Ontario Minister of Finance Peter Bethlenfalvy has tabled a budget that includes new highways linked with key infrastructure as one of five spending pillars.
Addressing the Ontario Legislature April 28, ahead of an election campaign expected to be launched imminently, the finance minister also highlighted spending on the Ring of Fire as part of a critical minerals plan, a boost in overall capital spending and expansion of Ontario’s skilled trades strategy.
“The people of Ontario deserve a government that has a real plan to build,” said Bethlenfalvy. “Our government’s budget is Premier (Doug) Ford’s vision and our plan to cut through the excuses and act right away on the priorities of the people of Ontario.”
Ontario now is projected to return to a surplus position by 2027–28, two years earlier than forecast in the 2021 budget. The government is projecting declining deficits of $19.9 billion in 2022–23, $12.3 billion in 2023–24 and $7.6 billion in 2024–25.
Ontario’s real GDP is projected to increase by 3.7 per cent in 2022 and 3.1 per cent in 2023.
The other pillars were rebuilding the economy, supporting workers, lowering costs, and spending on hospitals and other measures to keep the province open post-pandemic.
The government’s capital plan for the next 10 years represents a boost of $13.4 billion over last year. Planned capital investments over the next 10 years total $158.8 billion, including $20 billion in 2022–23.
Bethlenfalvy said the government’s transportation plan includes new transit and new highways, with both important to economic growth. The government plans to spend $25 billion on new roads and highways over the next 10 years and $62 billion on new transit over that time.
“It’s a budget that says yes to building highways, building transit and building key infrastructure around the province,” the finance minister stated.
Many of the projects outlined have been previously announced. Highway highlights included pledges to build Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass, widening of the 401, improvements to the QEW Garden City Skyway, continuing construction of the new Highway 7 between Kitchener and Guelph and reconstructing Highway 101, the Timmins Connecting Link.
The highway spending includes early works in Oshawa and Port Hope to enable future widening of Highway 401 starting at Brock Road in Pickering.
The transit announcement did not include any major new projects but rather reiterated promises to continue work on the Ontario Line, the Sheppard Subway Extension, the Eglinton Crosstown West Extension and others.
Bethlenfalvy tied $5 million in spending on a new Critical Minerals Innovation Fund to continued development of Ring of Fire infrastructure including all-season roads. The Critical Minerals Strategy was introduced last month. While there was no new funding for Ring of Fire roads, the province pledged to “continue to work with the federal government to co-ordinate the impact assessment requirements for these projects.”
Boosts to the government’s Skills Development Fund are intended to support hiring, training and retaining workers, including apprentices, the finance minister said. An additional $15.8 million in 2022–23 will “support the development and expansion of brick-and-mortar training facilities, which could include union training halls.”
The finance minister stated, “Our plan also says yes to recruiting more workers in the skilled trades. By 2025 one in five jobs will be in the skilled trades. These are in-demand jobs, exciting jobs, hands-on jobs, secure jobs that require creativity and problem-solving, jobs that allow workers to punch their own ticket and help us build Ontario.”
Further skills training supports outlined in the budget speech included a pledge to spend an additional $114.4 million over three years on the government’s Skilled Trades Strategy to address the stigma associated with the skilled trades and simplify the system; expanding college degree granting to increase the number of job-ready graduates in applied fields; and spending an additional $268.5 million over three years through Employment Ontario to further strengthen skills training and employment programs, including pandemic recovery initiatives.
The government is relaunching the Second Career program as Better Jobs Ontario, targeting a larger range of Ontario workers, with $5 million in new funding in 2022–23.
There will also be a boost to the minimum wage to $15.50 per hour on Oct. 1, 2022.
The government will continue to spend on extending broadband across Ontario – dovetailing with federal support for better Internet access across the country announced in its recent budget – with $4 billion now pledged to support high-speed internet access in Ontario by the end of 2025.
Health care capital spending will also receive a boost, with a hike of $10 billion more on health care infrastructure than in the 2021 budget.
The new spending will bring total hospital infrastructure spending over the next decade to over $40 billion, including about $27 billion in capital grants. Near-term capital spending on hospitals includes an additional $3.3 billion in 2022–23.
The budget indicated much of the new long-term spending would go to support major hospital projects currently under construction or in various stages of planning to increase capacity.
Bethlenfalvy also promised to spend almost $6 billion in the post-secondary sector, including over $2 billion in capital grants, over the next 10 years. There will also $14 billion in capital grants over the next 10 years allotted to improvements to and expansion of school infrastructure and child care projects
Follow the author on Twitter @DonWall_DCN.