TORONTO – Finance Minister Charles Sousa delivered the Ontario budget on Thursday. Here are some of the highlights:
POST-SECONDARY STUDENTS: College and university students from low-income families stand to benefit the most from the Liberal government’s fiscal plan. Starting in the 2017-18 school year, the province will create a new grant — called the Ontario Student Grant. Under the new system, tuition will be free for students from Ontario families with incomes up to $50,000 who attend any college or university in Canada. More than half of students from families with incomes up to $83,000 will receive non-repayable grants that exceed the average tuition — mostly students who live on their own. No Ontario student will receive less through the new grant than they are currently eligible for through the Ontario Tuition Grant.
CAP AND TRADE: Proceeds from the cap-and-trade system — which is designed to reduce Ontario’s greenhouse gas emissions — are projected to be $1.9 billion in 2017 — up from last year’s projection of $1.3 billion — and will be used to invest in green projects and climate change initiatives. However, the program comes at a cost to Ontario ratepayers. The average natural gas cost to households will increase $5 per month, while the price of gasoline will go up about $4.3 cents per litre — or about $8 per month.
CIGARETTES AND WINE: The prices of cigarettes and wine are going up. There will be a $3 increase in the price of a carton of 200 cigarettes, effective at 12:01 a.m. Friday, and the tobacco tax will keep rising at the rate of inflation each year over the next five years. The minimum price for a bottle of wine rises to $7.95 over the next three years, and there will be a series of increases in the ad valorem tax on wine, starting with a two percentage point hike in June, another two points in 2017 and 2018, and a one-point hike in 2019
— Single seniors earning up to $19,300 per year will be eligible for cheaper drugs starting in August, compared with the previous threshold of $16,018. Couples with an income of up to $32,300 will also be eligible, where before only those earning $24,175 qualified. The costs will be offset by raising deductibles and co-payments for seniors above the new income thresholds. Annual deductibles will rise to $170 from $100 and co-payments will increase by a dollar to $7.11.
— The $30 fee for Drive Clean vehicle emissions tests will be eliminated in 2017-18, but not the tests themselves, which will cost the province $60 million a year.
— Shingles vaccines for seniors, which cost $170, will be free.
— The budget deficit for fiscal year 2015-16 is expected to come in at $5.7 billion, down from the last estimate of $7.5 billion
— The deficit for 2016-17 is projected to come in at $4.6 billion and be reduced to zero the following fiscal year
— Ontario’s net debt will hit $308 billion in 2016-17, the largest of any sub-national jurisdiction in the world, costing $11.8 billion in interest payments, which will increase to $13.1 billion by 2018-19
— Hospitals will get their first funding increase in five years, up $345 million, plus $12 billion over 10 years in capital grants for about three dozen major hospital projects
— There will be $333 million over five years to redesign and improve autism services