Posted April 15, 2019
Analysts continue to declare the winners, losers and uncertain parties of Ontario's 2019 budget today as many in the province learn more about what Premier Doug Ford has in store for our fiscal future. There's plenty to celebrate based on initial reactions among the populace: Dental care for low-income seniors, flexible child care tax credits for eligible families, promises of lower auto insurance rates, a price cap on ticket resales and public transit improvements among them. More permissive regulations surrounding alcohol and gambling are also being well-received, but not well enough to quiet those who take issue with Ford's budget cuts and perceived priorities.
Here are a few of the more controversial moves (or lack thereof) proposed in the PC government's first provincial budget:
Abolishing legal aid for refugees
Thursday's budget saw the government pull around $133 million from Legal Aid Ontario. It also stipulates that the organization can no longer spend provincial funds on immigration or refugee cases, arguing that the federal government should be responsible for the latter.
Ignoring climate change
A 35 per cent cut to the Ontario's Ministry of the Environment is being panned by Greenpeace Canada today as "the most anti-environmental budget in Ontario since the deadly tainted-water disaster in Walkerton." A government spokesperson told the CBC that more than $300 million in cuts can be attributed to the end of Ontario's cap-and-trade system and the cancellation of the Drive Clean program.
Cuts to Indigenous services
The largest cut to any ministry was that of Indigenous affairs, which will see its budget shrink from $146-million to $74-million—a reduction of nearly 50 per cent minus one-time investments including land-claim settlements.
Changes to education
While the PC government does plan to invest $1.4 billion into Ontario's education system during the upcoming school year, a spending freeze in the same category is scheduled for 2020-2021. At the post-secondary level, low-income students will no longer be eligible for free tuition. Colleges and universities will also see their operating budgets tied to "performance targets" and could lose up to 60 per cent of their provincial funding for failing to meet said targets. Nearly $700 million in overall funding for post-secondary education will be cut as part of this budget.
Failing to address poverty
The word "poverty" wasn't mentioned once during Finance Minister Vic Fedeli's budget announcement on Thursday, as many have taken to pointing out on Twitter. Roughly $1 billion worth of cuts to social services are also planned over the next three years, leading critics to raise the alarm on behalf of vulnerable, low-income residents. "Social assistance recipients have nothing left to give after rates were cut by 1.5% last year," reads a statement from the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. "Low and moderate income Ontarians who hoped for some meaningful measures in this budget to make life more affordable will be deeply disappointed."
Cuts to Ontario's Ministry of Labour
More than $306 million will be pulled this year from the ministry responsible for enforcing employment standards across the province. The PC government proposes that funding shortfalls will be alleviated through the use of "automated digital tools to help employers educate themselves to be self-reliant on understanding their obligations under the Employment Standards Act." In other words, employers will be able to regulate themselves and deal with most labour matters internally while the province focuses its attention on "high-risk, high-impact investigations and claims resolution."
Making alcohol easier to access but addiction treatments harder
The government has pledged $174 million for mental health and addictions care in 2019, but some in the field say this amount isn't nearly enough to meet demand. Health care spending in general is forecast in the budget to go up by less than the rate of inflation, which critics say amounts to a net reduction in funds. "There are long wait lists across the province for child and youth mental health which is placing a strain on mental health service providers, hospitals, and the families turning to them for care," said Children's Mental Health Ontario CEO Kim Moran in a release on Thursday. "We can't continue with the status quo."
Article by Lauren O'Neil for BlogTO