On April 23, 2015, the Honourable Charles Sousa, Minister of Finance, delivered the Government of Ontario's 2015 budget.
Building Ontario Up, in large measure, provides a comprehensive review of provincial efforts and initiatives to date. Key new investments, as anticipated, were provided in the areas of infrastructure and transit. The government also remains squarely committed to modernizing Ontario's education system and health care at the local level. Strengthening Ontario's economy and business environment are also key focuses.
Key spending will take place as mentioned, in the areas of transit and infrastructure. In total, the 2015 budget increases funding for infrastructure and transit by $2.6 billion, in total providing $31.5 billion over 10 years.
What's New for OMSSA Members
- $120 million over three years in capital funding to create child care spaces in schools.
- Increases to social assistance rates (a total investment of about $100 million annually):
- One per cent for Ontario Works (OW) for families and individuals with disabilities receiving Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). Rate increases take effect October 2015 for ODSP and November 2015 for OW. The municipal cost share will be waived until January 2016).
- A "top-up" for OW single adults with no children, bringing the total increase (including the one per cent rate increase) to $25 per month.
- One per cent for Assistance for Children with Severe Disabilities (ACSD).
- One per cent for various other rates and allowances.
- $5 million increase in the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF) targeted to northern communities for 2016.
- Ontario Child Benefit will be indexed to the Consumer Price Index starting July 2015.
- Expansion of the Healthy Smiles program.
- Additional $250 million investment over 2 years for the Ontario Youth Jobs Strategy.
- Additional $5 million in funding for postsecondary education fund for aboriginal learners.
- Changes to the Second Career Program, removing targets for service providers while ensuring funding supports all eligible clients. This change is expected to generate $40 million annually in savings that will be redirected to the Canada-Ontario Job Grant and the renewed Ontario Youth Jobs Strategy.
Improving on the 2014 budget forecast, Ontario's deficit is now projected to be $10.9 billion to $1.6 billion less than forecasted in 2014.
The government's fiscal plan is focused on responsibility, accountability, transparency and strong fiscal management with a continued commitment to balance the budget by 2017-2018.
In large part the government will achieve its goal through the sale of government assets, modernizing the funding and delivery of services and managing public sector compensation and pensions.
Key Commitments Stay Intact
Budget 2015 reiterates the Province's commitment to modernizing early years and child care, poverty reduction, the integration of employment programs and services and the renewal of the Long-Term Affordable Housing Strategy.
Commitments and initiatives confirmed in Building Ontario Up include:
Modernizing Child Care and Early Learning
- Introduction of the Child Care Modernization Act, 2014, in December 2014.
- Continued implementation of full-day kindergarten.
- Online registry of unlicensed child care violations and enforcement team to investigate complaints against unlicensed providers.
- Allocating an additional $44.5 million in child care funding through the child care funding formula.
Employment and Training
- The Province committed to integrating employment and training programs and services across government -- engaging stakeholders on design, development, and implementation of new initiatives. The five priority areas include:
- Youth employment programming
- Common assessment for employment-related needs
- Pre-employment services
- Employment supports for people with disabilities
- Local employment planning council pilots to address local labour market needs and strengths
- Canada-Ontario Job Grant: Province providing two-thirds of total eligible training costs up to $10,000.
- The Province is also offering two employer-driven skills training pilots (Customized Training pilot and UpSkill pilot).
- The government is renewing the Ontario Youth Jobs Strategy by investing an additional $250 million (new) over the next two years, bringing total investment in youth employment programming to more than $565 million.
Mental Health and Addictions Strategy
- Implementing the second phase of the strategy supports for people of all ages who need mental health or addictions services -- transitions between youth and adult services, between housing, justice and employment services.
- The next phase includes investing $138 million through the Local Health Integration Networks over three years, starting in 2014-15 for community organizations across Ontario.
Poverty Reduction Strategy
- Ontario Child Benefit (OCB):
- The government enhanced the maximum annual OCB per child by $100 in July 2014.
- Beginning in July 2015, the OCB's maximum benefit and the income threshold at which it starts will be indexed to annual increases in the Ontario Consumer Price Index.
- The maximum annual OCB per child will be $1,336 and the income threshold will be $20,400 in July 2015.
- Healthy Smiles Ontario program (established in 2014):
- As a next step, the government will integrate a number of existing programs into the Healthy Smiles Ontario program.
- Established an Expert Advisory Panel on Homelessness.
- Long Term Affordable Housing Strategy (LTAHS):
- Review of the LTAHS in 2015-16 to reflect lessons learned and to integrate new research on best practices related to housing and homelessness.
- Extending the Investment in Affordable Housing Program:
- Extending jointly funded federal-provincial Investment in Affordable Housing (IAH) program for five years. Ontario is contributing $80 million annually over five years to this renewed program, matched by the federal government.
- Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative:
- On March 30, 2015, the Province announced the allocation of $587 million to municipalities to help families and individuals at risk of homelessness get the housing that best suits their needs.
- Local Poverty Reduction Fund:
- This $50-million fund will be used to combat poverty -- specifically at a local level. The Province will collaborate with organizations and CMSMs/DSSABs. The program will provide funding over six years, starting in the fall of 2015.
- The government remains committed to community hubs delivering coordinated public services to better meet the needs of children, youth and seniors.
- A community hub can be a school, a neighbourhood centre or another public space that offers coordinated services such as education, health care and social services.
- The Community Hub Framework Advisory Group that has been established will review provincial policies and develop a framework for adapting existing public assets to become community hubs.
- Question as to whether the newly announced $120 million in capital funding for child care spaces in schools aligned with community hub efforts.
Social Assistance Reform Caught in Traffic?
While the government is clear on the need to modernize Ontario's infrastructure to build a prosperous and healthy Ontario, progress on social assistance reform is caught in stop and go traffic in the 2015 budget.
OMSSA and its members are aware that work is underway in this area including through the Provincial Municipal Social Assistance and Employment Committee and its working groups. While the budget commits to work on the redesign of the rate structure, the government's end game is not yet apparent in the 2015 budget.
Next steps in public services reform:
Guided by the recommendations found in the work of Don Drummond in the Commission on the Reform of Ontario's Public Services, the government has launched a new approach to multi-year planning and budgeting: Program Review, Renewal and Transformation (PRRT). Led by the President of the Treasury Board, Deb Matthews and a Treasury Board/Management Board sub-committee, the work is to identify both short and long-term opportunities to transform programs and services, and, to transform or end programs that are not performing, do not link to provincial priorities or do not serve the public interest.
The Province will also introduce, within the Ontario government, a new Centre for Excellence for Evidence-Based Decision Making Support to build capacity to assess how programs are performing, using evidence to inform choices and lead change in critical public services. This work will be supported by a new Behavioural Insights Unit in government that designs interventions to assess programs and offers a low-cost way to redesign programs for better outcomes.
An example of a successful transformation initiative cited in the budget was the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative (CHPI).
Identified as part of the PRRT and steps to more modern and efficient government include:
- Transfer Payment Modernization Initiative: the government will implement a common registration process for all transfer payment recipients enabling insight and oversight of the full financial relationship between organizations and the province including municipalities.
- Modernizing provincial information technology.
- Benefits Transformation: transforming the way income-based benefit programs are delivered by streamlining the delivery of benefits.
- Continued integration of employment programs and services.
Government Working Together: A Call to the Federal Government
Building Ontario Up highlights the importance of strong intergovernmental partnerships. Specifically, the Province is calling on the federal government to ensure Ontario gets its fair share in transfer and equalization payments, committed and targeted funding for child care and early learning, greater collaboration in infrastructure funding, building the Ring of Fire, infrastructure for first nations communities, manufacturing, an energy strategy and natural disaster response funding and cooperation.
The Province again is calling on the federal government, as it readies to renegotiate the Labour Market Development Agreements (LMDAs), to work with Ontario in developing the Agreement including:
- Expanding eligibility so that more unemployed Ontarian's can receive the skills training they need; and,
- Increasing federal funding for the LMDA to meet the needs of all unemployed Ontarians and to address the lack of funding increase since 1996, despite an increase in the labour force.
Overview of program expense outlook
The budget indicates that the government's commitment to an annual program review savings target through the PRRT process has just begun. The PRRT is a multi-year initiative considering complex, cross-government opportunities that aim to modernize public services, support fiscal objectives and improve outcomes for people.
Budget 2015 indicates that the Province's program expense outlook is projected to grow by 0.9 per cent between 2013-2014 and 2017-2018. Following is the expense outlook over the medium term by program:
- Total health sector expense is projected to grow on average by 1.9 per cent per year.
- Total education sector expense is projected to grow on average by 2.0 per cent per year.
- Total post-secondary and training sector expense is projected to be largely unchanged.
- Total children's and social services sector expense is projected to grow on average by 2.9 per cent.
- Total justice sector expense is projected to grow on average by 1.5 per cent.
- Other programs expense is projected to decrease on average by 5.5 percent per year.
Expense changes since the 2014 budget
- Children's and social services sector expense is projected to decrease from the projected 2014 outlook by $243 million, due in part to lower than expected take-up of low income benefits such as OW and OCB.
Details on why the decreases occurred were not provided.
With the government's key priorities of a balanced budget and building Ontario up as a fair society, based on the government's transformation agenda, OMSSA anticipates developments in the coming months in program and service delivery in key areas of interest for OMSSA members.
As details on the 2015 budget emerge, information will be shared with OMSSA members.