Ontario’s five year path to balance the books

By MPP Toby Barrett

The 2019 Ontario Budget is committed to balancing the books by 2023-24 in a responsible manner – restoring accountability, sustainability and trust. The government’s plan will prioritize investments that generate the greatest returns for the people of Ontario and protect what matters most. Programs will be continually reviewed to ensure that they are efficient, effective and modern, relying on best practices from around the world.

Over the course of the path to balance, total revenue is projected to grow at an average annual rate of 3.0 per cent. Comparatively, program expense over the same period is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 1.0 per cent.

In order to achieve a balanced budget while protecting what matters most, the government has been working hard to transform programs, not only to find efficiencies and savings, but to make services more modern and accessible for the people of Ontario.

Several programs have been streamlined to centralize administrative functions. Ontario is combining six existing provincial health agencies and the Local Health Integration Networks into one new agency, Ontario Health, to streamline health care oversight, reduce health care bureaucracy and reduce siloed regional administration, leading to annualized savings of more than $350 million at maturity.

An integrated supply chain is being created to consolidate procurement practices across sectors, resulting in reduced government expenditures and reduced red tape for vendors, while ensuring a seamless movement of products throughout the province. This initiative is expected to result in annualized savings of $1 billion.

All ministries have identified four per cent in administrative efficiencies resulting in cumulative savings of $1.7 billion by 2023-24.

Ontario’s social assistance system will be reformed, simplifying the rate structure, reducing administration, cutting unnecessary rules, and providing greater opportunities to achieve better employment outcomes resulting in estimated annual savings of over $1 billion at maturity.

Drug benefits under OHIP+ will be focused on those who need them the most – children and young people under the age of 25 who are not covered by private insurance plans, generating annualized savings of at least $250 million.

The government is restoring the Ontario Student Assistance Program to a needs-based program. OSAP will be reformed so that future generations of Ontario students can access financial support for postsecondary education and providing a 10 per cent reduction in tuition for domestic students.

We are making important strides towards building a modern and more efficient workforce while ensuring that front-line services and workers are protected. As an example, the size of trhe Ontario Public Service has already been reduced by 3.5 per cent through attrition alone. Additional measures such as voluntary exit initiatives will bring further reductions and efficiencies in the future.

By containing costs and prioritizing spending, the government is providing, through measures announced to date and in the budget, a projected $26 billion in much needed relief to Ontario individuals, families and businesses over six years, while continuing to eliminate the deficit. For example, the government is proposing a new refundable tax credit for child care costs.

The government’s approach to restraining spending and growth finding savings is a responsible and pragmatic.

Program expense will grow at an average annual rate of one per cent between 2018-19 and 2023-24. This is more fiscally responsible than spending growth under the previous administration, which peaked at a year-over-year growth rate of 8.3 per cent between 2016-17 and 2017-18.

While balancing the budget requires difficult decisions and trade-offs, it is also an opportunity to rethink how government works and how the entire broader public sector delivers programs and services that the people of Ontario rely on every single day. This is why the government will continue to review programs on an ongoing basis to ensure that they are efficient, sustainable and delivering outcomes for the people of Ontario. People need to feel confident that the government is a careful steward of their tax dollars.

Toby Barrett is MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk