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Ford government tables $214.5B spending budget, largest in Ontario history, as deficit grows to $9.8B

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The Ford government has tabled the largest spending budget in Ontario history at $214.5 billion.

Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy touted the spending plan, called “Building a Better Ontario,” as one that “provides certainty to markets and, more importantly, confidence to people that the government is prepared for whatever lies ahead, regardless of the challenges that the national or global economy might throw our way.”

The deficit is projected to grow dramatically this year to $9.8 billion, owing to a softer economy, though the government is projecting balanced books in time for the next election in 2026.

The budget has no new affordability measures beyond what’s previously been announced.

And while there are no cuts in the budget, some sector spending is below the rate of inflation and it features no tax hikes nor tax breaks.

Health care spending is projected to grow just 1.3 per cent, however there is big money for infrastructure and highways. The budget also includes money for four new police helicopters, including one for Toronto.

Liberal Leader Bonnie Crombie slammed the plan, calling it a “a do-nothing budget.”

“Families and bushiness are hurting and Doug Ford is choosing to do nothing for you,” Crombie commented.

Highlights from the Ontario budget

Deficit growing now, but surplus for election

Ontario’s deficit is projected $9.8 billion this year, up from $3 billion last year. The provincial government said this is due to a softer economy and weaker revenues. It’s expected to moderate to $4.6 billion in the 2025-2026 fiscal year before reaching a surplus of $0.5 billion in 2026-2027, just in time for the next provincial election.

Affordability

With many Ontarians struggling financially, the budget does include some affordability measures but nothing new beyond what’s already been previously announced.

As already indicated, the province is freezing driver’s licence fees, eliminating licence plate renewal fees and stickers, and extending the 5.7 cent a litre gas tax cut until the end of 2024. The six-month extension will cost taxpayers $620 million.

Health Care

The government is setting aside $546 million for Primary Health Care Care over three years which it says will help connect approximately 600,000 more people to team-based primary care.

There is nearly $50 billion over 10 years earmarked for health infrastructure, including close to $36 billion in capital grants, for more than 50 hospital projects that would add about 3,000 new beds.

Highways

The budget includes a planned $27.4 billion over 10 years to support the planning and construction of highway expansion and rehabilitation, however the government has not specifically broken out how much money it plans to spend on Highway 413 or the Bradford Bypass.

The budget does reiterate the government’s desire to build Highway 413, a new 400 Series Highway, which would travel from Halton to York Region, connecting Highways 401, 407, and 410, but the province says it’s not breaking down the cost to taxpayers just yet due to the fact that competitive bidding is still underway.

The budget does not break down how much it thinks it will cost to upload the Gardiner Expressway or Don Valley Parkway.

New police helicopters

The budget includes money for GTA police forces, including Toronto police, to buy and operate four helicopters, $46 million over three years is being set aside for this initiative. The Toronto, Durham and Peel forces are getting the helicopters though they will be procured through the Ontario Provincial Police.

Auto insurance

The government says it’s going to provide drivers with “an opportunity to lower their premiums” by taking advantage of a wider range of coverage options.

For example, drivers may already have access to certain benefits through their workplace benefit program so they should have the choice to not have to pay for them twice through their auto insurance policies.

The government is also proposing to make auto insurance pay for medical and rehabilitation benefits following an auto accident before extended healthcare plans do. This would apply to all automobile accidents, regardless of the injury sustained. The budget says it would also help reduce paperwork and red tape for patients.

Auto theft

The government is spending $49 million over three years to tackle the rising problem of auto theft in the province. This includes support for an investigative fund to help stop the illegal export of stolen vehicles from the country.

Recreation

The is new money to build and update recreation canters across Ontario. A new $200 million ‘Community sport and infrastructure fund’ is being created which the government says will invest in “new and upgraded sport, recreation and community facilities.”

Gender-based violence

The government is pledging $13.5 million over three years to combat gender-based violence. The province says this will “enhance initiatives that support women, children, youth, and others, who are at increased risk of violence or exploitation, such as indigenous and radicalized communities, and children and youth in child welfare system.”

Autism program

The government is increasing its investment in the Ontario Autism Program by $120 million.

Passing on booze and pot

The budget shows evidence that cannabis and LCBO revenues are falling. The government says this is due to a soft economy, which apparently has Ontarians pulling back on the money they used to spend on cannabis and/or alcohol

Pot police

The government is investing $31 million over the next three years to bolster the provincial joint forces cannabis enforcement team, which is an OPP lead unit that tackles illegal cannabis storefronts, as well as cracks down on production, sale and distribution of illegal cannabis in the online and off-line space.

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