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RIM's PlayBook adorned the cover of the 2011 Ontario Budget document. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
RIM's PlayBook adorned the cover of the 2011 Ontario Budget document. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

Budget leaves no stone unturned in Ontario's quest for savings Add to ...

In its hunt for savings, Ontario’s Liberal government literally left no stone unturned – it even looked beneath the gravel on trails at provincial parks.

The $3.7-million the province expects to save over three years by postponing repairs to trails, picnic tables, showers and other park facilities is typical of an austerity budget that aims to spread the pain far and wide.

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Rather than trumpet a handful of high-profile cuts, the Liberals relied on dozens of low-profile nicks, including closing or slashing the allocations for prisons, tourism centres, museums, Toronto’s Luminato festival, electric-car grants and high-occupancy vehicle lanes.

On the other side of the ledger, the government is asking affluent seniors to pay a deductible on their prescription drug costs, beginning in August 2014. The move is expected to save $30-million per year and affect about five per cent of Ontarians over the age of 65.

For instance, a single senior with an income of $100,000 or more would pay a $100 deductible plus 3 per cent of their income over $100,000.

Taken together, the budget’s “expense management measures” are expected to save $4.9-billion over the next three years.

The cuts are expected to hit seven of the province’s major cultural institutions particularly hard.

The Art Gallery of Ontario, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Ontario Heritage Trust, Ontario Science Centre, Royal Ontario Museum, Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington and Science North in Sudbury will all see their provincial funding cut by one per cent this year and two per cent next, for a savings of $4.7-million over three years.

As well, Toronto’s Luminato will receive less provincial funding than promised. Festival organizers were expecting $4-million next year and $4.5-million next; instead, they’ll receive $2.5-million both years.

Seven of the province’s 18 tourism information centres will close, for a savings of $3.3-million over three years. Several are in northern Ontario. They include centres in Fort Frances, Kenora, Rainy River, Cornwall, Fort Erie, Hill Island and Prescott.

Prisons are closing too. Added to the list of prison closings announced in last year’s budges are two others in Brantford and Chatham, and the full closing of the Toronto West Detention Centre. Its partial closing was announced last year.

The province is expecting to save $43-million by combining two programs that provided support for electric vehicles. Most of those savings come from the fact that fewer people than expecting are taking advantage of grants of up to $8,500 for eligible plug-in or battery-operated electric cars.

Follow on Twitter: @kellygrant1

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