Ontario returns to budget balance, unveils drug plan for youth

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The Liberal drug plan, laid out in Thursday's budget, would only cover people age 24 and under, yet would cover some 4,400 medications - every prescription drug covered by the existing Ontario Drug Benefit Plan for seniors and people with lower incomes.

Reaffirming the investment of $190 million over three years in the Career Kick-Start Strategy to help more students and graduates get work-related experiences as part of their education.

The budget indicates $1.3 billion of the new funding will be dedicated to reducing wait times over the next three years.

While Thursday's budget does contain money for new affordable housing and homelessness programs, there was no firm commitment of money for TCHC's needs - or any concrete funding for new public-transit projects, beyond the billions of dollars Ontario has already committed for new lines in Toronto, Hamilton and Mississauga.

According to budget documents, the province will spend $100 million over three years to help people with dementia.

Another $250-million will be invested into the expansion of home and community care programs, such as home nursing, personal support and physiotherapy services. "That is why the flexible funding provided through the gas tax fund is so important - it lets municipalities and transit systems prioritize what is needed most".

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It takes effect in January of next year and is expected to cost $465 million per fiscal year. The province is providing $16 billion in capital funding grants over 10 years to build new schools. Another $200 million will go to creating 24,000 child care spaces and subsidizing 60 per cent of them. This balanced budget is dedicated to providing young people with free prescription medications, providing free tuition and helping businesses grow.

The investment will aid industry-led autonomous vehicle research and development and allocate sites across Ontario to develop, test and validate new technology.

Buying wine at the LCBO could also cost you more.

"With new spending being directed toward areas that have cried out for attention for a long time, the Wynne government has made its priorities a whole lot clearer".

The government is also taking action to make housing more affordable for homebuyers and renters with Ontario's Fair Housing Plan.

The long-term goal should be to keep bringing that number down even more.

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The 2017 budget also includes previous announcements, such as the 25% cut in hydro rates by this summer. In addition, the government is also proposing to lower energy costs by expanding access to natural gas to communities that do not now have service, including rural, northern Ontario and First Nation communities.

The Opposition Conservatives were also critical of Liberal claims of having balanced the budget, a first in a decade in Ontario, saying the government in fact delivered a $5-billion operational deficit when factoring in $2 billion pulled from cap and trade, $500 million in pension assets, $1.5 billion from federal transfer payments and $1 billion in monies raised through the sale of Hydro One shares. The feds did this in 2014, decreasing their expenditures by $3 billion.

The net-debt-to-GDP ratio is down to about 37.5 per cent from a high of roughly 40 per cent in recent years, but the government hopes to wrestle it down to pre-recession levels of 27 per cent by 2029-30.

"We do know that there is increases coming, it's just a matter of how much".

Employment in 2017 is forecast to increase by 1.3 per cent, or 94,000 net new jobs, following 1.1 per cent growth in 2016.

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