spaces and technology to receive the highest quality education. To support this, the Province will provide more than $3 billion in capital grants to postsecondary institutions over the next 10 years, including a new investment of over $500 million starting in 2020–21 to help renew and modernize Ontario’s university and college campuses.
Ontario’s skilled trades also create careers leading to secure jobs and a good quality of life, and contribute to the health and growth of the economy. The government is investing $170 million over three years in the new Ontario Apprenticeship Strategy. This will support transitions into apprenticeship from high school, make the system easier to navigate and make it easier for apprentices to find high-quality jobs upon completion.
To ensure that employers have access to talent, and to help workers upgrade their skills and advance their careers, the government is establishing the Ontario Training Bank. This additional $63 million investment will bring employers, employees and training institutions together to develop skills programs that are tailored to the needs of the local economy.
Building Tomorrow’s Infrastructure
The government is building modern, efficient infrastructure that benefits the economy, while creating jobs and enhancing quality of life. The Province is investing about $230 billion over 14 years starting in 2014–15 for priority projects such as hospitals, schools, transit, bridges and roads, and broadband in rural and remote communities. The next 10 years of investments are expected to support about 140,000 jobs, on average, per year. This will include more than $106 billion for new and upgraded transit and transportation infrastructure to drive economic growth.
Creating more equitable workplaces is not just about fairness. Such efforts boost our economy by bringing more people into the workforce and building on the strengths of our people. That is why we are tackling the systemic barriers that hinder women’s full workforce participation. Advancing women’s economic empowerment is good for business, good for the economy and good for society.
Our three-year Women’s Economic Empowerment Strategy will increase pay and workforce transparency and invest in initiatives to support women’s access to opportunities and good jobs. It will support female entrepreneurs and promote women’s corporate leadership on boards and in senior management roles. Equally important, it will develop a return-to-work program for women, and continue to encourage sharing of caregiving responsibilities to the benefit of Ontario’s economy and society.
The 2018 Ontario Budget reflects the values that we share as people who live and work together in our province.
It puts our strengthened economic positon to work to address our priorities. In particular, it makes the choice to help our people better manage the pressures of everyday life by providing greater care for children, students, seniors and those with health needs, and helping them succeed.
At the same time, it takes important steps to boost growth, create more jobs and expand access to economic opportunity so that our future will be bright.
It is a plan to help everyone get ahead.
It is a plan for care and opportunity.
[Original signed by]
The Honourable Charles Sousa
Minister of Finance