by Sean Meyer St. Thomas-Elgin Weekly News
They sat in the same Legislature, but to nobody’s surprise Deputy Premier Deb Matthews and Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek came away from the Ontario budget announcement in wildly different moods.
On April 27, Finance Minister Charles Sousa released the 2017 Ontario budget — the first balanced budget since the global recession — a document that includes significant investments in health care and education.
Among the more eye-catching announcements in the record $141.1 billion spending plan, increases of $7 billion for health care over the next three years and the creation of a $465-million children and youth pharmacare program — OHIP+ — that will fully cover the cost of prescription medications for everyone aged 25 and under, regardless of family income.
“I’m delighted that it’s balanced, but I’m delighted it’s more than balanced. We’re actually in a position where we can do some of the things we’ve been wanting to do for a while,” Matthews said. “Pharmacare for young people under 25 is a huge, huge step forward. That’s really what we’re all about. It’s great to be in a position to do that again.”
On the education side, the province is making an additional investment of $6.4 billion over three years and has committed almost $16 billion over 10 years to help build and improve schools.
Under the budget, an additional $190 million is being spent over three years for the Career Kick-Start job experience program that will see the creation of 40,000 new work-related opportunities for students and recent graduates.
Take the many spending announcements, combined with the province’s public infrastructure commitment of more than $190 billion over a 13-year period — which started in 2014–15 — and Yurek said it adds up to nothing more than a smokescreen for next June’s provincial election.
“I think that’s all it is. They are trying to do a one-time patchwork fix to clean up the mess they have created over the years so they look viable for the next election,” Yurek said. “But I think people see through what they are trying to do.”
Running deficits for nearly a decade has caused Ontario’s debt to balloon from $169.6 billion in 2008 to a projected $311.9 billion this year, making the province the world’s largest subnational borrower.
It’s a situation Yurek said is even worse when “you take a closer look at the numbers,” which he said reveals a $5 billion operational deficit that the Liberals are trying to cover up with one-time payments such as proceeds from the sale of Hydro One.