Progressive Conservatives loosen Ontario booze, gambling, rules in first budget

Kenny Grant
April 15, 2019

The People for Education says changes proposed by the province would result in a almost $1 billion cut to education funding and 7,200 teaching positions.

Over the next three years the overall budget for government programs will rise by 0.8 per cent, compared to the 3.3 per cent in growth that the Liberals had planned.

You'll also be able to start drinking earlier, and possibly later, at licenced establishments.

"We were braced for deep cuts, but no one was prepared for the level of irresponsibility and outright cruelty in Ford's budget", said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.

The budget also reveals a new Ontario trillium logo - virtually identical to a previous iteration - as well as a largely blue licence plate redesign and an accompanying new slogan, "A place to grow".

"While the budget has provided an incomplete picture of education funding, nothing can obscure the fact that this government is making massive education cuts and eliminating thousands of teachers from classrooms", said Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario.

Ford's PC's are populists, not revolutionaries, and, alarmingly, are already displaying the spendthrift tendencies of the Dalton McGuinty - Kathleeen Wynne Liberal governments of 2003 to 2018.

"The only new spending can be attributed to different accounting methods between the Tories and their predecessors", she said.

The cuts to social programs were part of the $163.4-billion package the Tories unveiled in their first budget - almost $5 billion larger than the last budget from the previous Liberal government.

Health and Long-Term Care got the most money, $4.25 billion, but also has the largest budget of any ministry. Ford's PCs want to ratchet that back to just 1.6 per cent. Horwath says the spending doesn't amount to much because it doesn't match inflation rates.

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Thompson said the changes will save the province $250 million in the first year, but will not result in teacher layoffs.

The PC budget indicates that growing enrolment will eat up the bulk of the forecast 1.2 per cent annual spending increase in education. Ontario recently announced a host of education changes, including larger high school class sizes, which sparked widespread anger.

It says that for years, performance has affected a small proportion of post-secondary funding - 1.4 per cent for universities and 1.2 per cent for colleges. "These reforms will provide wrap-around supports to help social assistance recipients address barriers and access to employment supports".

The justice sector is expected to see about two per cent in cost cuts too, including changes to legal aid and victim compensation services and amalgamating adjudicative tribunals.

What the Ford government was facing - thanks to recent changes in accounting rules that pumped up the deficit, last year's Liberal profligacy and its own tax cuts, including scrapping almost $2-billion a year in cap-and-trade revenue - was a budget shortfall in the year just ended of $11.7-billion. "They say we're the economic driver and like to crow about that all of the time but it doesn't seem that it matters".

The Tories had pledged to cut the corporate tax rate to 10.5 per cent from 11.5 per cent.

"We have been lagging significantly in terms of productivity measures vis a vis our global competitors - this is an important step", he said.

"They're giving corporations billions in tax cuts, but it seemed like every second word out of the Finance Minister's mouth was debt or deficit", said Almeida.

The document talks about fighting climate change "without a carbon tax", but provides no new money for climate programs. In addition to tackling the deficit, the government is also taking aim at the net debt - now pegged at $343 billion - through ensuring surpluses and unused reserve or contingency funds go to paying it down.

The legislation would require the budget to be read by March 31 and would involve a fine of equal to 10 per cent from the salaries of the Premier and Minister of Finance for each missed reporting deadline.

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