Ontario Premier Doug Ford is set to put his mark on the province with his government’s first budget this week, which is set to tackle the province’s deficit and feature everything from childcare rebates to new licence plates to tailgating at sporting events.
Details of Thursday’s provincial budget are beginning to slip out, and are expected to include significant changes to critical services and more symbolic moves that are representative of the Ford brand – such as placing anti-carbon-tax stickers on gas pumps across the province.
“The Premier and the Ford government have said from the very start, they’re going to prove to average folks who voted for them that they’re acting in their interest, and they’re going to do things big and small to make that point,” said conservative strategist Chad Rogers, a partner at Crestview Strategies in Toronto.
“Engaging in a bunch of things that real people will actually see, care about and talk about at Tim Hortons is exactly the type of government Doug Ford‘s always told us he’d give us.”
Mr. Ford’s Progressive Conservatives came into office promising to find significant savings and Thursday’s budget from Finance Minister Vic Fedeli will mark the government’s first comprehensive road map as to how it plans to reshape the province’s finances. The Tories say the budget will lay out a “path to balance” for what it now says is the province’s $13.5-billion deficit, and have already indicated it will reduce spending in education through ways such as larger class sizes and reducing the number of teachers through attrition.
A key pillar of the budget, however, is expected to be subsidies for child care. A government source, who was granted anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said the document will include a refundable tax credit similar to what the government proposed in its campaign platform, redeemable for different types of child care. Mr. Ford’s platform planned to offer a rebate of up to 75 per cent for the lowest-income families, at a cost of $389-million a year.
On Monday, Economic Development Minister Todd Smith confirmed his government is looking to allow tailgating outside of Ontario sporting events. The regulatory change would mean sporting venues could apply for special permits that would let fans to bring their own alcoholic beverages and set up in parking lots or outdoor spaces before the game.
“You go to any American city now, and you can participate in a good old fashioned tailgate. It’s a lot of fun. People behave responsibly. And we just believe Ontario is ready for this as well,” Mr. Smith told reporters at Queen’s Park.
The province will also be unveiling its new licence plates. The slogan “Open for Business” is being considered for commercial vehicles, with the government also poised to replace “Yours to Discover,” which has adorned passenger plates since 1982.
“I believe anything after 37 years should always be looked at, can always be looked at, and there’s an opportunity for us to refresh,” said Minister of Government and Consumer Services Bill Walker. He added there will still be blue and white on the licence plate but didn’t specify which colour would be predominant.
Opposition MPPs said the budget details released so far don’t address the province’s most pressing issues.
“The question is, are they doing this as a decoy so people won’t think of the things that really might happen in the budget?” said NDP deputy leader John Vanthof. In particular, he said he’s concerned about a rebate that doesn’t create any new childcare spaces.
"For parents who are having trouble finding child-care spaces, which is very difficult to find in many parts of the province, that doesn’t change it … So it sounds good, but it doesn’t actually look at the real problem.”
Interim Liberal leader John Fraser questioned the government’s priorities, which have included making alcohol more accessible.
“I don’t know what the Premier’s obsession with alcohol is. So you have buck-a-beer, beer and wine in corner stores, longer hours at the LCBO and now tailgating. I knock on doors, and that’s not what people ask me for,” he said.
“A budget is about serious things, how we’re going to fund healthcare and education. So it’s a distraction.”