Today, Finance Minister Charles Sousa released the 2016 Ontario Budget: Jobs for Today and Tomorrow, which outlines the next phase of the government's plan to create jobs and economic growth. More than 600,000 jobs have been created since the recessionary low in June 2009. Ontario is projected to create more than 300,000 additional jobs by the end of 2019, which would bring total job creation to more than 900,000 net new jobs over a 10-year period. The Ministry of Finance is forecasting growth in Ontario real GDP of 2.5 per cent in 2015 and 2.2 per cent in 2016. Ontario's economic growth is now outpacing national growth, and is expected to continue being among the strongest in Canada over the next two years.
Ontarians are worried about the state of the economy and how it might affect them and their families. That is why the Budget is being presented earlier than in past years, so that Ontario families and businesses can see how the government is building on its plan to create jobs and grow the economy, and building more opportunity and security for people.
The government's plan is creating good jobs today in communities across Ontario by investing in infrastructure and in a low-carbon economy driven by innovative, high-growth, export-oriented businesses. It is investing in people's talents and skills, and the 2016 Budget will help more people get and create the jobs of the future by expanding access to high-quality college and university education. The plan also helps Ontarians achieve a more secure retirement.
The government's plan is on track to balance the budget in 2017-18.
Ontario's highly educated workforce is one of its greatest strengths. To help all Ontarians reach their full potential and succeed in an evolving economy, the government is transforming Ontario's student aid for postsecondary education to make it transparent, timely and targeted to those students with the greatest financial need.
The government will create a simple, integrated, upfront grant -- the Ontario Student Grant (OSG) -- starting in the 2017-18 school year. Under the proposed system, average college and university tuition will be free for students with financial need from families with incomes of $50,000 or less, and tuition will be more affordable for middle-income families as well.
More than 50 per cent of students from families with incomes of $83,000 or less will receive non-repayable grants in excess of average tuition, and no Ontario student will receive less through the OSG than they are currently eligible for through the Ontario Tuition Grant.
Students in families with annual incomes of less than $50,000 will have no provincial student debt. The government will also expand financial support for mature and married students, and access to interest-free and low-cost loans for middle- and upper-income families will be increased by reducing their expected parental contributions.
Most students will have less debt than they would under the current system, and the maximum Ontario Student Assistance Program debt level will be capped at $10,000 annually for higher-income families. Ontario will continue to offer financial assistance for students who have difficulty repaying their student loans.
Building and revitalizing public infrastructure are critical to strengthening Ontario's economy and creating jobs for today and tomorrow. In this Budget, the government is investing more than $137 billion over the next 10 years in roads, bridges, public transit, hospitals and schools. That would result in $160 billion over 12 years, starting in 2014-15, which is the largest investment in public infrastructure in Ontario's history. These planned investments would support more than 110,000 jobs each year, on average.
The Province remains on track to generate $5.7 billion over time from maximizing the value of government-owned assets -- $2.6 billion higher than originally projected in the 2014 Budget. Net revenue gains from the sale of qualifying assets will be dedicated to the Trillium Trust to help fund public transit, transportation and other priority infrastructure.
To grow the economy and create jobs, the Ontario government's plan continues to reduce business costs, leverage investment through strategic partnerships, help businesses go global and strengthen the financial services sector. The government is also developing a sharing economy strategy and renewing the Province's social enterprise strategy.
The global economy is moving towards pricing carbon. The 2016 Budget sets the stage for Ontario to auction carbon allowances in 2017. For that reason, the government is proposing a cap-and-trade program to help Ontario meet its greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets, reward innovative companies and ensure that households and businesses thrive within the transition to a low-carbon economy. All proceeds from the cap-and-trade program, projected to be $1.9 billion in 2017, would be used to invest in green projects.
The government is also continuing to roll out its Business Growth Initiative, a five-year, $400 million strategy to accelerate the Province's shift towards a high-growth, innovation economy and help businesses scale up. It will also modernize the regulatory system and lower the cost of doing business in the province.
To reduce the retirement savings gap, the government is implementing the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan (ORPP), which will help working Ontarians save for their retirement. The government is well on its way to achieving its goal of ensuring that, by 2020, all eligible Ontario workers will be covered by a comparable workplace plan or the ORPP. To ensure a successful and smooth implementation, the ORPP Administration Corporation would launch the employer verification and enrolment process in 2017, with employer and employee contribution collection beginning in 2018.
At the same time, Ontario remains committed to finding a solution that will allow the needs of Ontario employees to be met under a national framework. The Ontario government will work collaboratively with the federal government, provinces and territories to make progress on a Canada Pension Plan (CPP) enhancement that addresses the needs of future retirees. The main objective is to look at ways to meet the goals of the ORPP in an enhanced CPP framework, while preserving the ability to implement the ORPP, should that not be possible.
The Province is giving people the opportunities and supports they need to realize their full potential.
The government is committed to transforming services so that people with developmental disabilities can be more independent. The government is also updating the Long-Term Affordable Housing Strategy to continue the transformation of Ontario's housing and homelessness system, focusing on flexible and portable benefits that respond to individuals' changing housing needs.
The Province continues to move ahead with its Special Needs Strategy to help children and youth with special and complex needs receive timely and effective services at home, at school, in the community and as they transition to adulthood. Ontario is also investing $333 million over five years to redesign and improve autism services.
In 2016, the government will build on its previous investments in social assistance by increasing rates by 1.5 per cent for adults receiving Ontario Works and people with disabilities relying on the Ontario Disability Support Program. The Province will also provide a further top-up to those with the lowest social assistance rates -- singles without children receiving Ontario Works -- bringing their total increase to $25 per month, which is $100 more per month than they received in 2012.
Through such initiatives as Walking Together: A Long-Term Strategy to End Violence Against Indigenous Women and acting on the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, the government is improving social conditions and economic opportunities for Indigenous peoples.
The government is also continuing to transform Ontario's universal health care system to give Ontarians faster access to the right care, now and in the future. Highlights include increasing funding to hospitals by $345 million; lowering wait times for key services; creating more integrated, team-based primary care; making more care available at home and in the community; proposing to make the shingles vaccine available free for eligible seniors aged 65 to 70 -- saving them about $170 in out-of-pocket expenses; and investing an additional $75 million in community-based residential hospices and palliative care, for a total investment of about $155 million over three years.
The government is introducing many initiatives to improve everyday life for Ontarians. These include lowering hospital parking fees for frequent users, eliminating the $30 Drive Clean emissions test fee, helping with electricity and energy costs, reducing auto insurance rates and using technology to more conveniently deliver public services.
The government has increased choice and convenience for Ontarians by responsibly expanding beer sales to grocery stores, and is now expanding wine sales as well. In fall 2016, up to 70 grocery stores will be authorized to sell wine, beer and cider together across Ontario. Wine will eventually be available in up to 300 grocery stores.
The government is continuing to invest in the economy, people and a healthy, clean and prosperous low-carbon future, while beating its fiscal targets. These investments will help enhance the public services on which Ontarians rely, as well as stimulate growth. Good jobs and a growing economy are the best ways to support Ontario's families and generate revenues on the path to balance and long-term prosperity.
The government is projecting a deficit of $5.7 billion in 2015-16 -- an improvement of $2.8 billion compared with the 2015 Budget forecast and $1.8 billion compared with the target laid out in the 2015 Ontario Economic Outlook and Fiscal Review. It is also a $4.6 billion improvement compared with the 2014-15 deficit of $10.3 billion.
The Province is on track to beat its deficit target for the seventh year in a row. By continuing to beat its fiscal targets, the Province's accumulated deficit is $30 billion lower than it otherwise would have been.
The government is projecting a deficit of $4.3 billion in 2016-17, reflecting an improvement of $0.5 billion compared with the 2015 Budget forecast. The government is also projecting it will meet its commitment to return to balance in 2017-18 -- the result of a plan to eliminate the deficit that was first laid out in the 2010 Budget. As an indication of greater sustainability in the Province's management of its debt, net debt-to-GDP is expected to peak at 39.6 per cent in 2015-16, remain level in 2016-17 and begin to decline in 2017-18.
With the economy expected to continue to grow and the government's ongoing commitment to transform government programs and services, Ontario is forecasting to remain balanced in 2018-19.