Ahead of schedule in deficit reduction in Ontario
In 2012, I chaired the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs (frequently shortened to the “Finance Committee”) of the Ontario Legislature, and know first-hand how close Ontario came to an election on July 19, 2012. After days of committee hearings and detailed consideration of the Budget (called Clause-by-Clause because that’s what it is), last year’s Budget passed. This year, I asked my successor and friend, MPP Kevin Flynn of Oakville how it was going, and he smiled at me and said, “It’s done.”
I looked at him and said, “But you just started today!” And he replied, “Yes. There were two amendments. One passed, and the other did not. We are done. It took twenty minutes. Everyone thought you’d be envious.” They were right, by the way.
And thus, on Tuesday June 11, the 2013-14 Ontario Budget passed, and the spring session of the Ontario Legislature ended. Now our usual June, with its full schedule of graduations, picnics, annual meetings, barbecues and other events can continue in Mississauga. For elected officials of any level, June is to us what Advent and Christmas are to the clergy. After Canada Day, you can take a break.
What the 2013-14 Budget did
About all most people wrap their minds around when it comes to a corporate or government budget is, “The budget passed and the company’s (or government’s) revenue and spending plan was approved.” And basically, that’s pretty accurate, as far as it goes.
But it leaves unconsidered, “just what was approved in the Budget?” Let’s go through a brief list:
- The overriding priority in the 2013-14 Budget was to stay on track and eliminate the Ontario post-recession deficit. Ontario’s deficit reduction plan remains sound. The Province is on track to eliminate the budget deficit in 2017-18. Just for perspective, Ontario is the only province to have stuck to its original recession deficit reduction schedule. The federal government has had to revise its balanced budget date numerous times. Alberta is facing a structural (i.e. you can’t grow your way out of it) budget deficit, and is being urged to adopt the same tax reforms Ontario did a few years ago. Ontario has always exceeded its deficit reduction targets, both during the recession recovery, and between 2004-05 and 2006-07, when the government inherited its surprise $5.6 billion budget deficit from the former Conservative government. Between 2006-07 and 2008-09, Ontario ran budget surpluses, and paid down some of Ontario’s accumulated debt;
- A new Youth Jobs Strategy in the 2013-14 Budget will create about 30,000 job and mentorship opportunities for young people and support their entrepreneurial efforts;
- A plan to invest more than $35 billion in infrastructure across Ontario over the next three years and support more than 100,000 jobs on average each year is part of the Budget;
- The Budget proposes an increased exemption to the Employer Health Tax to provide greater tax relief for small employers, and help them hire more people;
- Still curious? Read the Ontario Budget for 2013-14. It’s is well-written, very informative, and is a free download in PDF format. Lots of “water-cooler facts.”
The Budget also included specific measures to help people in their everyday lives:
- Increasing the Ontario Child Benefit’s annual maximum payment by up to $210 over the next two years;
- Transforming social assistance to help more recipients find jobs and improve their financial security;
- Reducing auto insurance rates by 15 per cent on average for nine million Ontario drivers;
- Investing an additional $260 million this year in home and community care;
- Proposing new rules for wireless contracts and services;
- Strengthening the rights of consumers in the areas of door-to-door sales, debt settlement services and real estate transactions.
Aside from the Budget, the government also introduced some specific measures that, if passed later this year, would make Ontario a safer, healthier, and more environmentally-friendly place:
- Prohibiting the sale of tanning services to people under 18 to protect young people from skin cancer;
- Providing job protection for caregivers who take leave to care for sick or injured loved ones or to cope with the illness or loss of a child;
- Making it easier for municipalities to collect unpaid fines from Ontario drivers;
- Making more local food available in stores, schools and restaurants across the province;
- Requiring producers to take responsibility for recycling the products they sell, and turning more waste into new products.
How is the Ontario economy doing?
In May, Ontario gained 50,600 jobs. Ontario has created more than 400,000 jobs since June 2009, recovering all the jobs lost during the recession. See the article on this web site on the May 2013 job numbers.
Ontario is promoting entrepreneurship and innovation with a new venture capital fund to help emerging start-ups, committing $100 million over five years to the Ontario Brain Institute and providing grants to support the production and distribution of Canadian music.
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