Ontario Premier Doug Ford is banking on billions of dollars in infrastructure spending to win him re-election to a second term, relying on continued deficits to fuel his campaign promises.
The Ford government on Thursday tabled the “Building Ontario Plan,” a 241-page, $198 billion document that serves as both the provincial budget and an election platform for the Progressive Conservative party.
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While PCs enjoyed a lead in public polls ahead of the June 2 election, the budget provided a few surprises that weren’t announced in advance by the Ford cabinet and the prime minister himself in recent years. weeks.
He also painted an optimistic picture of Ontario’s economic outlook – predicting a steady increase in tax revenues, an even bigger increase in program spending and a gradual return to balanced books for the province after large deficits. related to COVID.
And if there was any doubt the Tories were using the budget as an unofficial provincial campaign launch, Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy put them to rest in a budget speech peppered with attacks on the opposition Liberals. .
“While every party today pays lip service to the rising cost of living, it is important to do background checks. During its 15 long years in office, the previous Liberal government said ‘no’ to giving families a break,” Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy said in his prepared budget speech.
“We’re saying ‘yes’ to help Ontario families with the cost of living. Including when we struck the best child care deal of any province in Canada,” Bethlenfalvy added, referring to the recent deal struck between Doug Ford’s government and Justin Trudeau’s federal Liberals.
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While the Progressive Conservatives intend to run with this budget, it is unclear whether the exact same document tabled today will be reintroduced in the event of re-election.
Bethlenfalvy repeatedly dodged questions from several reporters about whether the document could be changed after the June election. After being pressed to respond, Bethlenfalvy finally admitted that some aspects were subject to change depending on how the upcoming campaign unfolds.
“We’re going to go through an election, we’re going to listen to Ontarians,” he said.
“This is our plan that we tabled, this is our plan to rebuild the economy, and this is our plan to get those good jobs.”
This has raised concerns among opposition critics over a potential ‘bait and switch’ budget.
“There must be a hidden budget somewhere, because the Minister of Finance refused to commit to the document he presented to everyone today,” said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
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Without a new guaranteed deposit of the budget, the budget document could never see the light of day in its current version.
Horwath told reporters she would not reintroduce the same budget document if elected to the premier’s office and Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca indicated he would cut large parts of the budget plan.
The Prime Minister’s Office later clarified that the Progressive Conservative Party would present an identical budget document again this year, if re-elected.
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The budget is being touted by Ontario PCs as a “growth” strategy: investing in things like road infrastructure and “rebuilding” the economy after COVID-19, while maintaining increased spending on programs at a brisk pace.
But the budget’s own assumptions call for real GDP growth to decline after a post-COVID rise — from 4.3% in 2021 to 1.9% in 2025.
“On average, private sector forecasters expect Ontario’s real GDP to grow 4.1% in 2022, 3.2% in 2023, 2.1% in 2024 and 2.0% in 2025 “The Ontario Ministry of Finance’s real GDP projections are set below the average private sector forecast each year for prudent planning purposes,” the budget document states.
The Ford government is expected to continue running deficits over the next five years, going from a projected deficit of $19.9 billion in 2022-23 to a surplus of $2.2 billion in 2027-28.
But it also makes it clear that if Ontario’s economy were to grow faster than the government predicted, the provincial government could balance the budget within two years.
The government’s estimates are at odds with the Independent Office of Financial Accountability, which earlier this month – and before the new budget measures – predicted that the Ontario government could balance the budget in 2023 and post a surplus. of $7.1 billion in 2026-2027.
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Of course, the figures and forecasts depend on the re-election of the Ford government in June.
And to that end, the budget plan offers crowd-pleasing investments and a few surprises after a pre-budget flash announcement by Ford and his cabinet, including:
-$25.1 billion over the next decade for freeway construction, expansion and “rehabilitation” projects.
-$61.6 billion over the same period for transit projects, including the “starting the construction” of the Ontario Line project in Toronto.
-$40 billion over 10 years for the province’s hospital infrastructure, and
-$21 billion over 10 years for the “renewal and expansion” of schools and child care infrastructure.
Despite the wallet issues that are on the minds of politicians on all sides, a recent Ipsos poll for Global News suggested that health care and the fight against COVID-19 were the top two issues that Ontarians believe will determine their vote.
Of the 1,001 voting-age Ontarians surveyed by Ipsos between April 13-14, a total of 31% cited health care as one of their top three voting issues, while 25% said the same. of the management of COVID-19. pandemic.
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Affordability issues – cutting taxes (24%), helping to meet daily needs (22%) and making housing more affordable (21%) – were among the top five issues at the polls. The Ipsos poll is considered accurate to within 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
While the Ipsos poll gave the Liberals and opposition New Democrats the edge on issues like health care and the environment, Ford’s Conservatives dominated on portfolio issues.
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