The Ford government delivered its first provincial budget recently, one that may be surprising to critics who were expecting a “slash-and-burn” style of debt reduction.
Rick Nicholls, MPP for Chatham-Kent Leamington, is busy promoting the first budget, delivered April 11 by Finance Minister Vic Fedeli, which features no new taxes.
“We’re pretty excited about it. With this being our first budget, our focus was protecting what matters most. We’ve been on record that we are a government for the people,” Nicholls noted. “Our goal is financial transparency and accountability, and we’re going to go about it in a very deliberate and methodical pace that isn’t slash and burn, despite a lot of the fear mongering that’s been going on by a lot of unions. How can they say we’re slashing and burning when we’ve actually added $1 billion to the education budget?”
The fear that 3,400 teachers would be losing their jobs over four years may be true, Nicholls noted, but not because the government cut them. Nicholls referred to a study done on teaching jobs in the province, which states that every year in the province of Ontario, there are 3,700 teachers leaving the profession.
“The worry that there won’t be any jobs for students in the future who want to become teachers; there’s going to be lots of jobs. If you do the math, 3,700 teachers over four years, is 14,800 positions, and yes, some will be lost due to attrition,” Nicholls noted.
He also said he has figures that show the number of teachers has increased over the past few years, but enrolment is continuing to decrease, which is also a factor in the number of teachers needed by each board. He noted that mandatory e-learning is still a work in progress and his government will be listening to what teachers have to say on that topic.
“At this point, we’re saying students can take four online courses in high school without having to be in the classroom. Some can do and some can’t and we know that, so we’re still working through the bugs on that one,” Nicholls said. “I can see the value in e-learning, but we have to work the bugs out on that especially for remote areas where access to the Internet just isn’t there.”
Nicholls also said class sizes at the elementary level won’t change until Grades 4-8, where the average will increase by one. In high school, class size will increase from 22 to 28.
The announcement of government investment locally is also good news, the MPP said. He noted the main goals are to restore transparency and trust, adopt new ways to deliver “world-class” health care and education; the two biggest expenditures of the Ontario government, “while supporting front-line workers, not at the expense of front-line workers,” and find efficiencies and drive them down to the front lines. Next, he said, is making life more affordable and providing good-paying jobs for people by being open for business.
“Budget 2019 has already been felt locally. In recent announcements, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing and Ministry of Infrastructure combined invested a total of $13,564,715 new dollars to stimulate growth and modernization in Chatham-Kent, Leamington, Essex, and Windsor,” said Nicholls. “That’s on top of our share of a $1 billion increase to the education budget, $1.75 billion to build 15,000 new long-term care beds and modernize 15,000 existing beds, plus $165 million going to road projects in Southwestern Ontario from the Ministry of Transportation. More details on road investment are coming down the pipe, so stay tuned.”
The signature initiative of the budget is the proposed Childcare Access and Relief from Expenses (CARE) tax credit, Nicholls noted. The CARE tax credit would be one of the most flexible child care initiatives in North America, putting parents first in all decisions. CARE would help low and middle-income families with up to 75 per cent of their eligible child care costs per year, including those for daycares, home-based care, and camps.
Another key item in the budget is dental care for low-income seniors. The government is investing $90 million starting at the end of summer 2019 to establish this new program. In addition, the government has more than doubled the investment for families with autistic children to $600 million, clearing the waiting lists for treatment.
Other key initiatives in Budget 2019 include a tax credit for business overhead investments, a “Digital First” strategy to modernize Service Ontario’s top 10 transactions and other government services, and a new auto insurance plan.
“The 2019 Ontario Budget is showing the world that our government is serious about fiscal sustainability, protecting frontline services, and making Ontario the best place to invest and create jobs,” said Fedeli.
Nicholls asks all to remember many details are still to come if a project they care about has not been mentioned yet in budget documents.