Ontario budget to bring ‘targeted investments’ in economy

By Allison Jones and Liam Casey

TORONTO – It’s budget day in Ontario and the finance minister says he’s prepared a plan with “targeted investments” to ensure the province’s economy stays resilient in the face of uncertainty.

One investment that won’t be in the budget, however, is a sick day program.

Government sources told The Canadian Press on the eve of the budget that a program to give workers three paid sick days during the pandemic won’t be renewed after it expires at the end of this month.

The Opposition NDP has pushed for the establishment of 10 permanent paid sick days and leader Marit Stiles says people should never be forced to go to work sick just to put food on the table.

Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy has been signalling that his budget will feature restraint, after years of big spending on COVID-19-related programs, but has said that won’t equal program cuts.

Bethlenfalvy says the budget will be a plan to attract jobs and build – he and the premier have unveiled two budget tidbits in the days leading up to today, including a manufacturing tax credit and funding to build and upgrade skills training centres.

“While Ontario’s economy has remained resilient, the economic road ahead continues to be uncertain,” Bethlenfalvy said Wednesday.

“I will be tabling Ontario’s 2023 budget, and it’s a plan that will support families, support workers, support businesses today, while laying a strong fiscal foundation for future generations.”

Ontario’s fall economic update forecast a deficit of $8.1 billion for the upcoming fiscal year and a relatively small deficit of $700 million in 2024-25, though those figures are likely to change.

In third-quarter finances released last month, the province cut its deficit projection for this year in half from the fall update – down to $6.5 billion. It also revised its revenue projections for the year by nearly $10 billion – up to $196.4 billion – just in the span of a few months since the fall update.

Those booming revenues – due to higher-than-expected inflation and nominal GDP growth – were also responsible for Ontario ending 2021-22 with a surprise $2.1-billion surplus, which was a far cry from the $33 billion projected in the 2021 budget.

At the same time, experts are also warning of a slowdown on the economic horizon.

Private sector forecasters, on average, project Ontario’s real GDP to rise by just 0.3 percent in 2023, the government said in its recent third-quarter finances report.