News and announcements 04/12/2019

On April 11, the Ontario Progressive Conservative government released the first budget of its mandate, which delivered very little for low-income Ontarians on the heels of the cancellation of a minimum wage increase, the canning of the basic income pilot, and troubling changes to social assistance.

This budget is, without a doubt, an austerity budget, and calls into question the priorities of a government that purports to be “for the people”. The couple of encouraging announcements fall far short of what was promised by the other parties in their election platforms, and the budget slashes funding for a variety of important ministries and programs.

Cuts abound

Perhaps the most troubling of the cuts is the government's projection that it will save $1 billion with its social assistance reforms, which, as the Income Security Advocacy Centre reports, will involve slashing benefits and services for recipients by a whopping 11 per cent. Other than this, the budget is vague on details, offering little other information than the announcement in the fall that, among other changes, the government will make it more difficult to access disability supports and will increase clawback rates on earned income.

On top of this, the budgets of many ministries were slashed, notably that of Indigenous Affairs, which was cut by 8.5 per cent, suggesting a waning focus on reconciliation efforts. And, while post-secondary tuition fees were lowered by 10 per cent, student financial assistance was cut by a third, or more than $670 million.

Even where there are increases in funding, they fail to keep up with the 3.5 per cent increase the Ontario Financial Accountability Office states is necessary to keep up the status quo. This will effectively mean a cut in services.

Child care

The budget announced the creation of the Ontario Childcare Access and Relief from Expenses (CARE) tax credit, a rebate of up to 75 per cent of eligible child-care costs. Families making less than $20,000 will qualify for the full rebate. The rebate decreases as household income increases, and families making more than $150,000 will be ineligible.

Ontario has the highest child care costs in the country, so government support is urgently needed. However, as the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) explains, this rebate may not ease the pressure on low-income families. In Toronto, where median infant-care fees add up to $20,220, child care fees would account for more than 100 per cent of household income for those eligible for the full rebate. For these households, child care is likely inaccessible, and a $6,000 rebate delivered at tax time won’t do much to change this. While this announcement purports to be delivering for low-income families, it is likely that mostly middle- and high-income families will be able to access the benefit.

Moreover, this also won’t do anything to create new child care spaces, and many municipalities have wait lists at more than 90% of child care centres.

In comparison, the Liberal platform promised to create free full-day daycare for preschoolers, to build 14,000 more child care spaces in schools and communities, and to dedicate $160 million over three years to help with the cost of infant and toddler care. The NDP platform promised free child care for families making less than $40,000 with an average of $12 per day child care for others, and to expand spaces by 202,000.

Dental care

The budget also pledged $90 million to provide free dental care for low-income seniors. This is a welcome announcement, considering 50 per cent of low-income Canadians and 53 per cent of adults between 60 and 79 years of age have no dental insurance

Again, both the Liberals and NDP also had dental-care proposals, with the Liberals promising coverage of up to $400 for singles and $600 for couples, and the NDP promising coverage to all seniors without retiree benefits and all Ontarians on social assistance.

A government for the people?

All in all, the Ontario government’s first budget leaves the most vulnerable Ontarians to fend for themselves, setting a troubling tone for the next three and a half years, and begging the question: who are the people this government is for?