Hon. Peter Bethlenfalvy, Ontario Minister of Finance, has introduced the 2023 Budget entitled Building a Strong Ontario. The Budget builds off themes in Budget 2022 and the re-election campaign slogan Get It Done, with a focus on building infrastructure, job creation, and support for workers.
The Budget forecasts a $1.3 billion deficit for the 2023-24 fiscal year ahead. The government intends to balance the budget with a $200 million surplus in 2024-25, and $4.4 billion surplus in 2025-26. This budget lays out the clearest path to balance since the Ford Government took office in 2018. Ontario’s GDP rose by 3.7% in 2022, supported by a 4.6% increase in employment – which is projected to drop to 0.5% in 2023-24. The province’s net debt-to-GDP ratio is projected at 37.8% in 2022-23, the lowest since 2011-12.
The 2023 Budget is broken down into two key themes:
- Building Ontario
- Building Ontario’s Economy for Today and Tomorrow
- Building Highways, Transit, and Infrastructure Projects
- Working For You
- Working for Workers
- Keeping Your Costs Down
- Better Services For You
Ontario is funding the following projects supporting manufacturing, infrastructure and to drive the province’s economic growth:
Building Ontario’s Economy for Today and Tomorrow
- Committing close to $1 Billion dollars to support critical legacy infrastructure for the Ring of Fire
- Attracting $2.5 Billion in recent investments in the steel sector to produce green steel.
- Launching the Ontario Made Manufacturing Investment Tax Credit, which provides a 10% refundable Corporate Income Tax credit to help manufacturers lower their costs, invest in workers, innovate, and become more competitive.
- Advancing Ontario’s Critical Minerals Strategy with $3 million in 2023-24 and $3 million in 2024-25 for the Ontario junior Exploration Program to help companies search for mineral deposits, along with a renewed commitment to building the roads to the Ring of Fire.
- Attracting over $16 billion in investments by global automakers and suppliers of EV batteries and battery materials, in addition to the recent announcement by a subsidiary of Volkswagen to establish an EV battery manufacturing facility in St. Thomas, Ontario.
- Launching a voluntary Clean Energy Credit Registry to boost competitiveness and attract jobs.
- Providing more than $6.5 Billion in electricity price relief.
- Beginning construction on the bridge over the future Bradford Bypass, the next phase of construction on the Highway 7 between Kitchener and Guelph, continuing work on widening the Highway 401 from Pickering through Eastern Ontario, and a renewed commitment to proceeding with Highway 413.
- Providing $224 million in 2023-24 for a new capital stream of the Skills Development Fund to leverage private-sector expertise and expand training centres.
- Investing $25 million over three years to double the number of spots available in the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program, from 9,000 to 18,000 in 2025.
Building Highways, Transit, and Infrastructure Projects
- Investing $139.5 million to reinstate the Northlander passenger rail service.
- Investing in GO Transit and Transit-Oriented Communities to support mixed-use communities close to transit stations.
- Continuing to build subways through the through Ontario Line, the Scarborough Subway Extension, the Yonge North Subway Extension and the Eglinton Crosstown West Extension to alleviate gridlock and create thousands of jobs.
- Investing over $48 Billion over the next 10 years in hospital infrastructure
- Continuing previous plans to build more than 31,000 new and over 28,000 upgraded long-term beds by 2028.
- Investing nearly $15 Billion in capital grants over 10 years to expand and renew schools and child care spaces.
- Continuing plans to connect every community to high-speed internet by 2025 with investments of nearly $4 billion.
Working for You
The Ontario government is showcasing support for workers and funding for services through the following set of commitments:
Keeping Your Costs Down
- Proposing to expand the Guaranteed Annual Income System (GAINS) in July 2024, to see 100,000 additional seniors be eligible and the benefit adjusting per inflation.
- Extend the current gas tax and fuel tax rate cuts at 9 cents per litre until December 2023.
- Calling on the federal government to support GST/GST relief on new housing and rental development projects.
- Investing $202 million in the Homelessness Prevention Program and Indigenous Supportive Housing Program.
- Investing an additional $9.6 million to advance construction of the Runnymede Healthcare Centre’s First Responders Wellness Rehabilitation Centre.
Better Services for You
- Accelerating funding commitments to $569 million and with nearly $300 million to support contract rate increases to stabilize the home and community care workforce.
- Committing more than $200 million to connect children and youth to care at hospitals and close to home in their communities.
- Investing $80 million over three years to expand nursing education by increasing enrollment by 1,000 registered nurses, 500 registered practical nurses, and 150 nurse practitioner seats.
- Investing an additional $33 million over three years in helping students become doctors, adding 100 undergraduate seats beginning in 2023 as well as 154 postgraduate medical training seats.
- Providing $60 million over two years to expand existing teams and create up to 18 new primary care teams.
- Starting in fall 2023, allowing pharmacists to prescribe more over-the-counter medication for common ailments.
- Investing an additional $425 million over three years to connect people to mental health and addictions services, including a 5% increase in base funding to community based mental health and addictions services providers funded by the Ministry of Health.
- Investing an additional $51 million over three years to support the Dedicated Offload Nurses Program.
- Investing $170 million in over three years to support the Ready, Set, Go Program.
- Investing $3.1 million in 2023–24 for an expansion of the Ronald McDonald House Charities Ottawa House.
The Government will spend the next three weeks debating and passing the budget, before rising for the break week scheduled for April 10th.
New Official Opposition and NDP Leader Marit Stiles will look to leverage her response to the Budget to elevate her profile and is focusing on the perceived absence of cost-of-living relief measures from the government’s spending plan.
In the weeks following the budget passing, the government will make a number of “echo” announcements of funding in the budget.
While the Budget is the immediate focus of the Ford government over the next three weeks, given the lack of new funding measures, stakeholders will have an opportunity to seek funding in the Fall Economic Statement. Work will begin on the Fall Economic Statement over the summer with consultations likely beginning in the early Autumn.
Budget 2023 represents the Ford Conservatives first new budget since the 2022 election, framing the government’s agenda as fiscally responsible and focused on continuing to ‘build’ while reigning in deficit spending after more than two tumultuous years. The Ford Government is signalling Ontario is on a path to balance by 2024-25, four years sooner than previously projected.
Characteristic with the Ford Conservatives approach, Budget 2023 provides no shifts in thematic approach to governing, but signals continued investments in several core areas: economic growth, infrastructure, workers, and health care.
Given the pressure on Ontario’s healthcare system, the Ford Government is renewing their commitment to build up hospitals and long-term care. New spending on healthcare is focused on health human resources, while Budget 2022 measures on healthcare infrastructure such as hospitals and long-term care beds are a continued priority. This is a departure from past budgets, where the government was criticized by opposition parties and stakeholders for focusing too much on the number of beds and not enough on the healthcare workers needed to staff them. The budget increases healthcare funding by $6.1 billion overall.
With the government’s projected housing starts falling from the targeted 150,000 to just 80,300 in 2023-24, they are calling on the federal government to defer the HST on all new large-scale purpose-built rental housing projects.
Opposition party critiques are focused on the perceived lack of cost-of-living relief measures. One focal point in opposition criticism is the phasing out of the paid sick leave program that was brought in to respond to COVID-19, which the government will argue was always meant to be a temporary measure.
With a record $204.7 billion in spending, inflation-driven surpluses in the out-years, and a $4 billion contingency fund, the government is working to manage the political road ahead as public service stakeholders continue to seek additional funding in labour negotiations.