Ontario is moving forward with its plan to create fairness and opportunity for people across the province with the release of the 2017 Ontario Economic Outlook and Fiscal Review.
Charles Sousa, Minister of Finance, delivered the 2017 Review today in the legislature, outlining new measures to grow the economy and help people thrive in an uncertain global environment.
The government will balance the budget this year, as well as the next two years. A balanced budget means more funding for the programs and services people rely on most, such as health care and education.
While Ontario's economy has grown faster than Canada's and those of all other G7 nations for the past three years, the government recognizes that the numbers do not tell the whole story. Many people are facing uncertainty and challenges. The measures in the 2017 Review respond to this uncertainty and will help create greater fairness and opportunity for all by supporting the right conditions for families and businesses to succeed.
Ontario is set to launch the most significant expansion of medicare in a generation with OHIP+: Children and Youth Pharmacare. Starting January 1, OHIP+ will provide free prescription medications for everyone under 25, ensuring parents never have to choose between paying for their children's prescription drugs and providing other essentials.
In addition, Ontario is boosting supports for seniors to ensure they are able to access the services they need at every stage of their lives. Aging with Confidence: Ontario's Action Plan for Seniors includes a $155-million investment over three years. Working with sector partners, the plan also commits to creating 5,000 new long-term care beds by 2022 — and more than 30,000 beds over the next decade. These new beds are in addition to the 30,000 existing beds in Ontario that are being redeveloped. The government will also increase the provincial average to four hours of direct care per long-term care resident per day when fully phased in.
The province is also investing to improve care for all patients, with an additional $618 million for hospitals this year to provide faster access to procedures, new programs and digital technology. And, to support a smooth transition for patients discharged from hospital, the government is investing an additional $40 million to help patients receive care at home.
Starting this school year, more than 210,000 college and university students are receiving free tuition thanks to the new Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP). As a next step, the province will implement net tuition billing to ensure that college and university students receive a reduced upfront bill with OSAP already factored in. Ontario is also proposing to recognize Indigenous Institutes as a third pillar of the postsecondary system alongside colleges and universities.
To continue supporting young people as they begin their careers and transition to the workforce, Ontario is providing new incentives for businesses to employ youth. Beginning in 2018, the province will provide $124 million over three years in supports for youth aged 15 to 29 to support employer hiring and retention. A small business with fewer than 100 employees would receive a $1,000 incentive for hiring a young worker and a $1,000 incentive for retaining that worker for six months.
The government is launching a new grant that encourages employers to help apprentices complete their training programs, and is expanding support to five additional trades. The province is also modernizing its apprenticeship system to improve completion rates — creating clearer pathways to jobs — and increasing opportunities for underrepresented groups.
Ontario's Fair Housing Plan has helped to stabilize the real estate market and make housing more affordable. As part of the plan, the expansion of rent control to all private market units in the province is ensuring that people are not subject to large, unfair spikes in rent. To continue helping families buy or rent a home they can afford, the province established a roundtable on housing development approvals. It has issued recommendations that will help address housing affordability challenges, increase supply and support mixed-use communities that make more efficient use of land and infrastructure.
One-third of all workers in Ontario are employed by small businesses. The province is helping to build a dynamic and competitive business environment by providing more than $500 million over three years in new initiatives to lower costs for small businesses and promote growth. This includes the proposed 22 per cent cut to the Corporate Income Tax rate for small businesses. Along with recent measures, such as lowering Workplace Safety and Insurance Board average premium rates and other business-focused initiatives, this would result in $1.9 billion in provincial support for small businesses over three years.
Ontario's plan to create fairness and opportunity during this period of rapid economic change includes a higher minimum wage and better working conditions, free tuition for hundreds of thousands of students, easier access to affordable child care, and free prescription drugs for everyone under 25 through the most significant expansion of medicare in a generation.
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