Fall economic statement braces for tough times ahead

By MPP Bobbi Ann Brady

The Ontario government has cut the province’s deficit forecast but braces for an economic slowdown.

A deficit of $19.9 billion for the fiscal year was projected in the April 2022 budget. However, during the fall economic statement (FES) last week, Ontario Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy downgraded that projection to $12.9 billion thanks to a stronger-than-expected economic recovery. That positive economic recovery, according to economists, will slow in 2023.

The FES entitled Ontario’s Plan to Build: A Progress Update promises to put more money back into taxpayers’ pockets while continuing to invest in infrastructure and job creation.

Ontario has extended the gas and fuel tax relief for another year. These taxes will continue to be 5.7 cents per litre and 5.3 cents per litre, respectively, until December 31, 2023. While this is helpful and much appreciated, I know what you are all thinking – we are still paying far too much at the pumps. I agree as the extension will only see savings of about $195 in 18 months for the average household.

Much of the FES is dedicated to infrastructure expansion. The government plans to invest $159.3 billion over the next ten years for infrastructure, with an initial injection of about $20 billion in 2022-2023. About $25 billion is earmarked for highways over the next ten years, $65 billion for public transportation, and $40 billion for hospital infrastructure.

No new funding for healthcare was announced in the FES, which keeps Ontario’s health spending at $75.2 billion – the same as reported in the April budget. That has been met with some anger as we see pediatric emergency units and ICUs grapple with respiratory illness in young children. Parents are also limited to treating these young ones as pediatric acetaminophen and ibuprofen are in short supply. One of the most common antibiotics prescribed for kids is amoxicillin, which also seems to be in short supply.

I maintain the issues in the healthcare system are human resources issues, and the Minister admits this and says she is doing everything she can to address this – I would beg to differ. Ontario must have every qualified healthcare worker on the frontline today… or yesterday would have been better.

I have long advocated those receiving assistance through the Ontario Disability Support Program should be able to keep more of their hard-earned money if they can work part-time. This was part of my campaign platform and I have been pressing for this since I was elected in June. Therefore, I was glad to see Ontario is increasing the monthly earnings exemption from $200 to $1,000 per month. Reducing the clawback is good news, but I was hoping the government would tie ODSP rates to inflation immediately – sadly, that won’t happen until July 2023.

For small businesses, an adjustment of the small business corporate income tax rate will provide some $185 million in tax relief over the next three years to roughly 5,500 small businesses.

A few temporary initiatives were introduced for seniors, including doubling the Guaranteed Annual Income Systems (GAINS) payment, which will be in place for 12 monthly payments. 

I find it interesting that while Ontario braces for a slowdown, the province’s top financial watchdog—the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario —projects years of budget surpluses. The most recent report also shows that the government’s current spending plan contains $40 billion in program funding shortfalls over six years but $44 billion in unallocated contingency funds. 

Bobbi Ann Brady is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk