Fall Economic Statement: more orange than lemon

By MPP Bobbi Ann Brady

On Nov. 2, the Ontario government released its 2023 Fall Economic Statement (FES). I see it as more orange than lemon – or a little sweet, a tiny bit sour.

As a fiscal conservative, I’m not thrilled deficits turned out to be higher than projected in the spring budget. They projected a $1.3 billion deficit, getting back to balanced books by 2024-25 with a slight surplus. But Minister Bethlenfalvy reported the province will be $5.6 billion underwater this year, and we’ll be saddled with a $5.3 billion deficit next year. In 2025-26, Ontario will have a small surplus. Fingers crossed Minister Bethlenfalvy and his team can live up to the latter commitment.

I’m happy the government will continue its fuel tax cuts for six more months. I know the average Ontarian, small business and farmers will applaud that move. Consumers don’t need more fuel costs at the pumps, on their grocery bills, or pretty well everywhere else for that matter.

Back in July 2022, the government initially cut the 5.7-cent tax and has since extended it numerous times. That cut plus a 5.3-cent slice off diesel fuel will be in place until June 30, 2024.

I’ll riff on the small business aspect for a moment: I’ve noticed an uptick in business owners contacting me requesting I convey to my colleagues their desire for a reduced “cost of doing business” and red tape reduction. This gas tax is but one component.

Still on the business front, being a big proponent of protecting good jobs, like the jobs in Nanticoke, I’ll say I’m cautiously happy the government is investing $100 million more into the Invest Ontario Fund to attract companies to Ontario. This injection rounds funding up to a total of $500 million.

Again, I am cautiously optimistic because I know it often takes many years for provincial and federal governments to break even after making such large investments. For example, despite being pitched as a break-even deal in five years, the multi-billion-dollar investment into Stellantis and Volkswagen EV battery plants, the federal Parliamentary Budget Officer in September admitted it will be 20 years to break even.

The government is starting up the Ontario Infrastructure Bank to share the funding of major capital projects between taxpayers and institutional investors like public-sector pension plan organizations. The province is kicking in initial funding of $3 billion to jump start “the arm’s-length bank.”

Of particular interest, the province will launch a “housing-enabling water systems fund.” This $200 million fund over three years is something needed by most municipalities, including Haldimand and Norfolk. It will be available for municipalities to apply to for the “repair, rehabilitation and expansion of core water, wastewater and stormwater projects that promote growth and enable housing development.” 

The events of the past few years caught most governments ill-prepared. They had not saved for the rainy day. Therefore, I’m heartened the government is setting aside billions of dollars in its official Contingency Fund to assist with surprise expenses. In March, Ontario initially banked $1 billion towards the contingency fund. It’s added another $2.5 billion to the fund this year, upping the balance to $5.4 billion.

Segueing into more health issues, I am pleased Ontario will be lowering the age for regular breast cancer screenings from 50 to 40. Early detection is key – if only they’d make good for men and fund PSA tests.

Assuming everything goes as the government planned, I’d say I’ll categorize this Fall Economic Statement as more orange than lemon.

Bobbi Ann Brady is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk