By MPP Bobbi Ann Brady
Like my tea by the time I finished reading it, The Ontario Budget left me feeling lukewarm. Overall, I felt there was nothing dynamic in the Budget.
The past three years have been difficult. But as my predecessor taught me, we have government for a reason. It’s government’s job to look after the people and make tough decisions. And in this document, I saw neither tough decisions being made and little help for families.
The Budget fails to address some of the major crises we’re witnessing in Ontario, such as the failures of our education system, and the weaknesses in our healthcare, long-term care and home care systems. I’m a conservative, but I think there has to be more targeted and sensible spending on key areas. Oversight is badly needed when we continue to spend more while critical services get worse.
I had hoped the Budget would offer affordability measures for Ontarians struggling with inflation-related costs. Tax cuts or legislation enacted to counter price gouging would have been welcome.
We know the Ontario government has an ambitious plan to build 1.5 million homes in 10 years. Along with the challenge of building those homes, allegedly 72,000 more workers are required. Credit where credit’s due, the government continues to invest in skills training, apprenticeship, and skilled trades to encourage the trades as a career. For example, they are enhancing the Skills Development Fund with an additional $75 million over the next three years. This is good news.
I also like that the province will continue to assist Merit Ontario, which is an organization supporting contractors employing both unionized and non-unionized workers. Merit Ontario’s online training centre is helping up to 2,500 construction workers train to improve their skills and earn more money.
My overarching concern regarding the aggressive housing target is I don’t see any oversight to ensure proper housing is being built. And by proper, Ontario needs affordable housing and housing that’s affordable. I fear without oversight, we will see housing few can afford.
Further, where housing is built is crucial. Building on land zoned as industrial is rarely a good idea. Build where there’s existing infrastructure and on land that doesn’t produce food or long-term jobs. Developers would be wise to consult with locals to find out what the community needs before putting shovels in the ground.
The Budget has a focus on capital plan spending, which increased to $184.4 billion for major infrastructure projects over the next ten years. Everyone who drives, walks, or looks out their windows in Haldimand-Norfolk knows we have transportation infrastructure issues. Most infamously, there is the Argyle Street Bridge, which urgently requires reconstruction.
My suspicion is much of the money will go to highway projects in urban areas including transit in the GTA. You can bet I will continue to advocate at Queen’s Park for infrastructure dollars funnelled into Haldimand and Norfolk counties to address our critical needs.
After this cloudy winter, it’s a welcome ray of sunshine that Budget projections indicate Ontario could see a small surplus in 2024-25. I’m no accountant, but with skyrocketing revenue we should be using it to pay down our massive debt. Paying down debt ultimately eases affordability issues for taxpayers. So, to be clear, I advocate for debt repayment paired with targeted spending such as improving education and healthcare.
Many of the shortfalls I have mentioned are likely echoed by Ontarians who presented to my colleagues and me during pre-budget consultations at Finance Committee. Sadly, they didn’t get much of what they wanted.
Bobbi Ann Brady is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk