Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa delivered the province’s 2016 “Ontario Economic Outlook and Fiscal Review,” more commonly referred to as the fall economic update, the afternoon of November 14, 2016. While reaffirming that the provincial government is projected to balance the budget by 2017/18, the Ontario Liberals also used the opportunity to further the recalibration of government priorities towards pocketbook issues first hinted at in the September Throne Speech. The government has come under fire recently from opposition parties for being out of touch with middle class and blue collar Ontarians, a charge similar to what some commentators in the U.S. suggest led to a historic loss for the Democrats in last week’s American election.
Minister Sousa and Premier Wynne are clearly hoping for the lead headlines to be dominated by a proposal to double the maximum Land Transfer Tax refund for eligible first-time homebuyers to $4,000. Indeed, relief for first-time homebuyers had been heavily telegraphed by the government over the past few days.
The fall economic update can be broken down into four distinct themes supported by specific initiatives designed to gain support from middle class Ontarians at the centre of the political spectrum:
Helping people in their everyday lives
- Proposing to double the maximum Land Transfer Tax refund to $4,000 for eligible first-time homebuyers, as of January 1, 2017.
- Re-announcing a rebate of an amount equal to the eight per cent provincial portion of the Harmonized Sales Tax from the electricity bills of eligible residential consumers, small businesses and farms starting January 1, 2017.
- Enhancing the Rural or Remote Electricity Rate Protection program to provide eligible rural customers with savings of approximately $45 per month, or $540 a year, resulting in on-bill monthly savings of about 20 per cent on their electricity bills when combined with the eight per cent rebate.
Strengthening healthcare and education
- Investing an additional $140 million into hospitals with the specific goal of supporting high growth hospitals and reducing wait times.
- Introducing a new and as yet unfunded dementia strategy, including launching consultations this fall to help improve access to quality care for almost 230,000 people newly diagnosed or living with dementia and to support their caregivers.
- Investing $65.5 million this school year to support the creation of approximately 3,400 new licensed spaces for infants, toddlers and preschoolers as a next step in creating 100,000 additional child care spaces by 2022.
- Expanding local access to higher education through new funding of up to $180 million in new university-led postsecondary sites in Brampton and Milton, focused on science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.
Fostering a dynamic and innovative business climate
- Investing $32.4 million over four years to help high-impact companies overcome barriers to their next stage of growth by funding activities such as developing and recruiting specialized talent, accessing new markets and protecting intellectual property.
Protecting Ontario consumers
- Introducing legislation to establish the initial parameters for the Financial Services Regulatory Authority, a new independent and flexible regulator of financial services and pensions that would be consumer-focused and improve protections for consumers, investors and pension plan beneficiaries.
- Banning door-to-door marketing of certain household appliances, including water heaters, furnaces, air conditioners and water filters to protect consumers who feel pressured to sign contracts at the door.
- Regulating the home inspection industry through mandatory licensing and qualifications for home inspectors as well as minimum standards for contracts, home inspection reports, disclosures and the performance of home inspections.
- Minister Sousa also took today’s opportunity to reiterate the province’s commitment to balancing its books next year and the year after, just in time for the June 2018 provincial election.
With this update it’s clear that Premier Wynne and her government are moving into reelection mode. The elements outlined by Minister Sousa today are targeted to appeal to suburban voters in and around key urban centres that are crucial to the Liberals if they wish to win reelection for an unprecedented fifth consecutive term in 2018.