While the deficit amount as a percentage of GDP is small, the real number is large. Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government unveiled its 2018 budget which includes a $6.7 billion deficit, with planned deficits for the next six years.
Rolling out $20.3 billion in new spending over three years, this pre-election budget is focused on health care, hospital spaces, day care funding, dental coverage, and prescription drug coverage.
Ontario’s finance minister Charles Sousa claims the budget moves Ontario towards “universality” of health care systems.
Instead of focusing on balanced budgets and debt servicing, finance minister Sousa says Ontario is choosing to run a deficit in this budget, saying “using our strengthened fiscal position to make life more affordable for families and create new opportunity for businesses across the province.”
Many of the budget details were released well ahead of the actual budget date — a tell-tale sign of an impending election. Most recently, the Liberals announced they’ll expand the OHIP+ program that currently covers the cost of prescription drugs for those under 24 to include fees and other costs of those over 65, extended the “free” drugs to a wide swath of the population.
Announced earlier this week, Wynne has also promised “free” daycare as of 2020 for children two-and-a-half years and older, a $2.2 billion program. While most of the province scratches their head over that, statistics show that pre-school day care costs have ballooned over 20% in just three years.
The budget doesn’t actually mention agriculture. Provincial agriculture minister Jeff Leal’s office did release a statement, however it focuses only on funding targeted at eastern Ontario and his constituency. The only real mention of agriculture is an already-announced $24 million invested in Canada Royal Milk ULC – Feihe International, the baby formula plant planned for Kingston.
The budget does mention investment in digital infrastructure with an announced additional $500 million over three years to “expand broadband connectivity in rural communities.”
Keith Currie, president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture is glad to see some mention of rural broadband infrastructure in the budget, but adds that useable Internet is only one piece of the infrastructure puzzle.
Currie says that there is some money for road infrastructure in the budget, and hopes the rural Ontario gets a piece of it.
In the interview below, Currie adds that it’s disappointing there’s no mention of natural gas expansion in the budget, let alone any sort of funding for it, a pattern for this government for sure.
As for running deficits, Currie says he’s not opposed to spending money that needs to be spent, but there has to be a balance of urban and rural investment and a plan to pay the borrowed money back.
How will Doug Ford and his camp play to rural audiences headed in to the June election? Currie says that Ford certainly has a rural backing, and looks forward to speaking with Ford regarding the OFA’s Producing Prosperity plan.