TORONTO – Ontario’s first balanced budget since the recession is set to be delivered April 27 and will include increased health funding, innovation investments, a new tax credit for seniors and measures to cool the housing market in the Greater Toronto Area.
There will be no new taxes on families, Finance Minister Charles Sousa said.
“Eliminating the deficit allows us to redouble our efforts to make lives a little more affordable,” he said Thursday in a speech to the Empire Club of Canada.
Sousa didn’t reveal how his budget will tackle housing affordability, but said he’s concerned about speculators “playing the market” and therefore limiting supply.
“They’re crowding out families who are trying to put down roots,” he said.
Sousa is set to meet with federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Toronto Mayor John Tory on Tuesday to discuss housing in the region.
The budget will include a public transit tax credit for seniors 65 years and older. That would come after the federal government recently announced it was eliminating a 15-per-cent tax credit for commuters who buy a transit pass because it wasn’t encouraging ridership as hoped.
Sousa said he hopes Ontario’s tax credit will encourage more seniors to use transit, but gave only anecdotal evidence when asked why he thought that would work.
“We’re just trying to provide some more affordability measures, make life a little bit easier for seniors,” he said. The credit “will make it more affordable for (seniors) to go to the gym, the library, or to take their grandkids to a concert.”
Sousa highlighted in his speech investments the government has made in the innovation sector, saying more of that can be expected in the budget.
“We must embrace new, potentially disruptive technologies,” he said.
He also signalled that more health spending is coming, saying that sector will get “a major booster shot.”
Even though Ontario’s Liberal government has managed to knock down a deficit that was at one point more than $20 billion, the province’s debt continues to grow.
It has swelled to more than $300 billion and in last year’s budget interest on that debt was more than $11 billion and was growing twice as quickly as any program spending area.
When asked if he has a plan to start paying down the debt, Sousa said, “we’re addressing debt always.”
“We will continue to look at ways to manage our debt-to-GDP (ratio) in a way that starts to taper it down even further,” he said.
Ontario’s net-debt-to-GDP ratio is about 40 per cent.
The Progressive Conservatives have accused the government of artificially balancing the budget, through the use of one-time money from asset sales and the use of a reserve fund.