Provincial Budget: Some spending, but not a lot of spree
Sunday, March 25, 20070 Comments
Unlike the Federal budget, which target middle-class and middle-income voters with a series of tax cuts, tax credits and new spending, Ontario Finance Minister Greg Sorbara targeted his budget for what he calls the “poverty agenda”. The centrepiece was the announcement that Ontario’s minimum wage would increase further to $10.25 an hour in 2010, but there was also $2.1 billion in new money for the Ontario Child Benefit and a 2 per cent hike in the welfare rate.
“This isn’t about delivering trinkets and shiny baubles. It’s about strengthening Ontario by strengthening Ontarians. We’re delivering good, responsible public policy,” said Premier Dalton McGuinty at a press event Friday. “For Ontarians who are asking themselves, ‘look, you’ve put $2.1 billion into poor kids, what about a tax cut for me,’ I’m saying, understand this is a matter of enlightened self-interest.”
The focus on low-income earners is seen as a bid to woo these voters away from the NDP, who’ve won the past three by-elections over the Liberals, all in urban areas. The reaction from the NDP was reserved to say the least, with many members articulating their belief that the Liberals measures to redress the widening socio-economic gap between the rich and the poor comes as too little too late. Part of that criticism is from the fact that a number of these spending initiatives don’t go through completely until 2014.
Progressive Conservative leader John Tory outlined his problems with the budget at a speech to the Economic Club of Toronto Friday. Primary amongst his concerns was that the budget allowed for no tax relief, especially the unpopular healthcare premium passed by the Liberals in 2004. Given Sorbara’s announcement that the next few years would be seeing budget surpluses for the province, Tory thinks that it’s passed time for the “broken promise tax” to be rolled back. “He has no excuse for not getting on with it,” Tory said, promising that if his Conservatives are elected, they’ll begin peeling back the health tax with their first budget.
As for spending on post-secondary education, there wasn’t much of it. There was a one-time allocation of $210 million for Ontario’s colleges and universities announced, although the exact percentage to be received by the U of G is yet to be determined. This funding was actually promised in last year’s federal budget for short-term cost relief. “I am pleased that the province has successfully negotiated the release of this promised 2006 funding, as I know it was a challenge,” said university President Alastair Summerlee in a press release to the U of G website. “It will certainly be helpful in the short term, but the money will not be available to address our ongoing structural deficit.”
The budget did confirm the previously announced $6 million for U of G’s portion of the Bio-Car initiative in which it’s a partner. And, while not concrete, the budget did mention that there are future announcements concerning spending on research, spending on the environment that could bring further cash to campus. “We eagerly anticipate information on these further important initiatives in the hope that they, too, will provide base funds to address ongoing crucial issues,” Summerlee said.
“Unfortunately, this provincial budget is something students should have expected from a government that doesn't seem to get it,” his according to CSA External Commish John Coombs, who was less than pleased with the budget. “With no new funding for post-secondary education despite increased federal transfers, the McGuinty Liberals have once again failed students.”
If you’ll recall, the CSA, along with U of G students, took part in a day of action last month to highlight the ongoing issues related to high tuition costs. To Coombs it seems their message has failed to reach politicians. “The research is there - Ontarians have time and time again reiterated their concern over underfunding in our post-secondary education system yet these concerns are left unaddressed despite the province holding a sizable surplus. We'll see where this leaves them in the fall!”